Saturday, January 30, 2010

Toyota's Domino Effect

Rental-car companies are busy reassuring their customers on safety matters, now that Toyota's recall has been widened and a fix for the accelerator problem is not yet in place.

Avis has removed 20,000 Toyotas from its rental fleet until the repairs can be made; it notified all its customers, via e-mail and its Web site, of this step, to keep them informed and demonstrate its commitment to safety.

Hertz and others have also sidelined their Toyota rentals and communicated with customers that they're waiting for the safety fix; as a result, rental cars may be in short supply in some markets. What other industries will be feeling the domino effect of Toyota's problem?

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Marketing Ideas Are Everywhere

Do you look for creative marketing ideas in unusual places? Take, for instance, alumni magazines. The Winter 2009 issue of Stanford Business Magazine has stories about marketing and communications, based on the experiences of alumni working in companies such as Mexico's Grupo Reforma, China's Youku (think YouTube meets Hulu), and America's Ning. Three unusually detailed articles chock full of thought-provoking observations.

The newspapers under the Grupo Reforma umbrella, for instance, have established editorial boards for every section of the paper (food, fashion, etc). Each board has 12 to 14 community leaders who serve for a year (some a bit longer) and meet two or three times a week with editors to discuss what that section of the paper is doing well, what it should improve, and what stories might be covered in future articles.

In all, 18,000 "citizen editors" have served on these boards over the years. Community involvement this intense not only makes the paper better, it seeds readership and gives management first-hand knowledge of who the product serves and what needs must be met. It also makes the paper more responsive as a "product."

Other alumni publications have articles worth a quick look for marketing ideas, so get Googling. For instance, the Brown Alumni Mag has a story about eliminating bottled water on campus--the bottle being the environmental problem to be solved via marketing. Harvard Magazine recently looked back on the campaign to reduce drunk driving by designating a driver, a classic story worth reading. Marketing ideas are everywhere, not just the usual places.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Marketing Colts vs Saints

The marketing rivalry of Saints vs Colts marches on as the Super Bowl draws near. AirTran is adding flights from Indianapolis to Florida for Super Bowl-bound Colts fans. Colts fans should enjoy the custom-painted jet recently inaugurated as part of AirTran's marketing partnership with the team. The Colts Pro Shop is alive with activity as fans stock up on team merchandise before the big game.

The New Orleans Saints site has a link to its Patron Saints, company sponsors of the team, plus links to official travel packages for the Super Bowl. PJ's Coffee has giant coffee cups mounted on the Superdome stadium roof, part of its marketing connection with the Saints. And the Big Easy is proud to be celebrating in advance as it enjoys the Saints' position.

Social media fans, alert: You can visit the Saints' Facebook page and the Colts' Facebook page. Lots of interactivity and rootin' going on. Go team!

Sunday, January 24, 2010

TurboTax Guides You Like a GPS

During last night's US National Figure Skating Championships, I was intrigued by Intuit's TV ad for TurboTax, which features Olympic gold medalist Kristi Yamaguchi.

My sister pointed out that the ad was particularly powerful because Intuit compared its software to the now-familiar experience of being guided to a destination by a GPS. Apparently the audio version of this ad has been running on radio and she's heard it numerous times.

This is a very clever way to help first-time users understand the convenience and ease of using TurboTax to get through the tax prep process as painlessly as possible.

Intuit is trying new approaches to communicating its benefits via mass media, including a cross-platform deal with NBC (which aired the figure skating competition and will feature the Olympics in February).

And Intuit's acquisition of is expected to develop a new revenue stream while updating its product offerings, including letting go of Quicken Online in favor of the Mint site.

As a Quicken user, I'm interested to see how the company is refreshing its marketing mix and appealing to different target audiences. "Like a GPS" is a breath of fresh air in the world of financial services marketing.

Saturday, January 23, 2010

Fremium Pricing

Thanks to freemium pricing--giving products away for free--authors can gain visibility (and bragging rights) when their books, priced at $0, rise to the top of the Kindle best-seller list. This also helps raise the perceived utility of expensive e-book readers, which are popular among early adopters but have yet to move into the mainstream.

