Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cash Mobs Give Small Businesses a Boost

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have both reported on this phenomenon during the past week: Just in time for holiday shopping, the cash mob movement is using the power of social media to give small businesses a boost.

A cash mob is a group of buyers who assemble to give their business to a locally-owned business (small store or restaurant, for example). They're tipped off by a blog or tweet or Facebook and show up with $20 or more in cash to spend.

One cash mob shopped at an independent Cleveland bookstore; another bought holiday gifts from a Milwaukee gift store. Above, a cash mob organized by the Chamber of Commerce shops at a retail incubator in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Movements such as cash mobs and Small Business Saturday are putting the focus back on local community businesses. Everybody wins!

Happy new year, and please click back here in 2012 for more marketing news, views, and ideas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

E-Book Pricing: Regulators Look Closer

When digital books cost more than printed books, it's no wonder that regulators are looking at the whole pricing model.

The roots of this pricing issue go back to the ongoing competition between Apple and Amazon, both of which are marketing hardware for reading downloaded books.

Amazon used to deeply discount digital books, offering many best-sellers at a flat $9.99. The point was to gain market share and (more important) support its Kindle e-readers. Amazon cut its own profit margins to keep those e-book prices low, and when consumers saw how many books were available for download at very reasonable prices, they began buying Kindles. And buying. And buying.

The publishers were not happy with super-low prices because (1) Amazon was controlling the retail price, rather than the publishers, and (2) publishers feared consumers would then question the pricing of printed books, which carried higher prices than digital books.

Ultimately, after a lot of behind-the-scenes discussions and some books being pulled from its e-storefront, Amazon agreed to let publishers set their own prices; the bookseller would buy e-books from them at a discounted rate of, say, 30%.

Meanwhile, the publishers were listening when Apple announced its iPad would include an e-book reading function. Who wouldn't want to reach loyal Apple iGadget owners? Better yet, Apple said publishers could set their own retail prices. Five big publishers signed on: Hachette Livre, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Macmillan.

Now the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into e-book pricing. The European Union's regulators are also investigating whether the publishers "are engaged in illegal agreements or practices." Stay tuned for more developments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

AKB48 - A Giant Brand in Japan

If you've never heard of AKB48, you will soon. It's the brand of an all-girl musical group based in Tokyo (Akihabra, to be exact, the high-tech crossroads of Japan) that has had hit after hit after hit. The girls, in their late teens and early 20s, come from all over Japan and are featured in several teams that perform in the group's own Akihabra theater and on tour around Asia.

AKB48 is so popular, in fact, that Japan is about to issue a new stamp sheet featuring the group. Not that this stamp set needs any additional promotion, but the postal service is holding a contest and a few lucky winners will get group members' autographs on postcards.

The group hosted an MTV charity event earlier in the year to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross to help earthquake and tsunami victims. One of its most recent singles sold 1 million copies on the first day of release. No wonder Advertising Age calls AKB48 one of the hottest brands in the world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Less Packaging = More Satisfaction

Less is more: Amazon and Walmart are putting pressure on manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging on their products, especially targeting those hard-to-open protective plastic shells in which small items arrive. Amazon calls this its "frustration-free" initiative. Already, toymakers are doing away with frustrating and unnecessary packaging.

With the holidays here, less packaging (and less frustrating packaging) can mean more satisfied buyers AND a cleaner planet.
Each American sends about 800 pounds of packaging to landfills each year. The frenzy peaks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, when the EPA estimates that the average US household’s trash load headed for landfills skyrockets about 25 percent.
Think how much greener we can keep our planet if all manufacturers slash the amount of packaging they use. Hasbro recently introduced new Play-Doh packaging (above) without paper labels and with tapered bottoms to stack neatly, encouraging reuse. A big change? No, but that's the point: Little steps can add up to big environmental savings and less frustration.

Think how much time will be saved too: The Daily Mail cites a survey saying that parents blame excessive packaging for much of the time they have to invest to assemble toys such as doll houses and bicycles.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Macy's and Mobile Marketing

Mobile Marketing mag names Macy's the top mobile marketer of 2011. Why?
  • Macy's Backstage Pass uses QR codes and texting to give customers more info about designers, styles, and more--while they're standing in the stores, which have WiFi to power this program.
  • Macy's created apps (see photo at left) for customers to use to preview the groups and progress of the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade.
  • Macy's has a shopping app, of course.
The Macy's mobile site is stripped down for smaller screens but also recognizable as the store's mobile gateway, not just because of the logo  but also the color (Macy's red).  Oh, and promotions like sales are front and center on the mobile landing page. After all, who doesn't love a bargain?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Evolution of a Sample Marketing Plan: Sonic

When I wrote the first edition of my Marketing Plan Handbook for Prentice Hall back in 2003, I created a sample marketing plan focused on the fictional product "Sonic Personal Digital Assistant."

At the time, PDAs were hot, and it was fun to create a plan for a new product to compete with Palm, Handspring, and other handheld digital assistants that were taking the market by storm. I used actual market statistics as background for the sample plan, learning (among other things) that growth in wireless-enabled PDAs was far outstripping growth in non-wireless PDAs. Clearly, wireless was the future.

PDAs didn't double as phones in those days, and few were GPS-enabled. So as the upgrade to my fictional product, the Sonic PDA, I planned a cell phone/GPS/PDA with a color display and commands via voice recognition system. Also I added built-in MP3 play/storage functionality, a wardrobe of colorful cases for the fashion-savvy, and celebrity voices serving as the voice of the Sonic. In later editions, I dropped the PDA part and focused the sample marketing plan on a smart phone with so many bells and whistles that it could be a one-man band.

As I look ahead to the sample marketing plan for my 5th edition, that future has become reality: the iPhone's Siri is a mainstream voice command system, even more sophisticated than the one I had envisioned years ago. Phones are routinely multifunction, with way more features and options that the fully-loaded PDA model I thought up 8 years ago. Virtual keyboards, which I included in my sample plan for a Sonic smart phone, are now widely available. I included streaming video and video recording capabilities in a later marketing plan, and now those are also readily available in the real world.

So goodbye, Sonic Superphone, it's been fun but you're so yesterday. I'll be creating an entirely new marketing plan for a new fictional product. Watch for it in the 5th edition.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dear CMO: What, No Facebook Page?

Dear CMO:

Ignoring social media is NOT an option in today's highly social world. Surprisingly, however, as Steve Olenski points out by quoting a UMass study, more than 25% of the Fortune 500 corporations have no Facebook or Twitter presence. His analysis is well worth reading.

