Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Latte and More--or Just Latte?

What happens when a restaurant posts calorie counts for menu items? Stanford Graduate School of Business researched this question by studying customer behavior at three Starbucks units that started showing calorie info on menu boards.

The results: Customer transactions involved slightly lower calorie counts than before calorie info was posted. The difference was only 6%, but at least people were using the calorie info to make healthier choices.

What is interesting is how the lower calorie total was achieved. According to the study, "average calories from food per transaction fell by 14%, of which 10% is due to people buying fewer items and 4% is due to people buying lower-calorie food items." In other words, buyers didn't give up their lattes, they bought less food or lighter-cal food.

This trend toward buying lower-cal foods persisted for at least 10 months after the first time Starbucks posted calorie counts. Buyers apparently adjusted to their lower-cal habits and didn't go back to higher-cal items for some time.

From a business standpoint, Starbucks didn't lose revenues by posting calorie info, according to the research. In fact, the study found that "for Starbucks stores located within 50 meters of a competitor, calorie-postings led to an increase in Starbucks revenue."

The Starbucks site has detailed nutrition info for every item, such as this 8-grain roll. Confronted by the delicious look and aroma of bakery items, it's impressive that in-store buyers were able to resist higher-cal foods in favor of lower-cal foods. Either way, Starbucks came out a winner.

Sunday, March 28, 2010

Newspapers Price Online Access

Will online readers pay for newspaper content? Overseas, the Financial Times has been using metered pricing for some time. 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 for free. Paid subscribers receive full access to the entire news and archive sites, with no restrictions on the number of articles that can be viewed.

So far, FT's pricing policy has served the publication well. 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, according to Advertising Age.

The Wall Street Journal has been successfully charging for online content and serves a loyal customer base. Now, London's Times and Sunday Times will begin charging for online access. The New York Times has a plan to begin charging in 2011. How much revenue can newspapers raise by pricing online content--and how much will readers be willing to pay?

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Seeing Is Believing

Sugarloaf, the big ski resort in Maine, knows that seeing is believing. Even the most dedicated spring skiier doesn't want to be slogging downhill on trails the texture of oatmeal. That's why the resort posts a daily photo as well as a detailed snow report.

Smart marketing. Skiiers are likely to be persuaded by photos, whereas written descriptions or line drawings may not hold as much credence. And photos have an emotional power that words just don't have. Sugarloaf knows just how to appeal to its target audience.

The marketing lesson: Try to work photos into your marketing, because for customers, seeing is believing.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Marketing Salt

Browsing the Penzeys spice catalog (and visiting one of its stores), it's clear that marketing salt can be a delicate balancing act. It tastes good but eating too much can have health consequences. Plus salt is quite plentiful, which means marketers have to sell the "sizzle."

Now Penzeys offers two salts. Here's what the online catalog has to say:
For years we have stayed away from selling salts. We find more excitement in blending spices (sometimes with salt) than in just packaging a product we get elsewhere. All salt is really sea salt. The salt mines are just bringing up salt that settled at the bottom of the sea many millions of years ago.
Yet people are excited about exotic salts with gourmet possibilities, so Penzeys now sells Pacific Sea Salt and Kosher Style Flake Salt.

Meanwhile, PepsiCo is creating a designer salt that adds less sodium to people's diet. By 2015, the corporate goal is to slash the amount of sodium in its salty snacks by 25%.

Today's Wall Street Journal quotes Pepsico's Indra Nooyi as saying: "We want our potato chips to be fried in the healthiest oils with the lowest salt." In other words, the marketing sizzle will be on the taste and health aspects of PepsiCo's designer salt.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Goodbye Saturday Snail Mail

The US Postal Service is poised to propose a five-day delivery week. To cut the organization's expenses and reduce its debt load, Saturday mail delivery will very likely become a thing of the past. Here's what the USPS has to say about its future.

Of course, Saturday delivery isn't gone yet, and months of heated discussion can be expected before a final decision is reached and approved by the authorities. However, given current trends in e-mail and social media, it's not surprising that snail mail volume is way, way down.

Does Saturday delivery make sense in today's world? Although some businesses really need Saturday delivery, most Mon-Fri, 9-5 businesspeople aren't waiting by the mailbox for Saturday snail mail. Even consumers have limited use for Saturday mail these days. Direct marketers don't have to reach their customers by mail; they have numerous electronic options, and of course phone calls are even a possibility.