Giving away a product to increase its perceived value seems counterintuitive. However, the freemium movement--at work in the apps world, in music, and in other industries--suggests that this strategy is effective in a surprising number of situations.

Not everyone is a freemium fan, as "Why freemium is bad for business" explains. I agree with many of the points in that article . . . especially the part about there being no such thing as a free lunch.

Still, the point of freemium pricing is to demonstrate the product's value and encourage users to upgrade to a better version that carries a real price tag. And the Kindle freemium book strategy appears to be doing just that.

Thursday, January 21, 2010

Metered Pricing and the Media

Can the New York Times profit in the long term by initiating metered pricing? That pricing strategy is currently used by Financial Times, with some success.

Here's how metered pricing works: Every time a reader clicks onto the site, the "meter" starts ticking. If the reader hasn't registered with FT, he or she can read only 1 article per month for free. If the reader has registered, he or she can read 10 articles per month. Paid subscribers receive full access to the entire news and archive sites, with no restrictions on the number of articles that can be viewed.

Does metered pricing pay off? Ad Age notes that over time, FT has made its metering more restrictive, not less restrictive, and the publication currently has more than 120,000 paid subscribers, an increase of 22% compared with the previous year.

In contrast, the Wall Street Journal provides a small portion of its content free to all visitors, but requires a paid subscription to go further than that. No metering, just pay to see the rest or click away after reading a brief preview of the content available beyond the subscription barrier.

TechCrunch crunched the numbers on the NYT metered pricing strategy and speculates that getting visitors to pay $10 each would only replace the ad revenues lost by the newspaper in the past year. "If it can charge $15 or get more than 300,000 subscribers, the numbers start to make more sense," TechCrunch says. On the other hand, if NYT visitors click to get their news elsewhere on the Web, and avoid paying altogether, metered pricing could hurt the company's long-term financial prospects. Quite a balancing act.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

The Mobile Marketing Future

According to the Gartner Group and as reported by MediaPost, Web access via smartphones will outpace Web access via desktop PCs/Macs by 2013. Think of the implications for marketing:
  • Images (still and video) will be even more important than they are today because of the visual impact when viewed on the mobile screen, compared with the impact of text. Be sure your site's home page has an appropriate, eye-catching image that plays well on the small screen. Does your logo need refreshing? How are you using color in your graphics?
  • Written text will have to be even shorter and punchier to be understood on the fly--perhaps more like the bite-size messages on billboards. Too much scrolling and the audience will click away. Even if backup info is available on demand for audience members who want more, sites will have to get to the point quickly or lose their audiences. Does your typeface need refreshing? Should you rethink the way your content is organized?
  • Audio could turn out to be a critical factor in differentiating any site; a signature sound, tone, or phrase will help identify the brand and welcome the mobile audience. Remember the instantly recognizable, distinctive "on" sound of Mac computers that was part of the WALL-E movie? Sound is probably an under-utilized tool in your marketing toolbox. How can you use sound to your advantage?
  • Smell-o-vision . . . not really, but take that old idea and give it a new twist. How you can appeal to the senses with a site optimized for mobile screens?
Don't wait for 2013 or even 2012. Take a close look at your site and start preparing for the mobile marketing future today.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Earthquake Emergency

Following Haiti's devastating earthquake, which damaged many hospitals and clinics, relief groups have been doing everything possible to save lives. Thanks to the Internet, they're getting people involved and keeping people informed of progress with just a few clicks.

Doctors Without Borders (Medicins Sans Frontieres) has been extremely active, prompting Twitter users to tweet about the group's efforts and about contributing to support rescue activities. The phrase "Doctors Without" made it to Twitter's top 10 trending topics, separately from Haiti/Port-au-Prince earthquake tweets. Nearly 72,000 people are Facebook fans of Doctors Without Borders, and the social-media outpouring of comments and donation information is amazing.