Going social means giving up some measure of control, and that's why I believe so many of you CMOs are hesitating. After all, some dissatisfied customers may post on your FB page or tweet about problems with your product or service. You already have a process for managing complaints, now figure out how to do it publicly, in real time, so you can protect your online reputation and reinforce brand loyalty.

If you truly want to get closer to your customers, you must be where they are. And your customers, old and young, domestic and international, are very social these days. According to Pew, 65% of all US adults who are online are using social media. This isn't just the Millennials: Baby-boomers are going social at a record pace.

Not being involved in social media is an ostrich decision. Social media are not going away any time soon, and your competitors are already out there, building a follower network or engaging customers in a FB contest. Need some ideas? Here are just a few ways that big firms are using FB and Twitter.
Ford permits comments posted on its FB wall in response to specific posts. Hewlett-Packard hosts a customer support forum on FB. Walmart's FB presence handles public participation by segregating consumer comments on a "feedback" page. Target, a very active social media participant, has more than 200,000 Twitter followers. McKesson has a big disclaimer on the left of its Twitter account page, just in case.
What are you waiting for? 2012 is almost here. Sincerely,

Marian Burk Wood

Friday, December 2, 2011

Angry Birds Christmas

Now that the Angry Birds game has been downloaded 500 million times--yes, that's half a billion times--the company has been branching out with all kinds of products to capitalize on its good fortune during the holiday shopping season.
  • Angry Birds cookbook. Above, one of the illustrations from this cookbook, Bad Piggies' Egg Recipes, all about eggs in every imaginable combination: scrambled, quiche, and so on. Lots of fun, with a dash of irony. It's #4,000 on Amazon at the time of this writing, but Santa hasn't finished his list yet, so expect the book to rise in the standings week by week.
  • Angry Birds plush. In almost every major store, you'll find small and large birds and piggies for kiddies who love stuffed animals. Some of the toys can make sounds, some just look cute.
  • Angry Birds board game. If your thumbs get tired from electronically pulling back the slingshot, try this board game, yet another branded item that has been doing well.
  • Angry Birds backpacks, piggy banks, key chains, and other items. These were hot sellers for back-to-school and now they're great stocking stuffers. 
Will those birds be singing Christmas carols too?

Friday, November 25, 2011

The View from Black Friday and Cyber Monday

Here it is on Black Friday--the day after Thanksgiving, which traditionally signals the start of the holiday shopping season--and predictions for online buying are optimistic, based on sales to date and on today's buying patterns.

ComScore says November online sales are already higher than last year and it sees a lot of ka-ching for web retailers. PayPal and eBay are seeing strong demand so far. Amazon (above) is ready for a big weekend and holiday season worldwide.

Of course mobile marketing has been in full swing, with special offers, coupons, and contests galore. But tracking via cell phone is also a concern on Black Friday--"Black SpyDay"--and the easy way to avoid being tracked is to turn the mobile off in malls and stores.

Will all this online buying put a dent into store sales? For gadgets, the answer is likely to be yes, mainly because it's so easy to comparison shop and click to buy without crowds and 4 a.m. lines outside for door-buster specials in the mall. Meanwhile, small businesses are hoping that Small Business Saturday draws big interest. And Cyber Monday is still days away. Stay tuned.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

2d Annual Small Business Saturday

American Express started the first Small Business Saturday in 2010 to encourage shoppers to buy from small, local businesses. This year, it's again promoting the day as a way to support small businesses all over the country.

There's a FB page with more than 2 million "likes" where consumers can learn more, pledge to buy from small biz on Saturday, and see who else is supporting the movement (FedEx, dozens of chambers of commerce, and many other corporations and civic groups).

TV, newspapers, blogs, and other media are spreading the word, giving the day more play and encouraging people to buy what they need and want from small, local firms. Wilmington, Delaware even switched its Christmas parade from Black Friday to Small Business Saturday to bring crowds of shoppers past the doors of local businesses. Great idea!

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Occupy Branding

GoDaddy reports an avalanche of registrations for domains that begin "Occupy ____." More than 500 sites were registered in recent months with names like "OccupyThanksgiving" (save the turkey) to "OccupyDenver" (aligned with the Occupy Wall Street movement).

Advertising Age wrote about the Occupy movement and how it's affecting marketing here.

The Canadian Marketing Association has a video and thoughts about Occupy and marketing here.

How will the Occupy movement influence marketing in the future? In the short term, "occupy" will be a shorthand term that will pop up all over the place. Beyond 2012, who knows? I hope GoDaddy reports on how many of the "Occupy ___" sites renew their domain registrations in a year, 2 years, 3 years...

Friday, November 18, 2011

Happy Multichannel Holiday?

Shoppers are clicking from home, visiting stores, checking comparison sites and apps, watching YouTube product demos, looking at Facebook pages, signing up for deal-of-the-day messages and subscribing to promo tweets--in short, they're using multiple channels to browse and buy this holiday season. As many as 60 million shoppers will buy or compare prices via mobile on Black Friday alone.

What does all this mean for marketers?
  • Multichannel strategies are a must. More than ever before, consumers demand the flexibility to buy when and where and how they choose. And they vote with their wallets. Marketers who don't make things easy will be left in the dust, and quickly. Be sure Web sites look good on the mobile screen. Think about shipping fees, sometimes a barrier. Walmart is making a start by offering free shipping on electronics over $45, in a bid to attract shoppers accustomed to the Amazon $25+ free shipping deal.
  • Think tech. Consumers are using technology to research products and prices. Marketers better be prepared. The UK's John Lewis chain offers free WiFi so in-store shoppers can go online and check that its prices are the lowest. Lower price somewhere else? John Lewis will match, a good way to keep shoppers from slipping out the door without shopping bags in hand. At the very least, add QR codes to store displays, ads, etc.
  • Catalogs? Sort of. JC Penney did away with its famous catalog but now those store racks, once full of bulky catalogs, have flyers that function like mini-catalogs for niche offerings like the JC Penney Sports Fan Shop. I picked one up at a local Penney store the other day; the full-color flyer says: "We have your team. Choose from over 150,000 items." Sports fans on my gift list, be warned.
  • Get into social media now. You know--Facebook, YouTube, wherever customers are likely to be social, that's where marketers have to get into the conversation. Claim the name before someone unofficial does it. Multichannel now or customers will change the channel.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Grand Opening of Christmas Windows

It's not your imagination--Christmas marketing really is starting earlier and earlier. Macy's New York will unveil its new holiday window displays in Manhattan on Thursday, Nov 17, at 5 pm.