Meanwhile, the USPS needs to do something about its aging fleet of delivery vehicles. It's looking to electric vehicles for the next wave of innovation, but the price tag could be too steep. USPS has thousands of alternative-fuel vehicles . . . but bringing mountains of direct mail, letters, packages, magazines, and other snail mail to the mailboxes and doorsteps of U.S. consumers is not a cheap process.

The bottom line is that the USPS has to worry about its bottom line. That means we'll probably be saying goodbye to Saturday snail mail sooner rather than later. I can imagine the nostalgia. Remember the days when you had to lick a stamp? Now . . . remember what a stamp is for?

Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Marketing the Census--Social Media Involvement

Today the US Census form arrived in my snail mailbox. If I didn't know anything about the Census, I'd know the form was on its way because of the Super Bowl commercial plus print ads and media coverage during the past few weeks.

The Census is putting a bit of marketing muscle behind this April 1 population count, including advertising, special events, PR (see photo), and a LOT of media outreach. Lots of online videos too.

I was struck by the amount of "involvement" activities via social media, including Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Flickr, and more. The Census wants people to not only raise their hands to be counted, but remind others and encourage cooperation.

Will all this marketing work? Will people fill out and return the questionnaires? Will they answer all the questions? Will they count everyone who should be counted? According to the Census Countdown Clock, there are only 15 days and 6 hours to go (as of the time I wrote this). Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

No-nonsense B2B Advertising

Remember the unique selling proposition (USP)? It's the idea that marketing communications should focus on the unique feature or benefit (something of importance and value to your customers) that differentiates your good or service from its competitors.

I see that the USP is back in some no-nonsense B2B print advertising. This week's BusinessWeek carried two ads that get to the point, quickly, each with a USP that makes sense to the target audience.

The headline of Amtrak's Acela ad is: "You have the right to free Wi-Fi." Body copy explains how riders in the Northeast now have access to free on-board and in-station Wi-Fi on Acela Express trains. That's the message. Simple, straightforward, and of interest to anyone who travels the Northeast corridor. I like it.

The headline of the OfficeMax ad takes a little longer to read: "Whoever coined the phrase 'what you don't know won't hurt you' wasn't in business long." Body copy says OfficeMax can save customers money on office supplies, managed print, tech services, and much more, and sends readers to for details. Alas, I didn't find immediate solutions on that site, but I followed another link to the firm's B2B catalog site OfficeMaxSolutions.

Given how easy it is to post ads online, it's surprising that neither of these is available on a company web site. But I can tell you both ads are uncomplicated and easy to read, which is just right for the audience of busy professionals. The USP is alive and well in B2B advertising--good thing, too.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Ka-ching! Farmville and Bing

Microsoft recently ran a promotion in which Farmville players received 3 Farm Cash to become Facebook fans of the Bing search engine page. Silicon Valley Insider called this a "bribe."

David Berkowitz of MediaPost notes that Bing increased its Facebook fan base from 100,000 to over 500,000 during the one-day promo. He also discusses ways to assess the success of Microsoft's promotion.

Here's my bottom line: Awareness is just the start. Why not offer Farm Cash? It's as good a way as any to increase awareness in a hurry.

Microsoft's major challenge is to change searchers' behavior, and that's a bigger issue than simply adding fans.
Gaining fans doesn't necessarily translate into higher Bing usage or long-term loyalty. It will take time to know whether these fans actually try Bing and then decide to stick with it instead of whatever search engine they typically use.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Clever Couponing

The Wall Street Journal recently reported on the "extreme sport" of couponing, which, according to Nielsen, is fueled by frequent coupon users who "tend to be females under the age of 54 with college degrees and household incomes above $70,000."

Saving money is part of the motivation, but so is recognition for "winning." Coupon web sites encourage users to submit photos of themselves surrounded by mountains of groceries they got for free or for very little cash outlay, thanks to clever couponing.

Sunday newspapers still carry FSIs (free standing inserts) containing coupons, and magazines still print coupons to clip. But increasingly, bargain hunters are surfing in search of coupons or checking their cell phone messages when they plan their shopping trips.