The top box on YouTube features Haiti video from American Red Cross, Oxfam, and other relief groups, as well as news feeds. The American Red Cross's web site explains what the nonprofit is doing to send money and assistance to Haiti. Oxfam's web site does the same. UNICEF and its UN partners are also helping in Haiti. Pick a nonprofit and donate today.

Monday, January 11, 2010

Stealth or health marketing?

Today's WSJ notes that food marketers are making their products healthier by reducing salt content without making a big marketing deal out of the change. Low- and no-sodium foods generally don't sell as well as mainstream foods, so Campbell, ConAgra, and others are slowly but steadily helping customers adapt to slightly less salt in favorites such as V-8 juice and Orville Redenbacher popcorn.

Customers get used to a bit less salt . . . and don't even know they're eating healthier, unless they read the fine print in the food facts label and track the sodium numbers year after year. Stealth or health marketing? As long as the details are disclosed on the label, I think this approach is fine.

Apart from the public health implications, this kind of gradual change will benefit food marketers as they move to comply with new government guidelines (sometimes voluntary) regarding lower fat, sugar, salt content in certain items. For instance, having banned trans fats, New York City is now asking for low-sodium processed foods and fast foods.

In fact, lower sodium will be one of the top food trends of 2010, according to food forecasters. So hold the salt and check the labels. Healthy happy new year.

Thursday, January 7, 2010

Who Needs a Social Media Policy?

The answer, in a word, is "everybody." Every company should have a social media policy to guide managers and employees in determining what they can and can't say online, to help them protect proprietary info without discouraging dialogue and engagement with stakeholders. Giving organization members a framework within which to communicate in social media will go a long way toward promoting transparency and building trust with customers and other audiences.

To see what a social media policy looks like, click through some of the links in the Social Media Governance policy database. IBM's Social Computing Guidelines, for instance, are just that--guidelines that rely on common sense and call for disclosure of company connections. From a marketing perspective, I especially like guideline #12:
Try to add value. Provide worthwhile information and perspective. IBM's brand is best represented by its people and what you publish may reflect on IBM's brand.
Coca-C0la just announced a new policy, also emphasizing full disclosure and reminding employees: "When in doubt, do not post." Good idea.

Monday, January 4, 2010

Will Amazon's PayPhrase Pay Off?

Have you seen Amazon's latest convenience/security feature? It's PayPhrase, a way to express-pay at Amazon and participating third-party retailers without entering credit/debit info again and again. Just pick a personal phrase (one you can remember but one that's not easily guessable) and type it in instead of entering billing address, card numbers, etc.

Amazon already stores customer info, so it's quick and easy to access the details for purchases on its site or on retail sites such as J&R and Patagonia. (Interestingly, I searched "PayPhrase" on several of the participating sites and came up empty. No info on this payment option.)

If PayPhrase catches on, it might challenge PayPal and other competing services. Technology Review mentions security concerns, because people tend to use the same phrases over and over. Still, the same holds true for most passwords. But without more promotion, PayPhrase won't gain the kind of traction it needs to become part of the shopping routine.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

Experiences, not Possessions

In today's challenging economic climate, consumers are seeking out experiences over possessions. The top theme parks in Asia are thriving, and well-recognized brands such as Legoland are pursuing expansion plans. This trend toward experiences opens important doors for marketers who can:

1. Build on competitive differentiation to create unforgettable memories. One theme park is not like another--each has (or should have) a distinctly different personality and experience possibilities. The same holds true for any experience being marketed. Reinforce brand associations by providing specific, tangible anchors and consistent customer service levels. Be sure customers recognize what will make your experience stand out from all others; be sure they know what to expect; and be sure you can deliver on those expectations.

2. Encourage engagement before, during, and after the experience. This isn't just a matter of social media. Use all manner of marketing communications to build anticipation in advance of the experience, focus customers on the unique elements that make the actual experience so memorable, and encourage sharing of ideas, feelings, and feedback throughout the process.