Not to be outdone, Lord & Taylor New York is unveiling its displays today--Monday, Nov 14--at 5:30 pm. (If you want to watch, log on here to see a live stream.)

Henri Bendel, the upscale fashion store, will unveil its Fifth Avenue windows on Thursday, Nov 17, as well, with the famous Radio City Rockettes as special guests.

We'll all have to wait until Nov 21 to see Lady Gaga's Barneys New York windows.

Canadian stores started their Christmas window displays even earlier. Here's what one store did to develop its holiday themes and decorations.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Travel Marketing: Reviving Interest in Trouble Spots

Egypt, Tunisia, and Thailand are all areas that have been in the headlines this year...Egypt and Tunisia because of political upheavals and Thailand because of floods (not to mention last year's political upheaval).

Now these three nations are using travel marketing to bring back tourists. The tourism office in Egypt is emphasizing security, a friendly welcome, and unique experiences like desert safaris. Egypt's tourist minister also observes: "We are selling sun, sea and culture, but Egypt can become the rehab centre for the Middle East." That's been one of Thailand's appeals in recent years.

Thailand's tourism is already bouncing back. The official tourism site offers frequent updates on the flood situation, which enhances its credibility and keeps travelers informed of where to go and where to avoid. Its beaches were untouched by the floods, so sun seekers are skipping the big cities and going to resorts for holiday fun. The "Amazing Thailand" campaign is on Facebook with 220,000 likes.

Tunisia's official tourism site puts the focus on how close the nation is to the UK and Ireland. "The Jewel of the Mediterranean" is how Tunisia describes itself, with historic heritage, spas, family destinations, crafts, and more.

With today's economy trying to recover and consumers planning trips with more care and sometimes less money than in the past, these nations will have to make a very strong case for themselves. Can they do it?

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

U-Turn on Rest Area Communications?

Continuing my November theme of travel and marketing, I present two exhibits from my road trip along the Garden State, better known as New Jersey.

These two photos show parts of a fast-food tray liner at a rest stop restaurant along the New Jersey Turnpike.

The Turnpike Authority wants drivers to know more about safety on the road, and what better way than inviting them to read a few facts and take a quick quiz?

Good idea, not as good execution. The folks who wrote the facts, quiz, and answers should have tested their communications before going to print.

In the top photo, the first sentence reads: "Signing is the primary medium at which the roadway has to communicate with motorists." Huh? Not so clear.

In the second photo, question #1 is clear and straight-forward: "Why is the Emergency Pull-Off sign yellow?" It's the answer that has me puzzled: "To enhance conspicuity."

My marketing advice: To enhance conspicuity, the Turnpike Authority should do a U-turn on communications and road-test all headlines and copy before hitting the print button. If it's a matter of safety, then it's safer to test before printing and distributing.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Best Buy Express Targets On-the-Go Consumers

Three years ago, Best Buy announced its kiosk program, a way to sell cameras, headphones, cell phones, flash drives, video games, and many other electronics in airports across America. Today, Best Buy Express machines like the one above are in numerous locations and coming to 100 more spots in 2012, where travelers can touch the screen to learn more about the products and swipe a credit or debit card to purchase.

I found this machine in the huge Delaware Welcome Center rest stop along the I-95 highway corridor. It's in a prime location: A few steps from the main entrance on the right-hand wall. People naturally turn to the right when entering a shop or facility and this is one of the first things they'll see. In the 10 minutes I watched, the kiosk attracted a steady stream of browsers but no buyers.

Also, Best Buy offers a delivery guarantee and a toll-free number to call in case a product fails to be released after payment. Smart move.

By the way, the video screen at top left of the kiosk rotates ads. You can read about the program here on Best Buy's media kit page.

Tuesday, November 1, 2011

Rental Model Goes Upscale

Want a piece of fine art to spruce up your walls? Click over to Artsicle, where for $25/month and up, you can rent (or rent to own) a painting or other art for your home or office. Decorative wall art is a $10 billion business--think posters, mirrors, and the like--and Artsicle aims to capture a share. Museums like the Seattle Art Museum also rent fine art.

Or how about renting fine jewelry? Adorn is offering diamond necklaces, earrings, and bracelets with or without precious stones, delivered and returned via UPS (below).
Rent the Runway offers top designer clothing for rent, a new approach to the old problem of what to wear for an evening on the town, Sweet 16, special birthday, or to a wedding. Bag Borrow or Steal rents luxe handbags, jewelry, sunglasses, and watches. Montana Rader rents designer shoes and jewelry...the list goes on.

These and other rental businesses illustrate how the business model of renting is moving upscale into nontraditional categories and putting high-end items within reach for a rental fee, rather than by buying. What categories will be next?

Friday, October 28, 2011

2011: Another Cut-Price Christmas?

Halloween hasn't arrived yet and already retailers are positioning themselves with discounts and promotions to capture share of wallet well in advance of the holiday buying season. Penny-pinching purchasers do care about price, but how much influence will the following policies have on actual buying?
  •  Toys 'R' Us is launching a new version of its customer loyalty program, featuring discounts and money-back after the season. The program has 24 million members and will doubtless attract millions more who will consolidate their purchases to achieve savings.
  • Walmart has a price-match guarantee to reassure shoppers that they won't find a lower price anywhere from Nov. 1 to Dec. 25. If they do, Walmart will give them a gift card for the difference in price--bringing shoppers back into the store to spend again.
  • Sears will beat a competing price by 10%, subject to the fine print of course.
  • Bed, Bath & Beyond will match Amazon.com's prices, which is unusual because very few in-store retailers include online merchants in price match programs.
One thing is clear: Customers will need to be even better shoppers than usual to get the best deal.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Netflix's Moments of Truth

Netflix has been so popular and resilient that it's hard to believe how poorly it handled its price increase and subsequent proposal to split into two companies, one for DVDs and one for streaming entertainment. (I've been a customer for years, DVDs being my preference, and after the price hike, I chose DVD-only rather than pay more for the privilege of streaming as well.)

Announcing that DVD-only subscribers would be shunted to a new division, Qwikster, caused such an uproar among inconvenienced customers that CEO Reed Hastings soon reversed this decision and did away with Qwikster. But the damage had been done.