In fact, coupon redemption is on the rise, and, according to (logo above), digital coupons enjoy a much higher redemption rate than traditional printed coupons. A quick look at trends:
  • Electronic coupons, available for downloading from web sites such as and sometimes from brand sites such as Pampers, are increasingly popular. These e-coupons may take the form of promo codes for online shopping discounts; others are printable for use in neighborhood stores or to be redeemed with other marketing partners.
  • Mobile coupons are slowly gaining acceptance. Target just announced it will send coupons to customers' cell phones. Cellfire, which handles mobile coupons for Kroger and other supermarkets, says mobile coupons are redeemed at a much higher rate than printed coupons. People who might leave printed coupons at home certainly won't forget their cell phones when they shop, so this seems like a promising development.

Saturday, March 6, 2010

Tune up your marketing objectives

Where do you want your marketing plan to take you? Saying you want to achieve "growth" isn't going to help you formulate and implement an effective marketing strategy. Tighten up your objectives so they are:
  • Specific. Out with the vague, in with the particulars. Commit to a specific future target, such as increasing market share by 10% within 12 months.
  • Measurable. Quantify your objective. Even qualitative objectives, such as improving brand reputation, can be expressed in measurable terms. Start with research as a baseline of customer perceptions of brand reputation and then set an objective to increase the percentage of customers who perceive your brand's reputation in a favorable or very favorable light.
  • Relevant. Here's how to tell if an objective is relevant: If achieving it will move you closer to your company's overall goals and purpose, it's relevant. If not, don't bother.
  • Time defined. Check your calendar and set a deadline for achieving each objective. "Increase market share by 10%" is a practical objective only if you have a schedule for achieving it.
  • Challenging yet realistic. In a difficult economic climate, increasing market share by even 1% might be quite a challenge. During a period of strong economic expansion, this might be too timid a target. Set objectives that represent a bit of a stretch. But don't go overboard in stretching for an objective that's so far out of reach that it becomes demotivating.
  • Consistent. Who wouldn't like to dramatically increase both market share and profit margin at the same time? However, in the real world, it's often difficult to achieve both of these objectives simultaneously. Check that your objectives are consistent with each other--and that achieving one will not prevent you from achieving another.
Finally, be sure your objectives make sense in the context of your company's resources, strengths, competitive situation, and business environment.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Alphabet Soup: SEM and SEO

Should you focus on SEO (Search Engine Optimization) or SEM (Search Engine Marketing)? The Wall Street Journal recently discussed this question in the context of small business decisions.

The goal of SEO is to have your Web site or blog appear close to the top of a search engine's unpaid (organic) results. The goal of SEM is have prospects click on your paid link, which appears next to or above unpaid search results.

WSJ advises small businesses to go for SEM, because the payoff is higher and people who click on paid links are closer to actually making a purchase, studies show.

Interestingly, a recent Google report says businesses can improve certain SEO properties to do better in search results. One suggestion, a real no-brainer: do a thorough job of describing your site in the title tag. Then, when your site appears in search results, searchers will have a better idea of what you're about--before they click through to your site or skip to another site.

In reality, businesses of all sizes should analyze the possibilities of both SEO and SEM to understand the implications for their own marketing situations. One online marketing strategy does not fit all. You might mix SEO and SEM within a single marketing plan or test one or the other within a particular product category or for a specific target audience. Dig into this alphabet soup and decide for yourself.

Tuesday, March 2, 2010

FDA and Privacy: What Will 2010 Bring?

The Center for Digital Democracy has asked the US Food & Drug Administration to examine how pharmaceutical manufacturers are using behavioral targeting to track and market to consumers online.

The executive director states:
It is essential that the FDA craft regulatory safeguards for Internet-related promotion, especially since interactive communications will become the dominant form for the delivery of health information and advertising to both consumers and health professionals.
The group says that "few U.S. health consumers are aware that they are being identified, labeled, profiled, and tracked on the Internet while they search or access information on specific conditions or concerns." And because a growing number of consumers use the Web to research medical conditions and treatments, privacy advocates worry about how closely manufacturers follow consumer actions online.

In particular, the Center for Digital Democracy would like the FDA to focus on several specific online techniques:
  • Behavioral targeting that can profile and target individual consumers based on Internet behaviors related to illnesses or symptoms.
  • Online channels related to specific diseases or conditions that target consumers without clear disclosure of business sponsorship.
  • "Stealthily" monitoring and analyzing consumers' social media interactions with the goal of generating word-of-mouth brand promotion.
  • Use of neuromarketing to subtly influence consumers' decision about pharma products on a subconscious level.
The FDA held hearings on similar issues late in 2009. Will it take another look in 2010, with an eye toward investigating possible threats to consumer privacy?