Now that Netflix's latest quarterly earnings are out, it's clear that the company is losing subscribers--more than 800,000 defected in the last quarter. In other words, subscribers are voting with their money. And the defections may not be over.

As Netflix expands into other nations, its strong US base is not as sturdy as it was even 6 months ago. Plus Netflix's stumbles are hurting its standing in the financial community.

As the Washington Post points out, the battle for our living room is far from over, and once-dormant competitors like Blockbuster are scoring points. This year has brought several moments of truth for Netflix--and so far, the company is standing but staggering.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Planning with the Far Future in Mind

Marketing plans usually cover the next 6-12 months, with the exception of some new product intros, which may cover 12-24 months. But every plan must take into account developments that might arise months and years into the future--because those environmental shifts (technological, political, cultural, etc) can potentially derail even the best plan.

If Cisco had, for instance, taken a close, critical look at the eventual future of consumer pocket videocams, would it have bought the Flip business? As it turns out, video has become extremely important to Cisco's future marketing plans--in terms of videoconferencing for B2B customers, not in the consumer world.

So how do marketers stimulate creative thinking about future directions for their industries, technologies, customer needs, cultural preferences, and so on?

First, cast a wide net and think big. I like to listen to the FourCast podcast for ideas about how technology might change 3 or 5 or 100 years in the future. Sure, some of the predictions are outlandish, but they're also entertaining and imaginative. A lot of new ideas are packed into every podcast. The MIT Technology Review just published an interesting issue about the future, based on ideas rooted in science fiction.

Second, take advantage of all kinds of data for your markets, like the UCLA Anderson Forecast series for Southern California. Technical, to be sure, but broad trends are addressed and may help you think creatively about future opportunities and challenges.

Third, look beyond the numbers to uncover the reasons for what's happening. Are car-top luggage carrier sales going through the roof just as the economy is tanking? Thule had that situation, which turned out to be an indicator of how consumers would react to difficult economic times. Interpreting such changes isn't always easy but it will provide additional clues to broader trends you should incorporate into your marketing planning.

And, because the marketing environment can be disrupted by "once in a lifetime" events such as the nuclear problems in Japan, touched off by extreme weather conditions, consultants Booz & Company advise management to think about black swans, "high-magnitude, low-frequency upheavals" that can turn a business on its end.

Monday, October 17, 2011

PricewaterhouseCoopers's Power Pitch Contest

This week's Fortune carried a fascinating article about how the accounting firm PricewaterhouseCoopers stimulates innovation through an American Idol-like contest it calls Power Pitch.

PwC is the accounting firm that tallies the Oscar votes (see above), with great security and an unusual amount of secrecy to prevent leaks. All the glitz happens on stage when big-name celebrities open the envelopes.

Backstage is where PwC does its magic, but the firm is also ramping up its business possibilities by encouraging its own talented people to team up in an innovation competition. The team that came up with the best idea for PwC's next $100 million business would win $100,000.

This was no ordinary "employee suggestion contest." A panel of partners narrowed the field of initial submissions to 20, and a popular vote among employees sent a further 5 to the semifinal round. With help from internal advisors, these 25 teams refined their ideas.  Only 5 teams made it to the finals in New York City, to pitch their product ideas at PwC's headquarters--viewed via webcast by thousands of colleagues worldwide.

The winning idea was a proposed service that would apply sophisticated datamining analyses to help clients determine what their customers want or need next (think Netflix movie suggestions but in the health care or financial services field). Even if Power Pitch doesn't result in a new $100 million business, it has already generated internal excitement and helped the company's talented professionals to think big, think creative.

Friday, October 14, 2011

Pay Phones Are Still Around (For How Long?)

Cell phones may be ubiquitous, but pay phones still have a place--literally--at airports, subways, hospitals, and other locations. Wherever cell phones just won't work or non-cell users need to make calls, pay phones are a good but increasingly scarce option.

Verizon just sold a chunk of its dwindling pay phone business to PTS (Pacific Telemanagement Services), which sees "tremendous opportunity there." The last of the Baby Bells to offer pay phone service, Verizon is hanging onto a handful of its choice locations. Pay phones are also targeting prisons, where inmates must call collect or arrange a prepaid call. PTS is active in this market, as well. 

The pay phone industry was deregulated during the 1990s, in an effort to spur competition and keep phones in place. But with rapid penetration of cell phones, pay phone usage dropped (landline usage also) and companies began to withdraw from the market. Will pay phones still be around by 2020?

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Not Your Dad's Dole

Ever heard of red or baby bananas? Well, Dole--which markets all kinds of fruits and veggies from pineapples to packaged salads--is putting them in grocery stores for you to taste and enjoy.

This isn't the Dole of yesteryear...it's the 21st century, and fresh is trendy. Dole is looking at niche markets these days, not just mainstream produce in bulk.

Social responsibility is definitely on Dole's menu, with initiatives ranging from water and soil conservation to community involvement programs around the world.

The Dole brand has also gone social. It's got its own Facebook page, with more than half a million "likes." It tweets (@DoleNutrition). And of course it has a YouTube channel.

Monday, October 10, 2011

YouTube Expands Movie Rental Business

Did you even know YouTube is in the movie rental business? It's already expanding into Canada and the UK market, after having started in the US. This development is not entirely out of the blue: Mashable, PC World, and others reported on it last year.

No need to be in front of a computer screen--YouTube movie rentals can stream to Android phones, naturally.

Comcast and other cable companies are feeling pressure from on-demand streaming movie rental deals like YouTube's and Netflix's (not to mention the new Direct/Blockbuster offer). Comcast wants to stream movies before the rental firms get ahold of them, but at a high price point, reportedly.

So pricing may wind up to be a key decision point for consumers. Go out to Redbox and get something for $1? Or stream via subscription from Netflix (which just dropped the Qwikster split-up plan)? Or rent on the fly anytime from YouTube? Lots of choices, and lots of changes on the horizon. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Getting Consumers to Go Greener

A survey from GfK Roper and S.C. Johnson (maker of Windex, Ziploc, and other household products) shows that U.S. consumers are doing more recycling these days compared with 20 years ago--see below. One reason for this shift is that consumers are more informed about how recycling protects the planet and what can be recycled than they were in 1990.

Johnson has both a blog and a Twitter account devoted to greener choices. Its Web site also has a carbon footprint calculator for consumers to use as they consider how their individual choices and behaviors can affect the environment.

From switching to reusable shopping bags to recycling all appropriate bottle, plastic, and metal containers, consumers are increasingly going green through such everyday eco-friendly actions.

Despite higher awareness of recycling opportunities and activities, however, consumers can and should go greener, experts say. An important motivator is helping consumers see how they serve their own self-interest when they protect the environment. Watch for more marketing in the coming years to increase recognition of recycling benefits and motivate greener behavior.

Friday, September 30, 2011

Revisiting Competitors as Stakeholders

By far, the most popular posts on this blog are the two I wrote about whether a company, as it develops a marketing plan, should consider its competitors to be stakeholders.

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

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

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

In a second post, I wrote:
Of course, competitors are legally forbidden to discuss and coordinate pricing plans and activities (at least in the U.S. and Europe). But that doesn't mean a company can't target a rival's customers or set a goal of dethroning the market leader. . . Both situations would certainly have an effect on the performance of the company and its rivals. In both situations, competitors would be stakeholders of each other.
Consider what happened this week, when Amazon introduced its new Kindle Fire e-reader/tablet computer. Jeff Bezos told the media conference: "We are building premium products and offering them at non-premium prices." Clearly, he's talking about how Amazon differentiates itself from Apple. The Kindle Fire is no iPad, but it will very likely affect Apple's performance this holiday season, just as Amazon's pricing of its streaming movies and TV shows will affect Netflix's performance  this holiday season. Then there's Research in Motion, which is struggling to sell its PlayBook tablet.

No marketer should focus on competitors as its main stakeholder group. Other stakeholders--especially customers--are much more important. Yet competitors have the ability to affect the performance of a single company and its entire industry, just as that company's actions can affect the performance of all its competitors and the overall indusry.

That's why Amazon, Apple, RIM, and Netflix have to keep an eye on each other as stakeholders. They target many of the same customer segments; their strengths add to a healthy marketplace for customers and for competition; their weaknesses open the door to new opportunities for each other.

Thursday, September 29, 2011

How Hot Is Kindle Fire?

Apple won't be the only brand watching Amazon's new Kindle tablet/reader, announced on Thursday with much fanfare by Amazon's CEO, Jeff Bezos. The Fire is a bit larger than other Kindles and smaller than the iPad, and it builds on Amazon's vast library of books and entertainment, plus depending on Amazon's cloud storage.

Analysts and industry insiders have been talking about the price--only $199--and how it poses a major challenge to Apple's iPad, which is priced starting at $499. But other rivals are in the mix, thanks to Amazon's aggressive pricing.

Lenovo's smallest IdeaPad, also 7" and also capable of streaming movies, is--at $199--a head-to-head competitor to the Kindle Fire.

With the holiday shopping season about to begin, this will be an intensive two-month competition for consumers' attention and wallets. Admittedly, the iPad has much to recommend it as a laptop alternative, not a primary e-reader, and its price reflects the many bells and whistles (cameras etc) that the Fire lacks. But I still expect Apple to make some kind of competitive move before the year is over. What will it do?

Oh, and did I mention that Netflix will be feeling the heat from Kindle as well? Amazon is offering unlimited access to some 11,000 TV shows and movies for Amazon Prime customers (cost: $79/yr), along with a 30-day trial for Kindle Fire buyers. Given Netflix's recent pricing stumbles, Amazon may have found the right downloading lever for prying Netflix customers away--and the right hardware for sealing the bargain.

Still, some privacy advocates are concerned about the way in which Kindle Fire will route Web browsing via its cloud, logging and retaining info about users' browsing for 30 days. Opt-out is possible, apparently, but this aspect of the Amazon Silk browser isn't winning applause in many circles. 

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Where's the Beef? It's B-a-a-a-ck

"Where's the beef?" has been a catchphrase for nearly 3 decades, since Wendy's famous TV and print ads in which actress Clara Peller examined competing burgers, looking for--well, the beef.

Now "where's the beef?" is back in a new round of Wendy's ads, this time for Dave's Hot 'n Juicy burgers. In this latest incarnation, "where's the beef?" is intended to suggest fresh quality as Wendy's battles its burger rivals, McDonald's and Burger King.

The Wendy's Web site is featuring founder Dave Thomas's quotes and his daughter's comments as well, linking the brand to its roots. At the bottom of the home page, Wendy's invites visitors to "be social" via the brand's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and MySpace pages. I wonder whether Dave Thomas would have been tweeting today . . . or making YouTube videos, the way Blendtec's CEO does with his famous "Will It Blend?" series?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Advertorials 2.0: Transparency Is Key

The lines between "editorial" and "advertising" are blurrier than ever.

In the world of print journalism, a page or series of pages with content sponsored by a company, brand, country, or other marketer is an advertorial. In tiny letters at the top of the page, you'll see words alerting the reader that this is advertising.

In the digital world, this kind of content is commonplace but no standardized way of identifying or presenting it has yet emerged. 

Another digital form of advertorial emerged last year, when Forbes initiated its Forbes AdVoices program. Marketers are invited to sponsor content that will be posted on the mag's site under the sponsor's brand banner. The magazine's explanation reads, in part:
Marketers can now tell their own story in their words on the Forbes platform using the same tools as content creators. They can develop relationships with consumers, thought leaders and journalists, too. On the Forbes platform, all content is clearly labeled and transparent. Everyone knows who’s talking and the vantage point from which they speak.
Initially, some critics were concerned that the advertorial disclosure might not be clear enough. "Forbes' New Ad Pitch: Wanna buy a blog?" asked Crain's New York Business.

Fast-forward a year. One recent AdVoice entry sponsored by Merrill Lynch, for example, was about investing in gold. Another, sponsored by SAP, looked at applying "gamification" to business issues.

New Media Age recently observed that some sponsored content can be just as popular as--if not more popular than--editorial. In other words, if the content has value for readers, it's a win-win-win for the site, the readers, and the sponsor, as long as the sponsorship is transparent.

Monday, September 19, 2011

Joe Fresh in New York

And New Jersey! "New classics inspired by the classics" is the motto of Joe Fresh, a cosmetics and clothing brand sold in Canadian specialty and superstores. Now the brand is coming to the New York metro area with flagships and fashion fanfare.

Joe Mimran, the man behind the brand, has already created and sold off a successful brand, Club Monaco, to Polo Ralph Lauren in 1999. His Joe Fresh brand has a touch of Gap (classics) mixed with a taste of H&M (stylish affordability).

Joe Fresh has gotten plenty of fashion mag mentions in the runup to its Big Apple invasion.

For its debut US ad campaign, the company bought the rights to David Bowie's song Oh! You Pretty Things rather than use original music, as it usually does. "We chose David Bowie because he's timeless, he's a visionary," explains Joe Fresh's creative director.

Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube are in the marketing mix for Joe Fresh's NY debut. How will Joe Fresh fare in New York's fashion mix?

Friday, September 16, 2011

College Radio Day 10.11.11

College Radio Day is scheduled for October 11, 2011. Why a special day to celebrate this particular medium?

The goal is to spotlight the importance and audience of college radio stations across North America, pushing to preserve the individuality and creativity of this media segment.

College radio traditionally had a loyal following, not just among students and faculty but among members of the public who wanted to listen to fresh voices, fresh views, and new music.

Yet students have so many media choices these days (including podcasts and online radio stations) that college radio lacks the reach it had in past decades, according to a college dean. In addition, some colleges are raising money by selling their station licenses (often to public radio stations), winnowing the ranks even further.

Designating a day to celebrate college radio is a good marketing move to call attention to this targeted medium. One month before the event, more than 240 stations have signed on to participate. Hundreds more are expected to participate next month. For the latest, check the special Web site, the Facebook page, and the Twitter account. And tune into your local college radio station on 10.11.11.

Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Happy 30th Birthday to the IBM PC

The IBM PC has just celebrated its 30th birthday--and it's hard to believe that the personal computer is already three decades old. Early models had monochrome monitors and floppy disk storage. The early Apple Macintosh computers were smaller and boxier, with an easier-to-use graphical interface instead of the DOS system used in IBM models. IBM sold off its PC division to Lenovo in 2005, but Apple continues to innovate Macintosh computers and increase its market share year by year.

After the PC came many other electronic gadgets, some with specialized functions and others providing PC convenience in new "packaging."

Remember the hand-held personal digital assistant? Palm and Handspring made their names on this product. Once the darling of the computer world, the product wound up as a short-lived stepping stone to smartphones.

These days, laptops, netbooks, tablets, and smartphones are commonplace, coexisting with desktop computers at home and in the workplace. The big battle, currently, is among tablet computers, where Apple's iPad is the undisputed leader. Will tablets remain popular or will it turn out to be an intermediate step toward some other electronic device, the way PDAs paved the way for smartphones?

Monday, September 12, 2011

Smart Strategy: Segmenting Your Pricing

PepsiCo's CFO, Hugh Johnston, recently spoke to an investors' conference about the company's segmented pricing strategy. Johnston explained that PepsiCo must "meet the needs of the widening gap between value, middle, and premium consumers" while simultaneously being responsive to higher price sensitivity among all segments.

So what's PepsiCo doing? Instead of adjusting pricing across the board to account for higher costs, the company has segmented its markets by channel, consumption occasion, and consumption needs.

For example, it offers 99-cent/1.5 liter bottles for consumption at home by smaller households and offers 20-packs of cans for special occasions when people gather, such as holidays or birthdays. It also offers 99-cent/16 oz. bottles in convenience stores and gas station markets for consumers in a hurry to grab and go. And it created a 7.5 oz. can for consumers who are "light users" of carbonated soft drinks at home--a tactic that lets Pepsi charge more per ounce while adding value by helping consumers limit the amount they drink.

Meanwhile, PepsiCo's ongoing rivalry with Coca-Cola is even fiercer, with US sales of carbonated beverages stagnating and consumers not spending as freely on extras as in pre-recession days. That's why Pepsi is also kicking its promotions into high gear, on Facebook, Twitter, and Youtube.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

Digital Marketing Metrics--What's Out, What's In

Remember when click-throughs were the go-to metric for measuring the effect of Internet banner ads? Those days are gone. Here's a quick look at what's in and what's out in the world of digital marketing metrics these days:

  • OUT: Measuring how many people open your marketing e-mails.
  • IN: Measuring how many people click through to buy via a link in your e-mails. If sales measures aren't available, count how many people click a link within the e-mail to get more info or ask to have sales follow-up.

  • OUT: Counting how many Facebook "likes" your brand collects.
  • IN: Counting how many users participate in your Facebook-based brand promotions by redeeming discount coupons, etc.

  • OUT: Assessing changes in brand awareness as the bottom line of a campaign.
  • IN: Assessing not only brand awareness but also lead generation and conversion to sales, wherever possible.

  • OUT: Counting the number of eyeballs.
  • IN: Counting the number of target-market customers and prospects you actually engaged.

  • OUT: Looking at digital transactions.
  • IN: Looking at digital relationships and customer lifetime value.
Metrics have to help you dig deeper to understand what effect your digital marketing activities are having on your audience and whether you're making progress toward your objectives. Attitudinal measures are important, but behavioral measures are even more valuable, especially customer behavior over time.

Monday, August 29, 2011

Big-Box Retailers Plan for Storms

Walmart was one of the business heroes of the Katrina disaster--providing supplies even when others had their stock depleted or weren't even able to open their doors (see photo below). Walmart has a meteorologist on staff and uses datamining to analyze store-by-store sales so it can plan for storms and other emergency situations.

Not surprisingly, Home Depot and Lowe's, as well as Walmart, were ready for Hurricane Irene, which slammed into the East Coast over the weekend.

"We take storm product, both pre- and post-strike product, we stage those in containers and we have them in our distribution centers, really ready for a driver to pull up and pick up and take them to our stores," a Home Depot official tells National Public Radio.
The big-box retailers coordinate with local emergency centers, check in with FEMA, get their store generators ready, and have emergency supplies on hand for employees.

Home Depot has a "preparing for the storm" page on its Web site. Lowe's has a page with videos and other pages with suggested supplies.

This is where the big-box retailers' contingency planning--preparing for the unexpected, whether hurricane or earthquake or tornado or hail storm--really makes a difference for customers.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Dollar Stores vs Everybody Else

The dollar stores (like Dollar General and Dollar Tree) are increasingly appealing to shoppers across the economic spectrum.

One reason is, of course, price. Many dollar stores carry national brands at $1, a distinct price differential vs even the discounters like Walmart, let alone supermarkets and other retailers.

Another key reason, unrelated to price, is that dollar stores are smaller than their giant counterparts. Shoppers can run in, scoop up a few items, and scoot out again much more quickly if they visit a dollar store instead of one of the giant supercenters or supermarkets. No wonder Dollar General's slogan is "Save time. Save money. Every day!"

It's true that middle-income consumers are feeling strapped and looking to pinch pennies where possible. Dollar stores are a good place to buy household items that aren't visible to peers. Who's going to notice if that detergent comes from Dollar Tree or Safeway? In some cases, dollar stores are located in shopping strips that contain supermarkets or in areas close to the big-box stores, convenient for a quick trip for some household necessity.

For the past decade, researchers and analysts have talked about the problems of retailers being positioned in the middle--neither luxury store nor super-discount store, a middle-of-the-road problem that leaves them vulnerable to competitors at either extreme. And in fact, because dollar stores are clearly positioned as low-price alternatives to other retailers, shoppers know exactly what to expect and have a compelling reason to go there on occasion. Similarly, shoppers choose Nordstrom or other high-end store when they want something special or want status-symbol products.

Once the economy begins to improve--in the coming months or, worst case, a year or more from now--will shoppers who've discovered dollar stores continue to buy there? My opinion: If the dollar stores are conveniently located and stock name-brand goods, middle-class consumers will keep going back for staple items. However, if the price of gas plummets as consumer income rises, the dollar stores will have a big fight on their hands: Walmart, Target, and others will compete mightily for those dollars.

Friday, August 19, 2011

The Tablet Wars--What's Next?

The Hewlett-Packard TouchPad (above), launched to much media fanfare and in many channels to compete with Apple's iPad, has been a monumental disappointment in its first weeks. After a surprisingly slow start, H-P cut the TouchPad's price. But even that move failed to ignite TouchPad sales, and the product has been axed.

In fact, Hewlett-Packard just announced its planned spinoff of the PC/tablet/smartphone division. The intense competition in PCs/tablets has driven prices down and shaved profit margins, making that business less desirable for long-term growth, in H-P's view. H-P will retain its printer business and is looking at software for future growth.

But what happens next in the tablet wars? Apple is, far and away, the undisputed market leader. Dell has tried smaller tablets (the Streak 5) but discontinued this in-between size, neither a smartphone nor a full-fledged tablet. Watch for Dell to upsize its tablets and iPad to intro ever more innovative, powerful, feature-rich iPads. With the rate of adoption so rapid, this product category is sure to be a market-share battleground for the next couple of years.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Shared Value: Michael Porter and Mark Kramer

Marketing for profit alone isn't as powerful as marketing with the larger good in mind. Michael Porter and Mark Kramer endorse a concept they call shared value, the idea that a company can and should profit while...

"...advancing the economic and social conditions in the communities in which it operates. Shared value creation focuses on identifying and expanding the connections between societal and economic progress."

By applying the concept of shared value, marketers can tackle real-world issues and keep profit in the equation, rather than simply using profits from business operations to "do good."

Danone and Grameen Bank have been partners for several years in a yogurt business that provides jobs making and distributing nutritious, affordable yogurt in Bangladesh. This is a social business, aimed at addressing poverty in a targeted market. In a limited way, it applies shared value.

On a larger scale, General Electric's ecomagination initiative is creating innovative, sustainable products and services that benefit customers in diverse markets. Between now and 2015, GE is investing $10 billion to research "clean" (green) technologies. Since ecomagination was introduced in 2005, GE has reaped revenues of $85 billion from these goods and services. This is shared value, because GE and its stockholders benefit from the profits while customers and communities benefit from green offerings that are environmentally-safe.


Monday, August 15, 2011

How to Make BFFs (Brand Fans Forever)

What marketer wouldn't want loyalty, in the form of Brand Fans Forever?
Ford "Warriors in Pink" promo

To make BFFs, your brand must be:
  1. Liked. Not cute, not cuddly, but likable. Apple is liked. It has a "good guy" image. Southwest Airlines is liked. Walmart wants to be liked and is working hard on this element...part of brand management 101.
  2. Respected. Nobody wants to be BFF with a sleazy outfit. Your brand must act responsibly, treat stakeholders with courtesy, and deliver on its promises. Ford is respected because it's steadily going green, living within its financial means, and working hard to deliver vehicles that drivers want and need.
  3. Trustworthy. Brands that do the right thing will earn the trust of their customers, suppliers, and distributors. If you can't trust a brand, you might buy it occasionally, but you won't be its BFF. Facebook is at a key juncture now, with some loyal users angry at its privacy missteps. If users come to believe that FB can't be trusted with their personal data and messages, Google+ may be the big social media winner.
  4. Relevant. Even the most loyal BFF may need a change to remain relevant and valued as needs/markets/technologies change. Your brand should be flexible enough to change with the times yet deliver value without losing its likability, respectability, or trustworthiness. Maybe you need a new package or flavor or line extension, whatever value update will keep your brand relevant to its existing BFFs and attract new BFFs. Frito-Lay does this by adding new flavors, making snacks healthier, and changing packaging to look current.
What else should marketers do to make BFFs?

Friday, August 12, 2011

P&G Boosts Ad Spending as It Innovates

Procter and Gamble, marketer of such famous brands as Crest, Tide, Olay, and Scope, is bulldozing its way through economic doldrums by increasing its worldwide advertising spending to a record $9.3 billion this fiscal year.

To put that into perspective, the annual GDP of the Bahamas is just shy of $9 billion. In other words, P and G spends more on advertising its cosmetics and household products than the entire value of goods and services produced in the Bahamas in a year.

P and G's CEO, Bob McDonald, tells Ad Age: "Consumers are continuing to buy our products, particularly when we have innovation in market, and we have a very strong innovation program right now."

The company web site highlights some product introductions from the past year, most of which are extensions rather than "new to the world" products. One way P and G fosters innovation is through separate spaces where teams can gather and work away from the mainstream. In addition, it operates a portal where it invites inventors to submit new product ideas for consideration in a partnership approach to innovation.

P and G's CEO also observes that, despite the difficult economic climate, “We’ve not seen dramatic changes in consumer behavior over the last few months that’d be markedly different from what we’ve seen before.” Essentially, he's saying that the company has been tracking long-term consumer behavior and hasn't seen major deviations that are unfamiliar or unable to be addressed via marketing.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

60 Seconds Is an Eternity to Texters

The old-style, hard-sell 60-second TV commercial just doesn't have the same effect on young audiences. Unlike generations born before MTV, the Millennials often prefer new ways of accessing traditional media...and are heavy users of social media and SMS texting to stay in touch.

One-minute ads, infomercials, and magazine advertorials are so old media. These days, smart-phone and tablet computer devotees have the option of dispensing with words and simply scanning QR codes to get info on the fly.

To today's audience accustomed to the limits of 140 or 160 characters, in other words, 60 seconds can seem an eternity. No wonder marketers are telling a story or crafting a work of art in 60 seconds, to retain the attention of Millennials about as long as a fast-moving movie trailer. 

Levi Strauss is using a 60-second "film" (yes, it's an ad) to showcase its "Go Forth" legacy theme (see below). Coca-Cola and other well-known brands also emphasize entertainment to hold the audience for a minute before they click to another station or tune out the commercial entirely as they run their thumbs over the phone's keypad.

So do 60-second TV commercials have a future? Stay tuned.

Monday, August 8, 2011

Marketing Movie Tavern

Have you heard of Movie Tavern? The concept of a "cinema eatery" is surprisingly simple but intuitively appealing: Offer a first-run or classic movie with the option of food--dinner, desserts, or snacks, plus beverages.

The original Movie Tavern featured a lobby ordering area, with food and drink delivered to customers in their seats. The "premier" version allows customers to order (from a larger menu) from their seats.

Here's a Movie Tavern general manager talking about the concept:

Movie Tavern also offers special weekend "Breakfast and a Flick" showings, including a kiddie menu, for family movie fun. And at least twice a week, Movie Tavern shows a classic movie as "Retro Cinema."

Today, there are 15 Movie Tavern locations around the US, from Pennsylvania to Colorado. The most recent to open, in Collegeville, Pennsylvania, anchors the second phase of a shopping center anchored by destination stores such as Wegmans, Dick's Sporting Goods, Best Buy, and Staples.

The ticket price is about the same as for any first-run film, with--of course!--food and beverages at an extra cost. Movie Tavern is active on Facebook and Twitter, two good ways to leverage word of mouth among target audiences.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Multinationals Like Marketing in Brazil

Thanks to an emerging middle class and a long period of economic expansion, many marketers have their eyes on Brazil as a growth market.

Kirin, a major Japanese brewing company, has just bought a majority stake in Brazil's second-largest brewery. Given the current state of the Japanese economy, Brazil represents a good opportunity for higher sales revenue. Buying into a successful, established brewing firm lets Kirin learn about the market and buying behavior without the cost and risk of building facilities and starting from scratch.

Automakers see considerable opportunity in Brazil and are putting money into the market day by day. China's Chery and JAC companies, Japan's Nissan, and South Korea's Hyundai are only a few of the automakers that are building factories in Brazil, the world's fourth-largest car market (and moving up quickly). 

The leading foreign car brands in Brazil these days are Fiat, VW, GM, and Ford. Tomorrow, however, the Asian automakers are likely to challenge this line-up and move higher in the standings.

Brazil's economic climate is positive for imports but some local firms aren't doing quite as well as foreign counterparts. Inflation is on the rise and after a big run-up in consumer credit, the level of household debt could hold back consumer spending. Another issue for marketers to consider is the cost of doing business in Brazil. Long term, however, marketers are happy about the prospects of serving Brazilian customers.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

21st Century Vending Machines

In a recent interview, Mandeep Arora, the CEO of Cantaloupe Systems, explains his inspiration for starting a company that helps vending machine operators remotely monitor sales.

He was a teenager, riding along with a vending machine owner who was making his rounds to refill machines in various locations. At the first stop, Arora asked how long the slots had been empty, and the owner said he had no way of knowing. At the next stop, no slots were empty, and Arora asked, "Why are we here?" He knew that operators should have the ability to check machines before going to refill them. A decade or so later, he founded Cantaloupe Systems, which enables operators to use networked systems to check on item sales and plan refill routes accordingly.

21st century vending machines are turning up to solve B2B distribution problems, as well. For example, Facebook's IT wizards have installed a workplace vending machine to dispense small tech peripherals (keyboards, cords, etc.). Employees swipe their ID tags to pay for the items, and the proper department gets billed. No more time-consuming purchase orders, lost productivity, etc. Maybe it's unconventional, but it works!

Speaking of unconventional, a new machine in Minneapolis dispenses bicycle repair parts. Named the Bike Fixtation, the machine distributes tools, lights, and--of course--snacks.

In addition, in-store self-service kiosks are a growing trend adding to scrambled merchandising. Walmart is installing Ticketmaster kiosks in a number of stores, for example. This isn't a new development--free-standing kiosks selling diverse products were around before the dot-com boom/bust. These days, JCPenney and others are using kiosks to expand information about items that can be ordered in-store or online. What next for kiosks/vending machines?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Will McDonald's Kid Nutrition Promo Change the Game?

Remember when Walmart's green strategy gave a massive boost to the green movement because of its influence and buying muscle? McDonald's may have the power to do the same with the issue of children's healthy eating.

Along with changes to its Happy Meals--such as downsizing the fries and including apple slices--McDonald's is using its Smurfs movie tie-in to encourage kids to "smurf the earth" by actually eating the apple slices.

To sweeten the deal, each Happy Meal (complete with Smurf toy) contains a digital code for buyers to enter on a special McD's/Smurf site. For each code entered, McD's and its partner, Keep America Beautiful, will plant a tree.

If enough families get involved, and if McDonald's continues the nutrition promo, the Smurfs may turn out to be the marketing heroes that nutrition advocates have hoped would encourage healthier eating. So far--after one weekend--the movie is appealing to families and, if box-office trends continue, its popularity is only going to help McD's do its job.

Monday, August 1, 2011

"Grilled Cheese Makes People Happy"

Jonathan Kaplan--a serial entrepreneur who started, among other things, the firm that gave us the Flip camcorder--has a new venture: Melt, a chain of grilled cheese restaurants. He told NPR just the other day:
"Grilled cheese is one of these food items that people talk about with emotional connection," he says. "[The] reaction was pretty much the same: People love grilled cheese."
The first five Melt restaurants will open in the San Francisco area this month. Of course, given Kaplan's Flip background, his restaurants will have tech flair. Customers can place orders remotely via a mobile app. Once each customer is within range of the restaurant, the Melt will complete their orders (using a special machine that cooks the sandwich in one minute). In a hurry? Pay for your order via cell phone, to avoid lines at the checkout.

But can Kaplan parlay a deep-seated love of grilled cheese into a profitable nationwide restaurant chain? Despite the emotional connection consumers have with grilled cheese, the entrepreneur will have to tap into wallets as well as hearts. Plus Kaplan has competition: Melt Bar and Grilled, for one.