Thursday, January 27, 2011

Girl Scouts, Cookies, and Social Media

The Girl Scouts are testing a limited cookie product line to cut costs and boost sales. Slow-selling items from previous years (such as Thank U Berry Munch) won't be available this year, but perennial best-sellers like Thin Mints and Trefoils will definitely be in the mix. Some products have been renamed: The Samoas, for instance, are now Caramel deLites. And prices are now higher in many urban areas--will this affect 2011 sales?

The Girl Scouts' marketers are putting social media to good use to spread the word about this year's cookie drive. Check the Twitter feed, Facebook page (with nearly 70,000 "likes") and app, YouTube Channel, and of course the group's main Web page.

Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Extreme Transparency, Best Buy Style

Best Buy's Chief Ethics Officer, Kathleen Edmond, has her own ethics blog, the only senior exec of a major US corp to do this, at least to my knowledge. The blog includes a link to an independently-operated ethics site where employees, suppliers, and the public can read more about the company's guidelines and report any concerns.

Every few days, Ms. Edmond posts a blog message about an ethical dilemma or question that has arisen within the company (and sometimes outside the company), closing each post with a series of questions open to comments from Best Buy employees and the general public.

On January 21, Ms. Edmond wrote:
A situation arose not long ago at a Best Buy store in China that posed some interesting questions about the ethics of customer service. One of our customers entered the store with a specific product in mind. The Best Buy store was out of stock on that item but – much like the classic film Miracle on 34th Street – our employee informed the customer that a nearby competitor had that product on hand and it was actually priced lower than at Best Buy. The employee even offered to walk the customer to the competitor’s store and help him find and purchase the product. An amazing story, to be sure, but there was an unfortunate dark side to it. The employee, it seems, was actually taking cash “kickbacks” from the competitor for bringing customers to their store. 
She posed 4 questions: (1) Was this good customer service? (2) Did Best Buy err in its training? (3) Would our view of the situation change if the employee was not taking a kickback? (4) Has this happened where you work and how did you resolve it?

Following the blog post were a number of comments, some from employees and some from customers. Customers thought it was a great idea to say where an item can be purchased if Best Buy doesn't have it. Employees were split--some thought it was a good idea and one thought that Best Buy offered so many compelling reasons to buy from it that the customer might be willing to wait a week or so till the item was in stock again.

I'm impressed by this extreme transparency and delighted that Ms. Edmond is encouraging dialogue about issues that few firms discuss in such detail. She began her blog in December, 2008 and the fact that she's continued for more than 2 years shows how dedicated she and the company are to transparency.

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Will Private Labels Continue Strong After This Recession Recedes?

Many--many!--people have shifted at least some of their buying to private-label brands during the recession. In fact, one recent study found that fewer than 1 in 5 consumers believe that national brands are worth paying a premium for, compared with private label goods.

The Private Label Manufacturers Association notes that sales of private-label foods have risen by 34% and sales of private-label drug-store items have risen by 45% annually over the past five years.

No wonder the national brands are fighting back with lower-priced "basic" versions of their products and other strategies to defend sales and share.

Meanwhile, savvy private-label marketers are staying the course and even heating up the competition by improving their products and adding more of the bells and whistles typically associated with national brands. Walmart, for example, just announced it will improve the nutritional quality of its Great Value foods (and it's not alone). According to recent research, Great Value is the most widely recognized of the private label brands--and nearly three-quarters of those surveyed knew it was from Walmart. 

Macy's has an impressive array of private-label brands (above) that have become known for quality and value in their own right. These include: Charter Club, Club Room, International Concepts, Style & Co., Tools of the Trade, and The Cellar.

As the recession recedes and economic growth gives consumers more buying power, will private labels grow as quickly? My take: The "hourglass" consumption pattern will continue, with consumers seeking high-end products for categories where they are most involved in the purchase (due to status, for instance, or for gift-giving). At the lower end, consumers will keep saving money with private labels for household products where they perceive minimal differences with national brands. The middle will be the major marketing headache for brands that have no clearly defined competitive edge over private or national rivals.

Monday, January 17, 2011

5 Million Beatles Downloads from iTunes in 60 Days

The headline says it all: In the first 60 days of availability, Beatles songs were downloaded from iTunes an amazing 5 million times. Single songs are priced at $1.29 each, with albums priced at $12.99 for a single album and $19.99 for a double album.

Best case scenario, if Apple sold all 5 million tunes individually, it will have realized a sales bump of $6.45 million in just 2 months--all because it got the rights to sell digital Beatles songs.

Apple followed a long and winding road to get Beatles songs onto iTunes. The deal was finally announced on November 16 of last year, and fans obviously rushed to buy and download their favorite Fab Four tunes.

Sadly, Steve Jobs has just announced a medical leave of absence from Apple, and nobody in the know is talking publicly about what his health situation really is at this point. Be well, Mr. Jobs!

Friday, January 14, 2011

Target Takes Over Zellers Locations - Bonjour Canada!

Target (that's Tar-jhay to loyal customers) will be buying the leases of more than 200 Zellers stores throughout Canada. (The image shows the announcement on the Target Web site.)

This is a good expansion move for Target. Canada should be a great market for Target's stylish private label brands and its well-edited mix of merchandise.

Here's what Professor Ken Wong told the Toronto Star about the Target-Zellers deal:
“Zellers has been able to negotiate long term leases as affordable rates so a lot of this takeover is about location, location, location.”
Wong is entirely correct. Target wants high-traffic locations, and Zellers has 'em, so the deal is a win-win for both sides--as well as for Canadian customers, many of whom know the Target name. (Target's HQ town isn't that far from the Canadian border, of course.) Bonjour, Canada!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Marketing Cell Phone Recycling

Niece Andrea wondered why Apple didn't have a recycling program in place when she upgraded from an older iPhone to a new model last week. The Apple Genius didn't even know how she could recycle her old iPhone elsewhere.

If you Google "cell phone recycling," the top entry is an EPA page with links to plenty of companies that recycle old cell phones, from ATT to Verizon.

Since ATT had the iPhone exclusively for a long time, I'm disappointed that Apple's store staff isn't (apparently) aware that ATT recycles cell phones from the public.

Then I searched for "Apple iPhone recycling" and discovered that Apple has a recycling program for iPods and "mobile phones." Recycle a used iPod at an Apple Store and you get 10% off a new iPod. That's a well kept secret!

Better marketing is needed on this, Apple. Ideally, Apple should be a high-profile leader in partnering to recycle the millions of old iPhones that owners don't want after they upgrade. Apple, you have such great marketing, you could do a lot of good by marketing iPhone recycling.

By the way, Fast Company did a story the other day on e-Cycle, a firm that pays cash for used iPhones and iPads (shipping is free too). I don't know this firm at all, but it seems worth checking out.

Lots of other companies/organizations have phone recycling programs. Google says there are 1.4 million "hits" for the search phrase "cell phone recycling." Just remember to do your homework before you send anything to anybody, and wipe all personal data off before recycling your devices!

Tuesday, January 4, 2011

Social Media 2011: What the Experts Predict

The start of a new year is a great time to see what gurus predict. I used Google to search for "social media 2011" and here are some of the forecasts and future trends that turned up in the results:
  • Privacy issues will stick around. Neither the industry nor government quite knows how to solve this, says Gigaom, in part because the stakes are so very high. My take: A couple of high-profile privacy slips will fuel consumer outrage and push regulators and the industry into making decisions in 2011.
  • Social media will be more important than corporate Web sites. As ZDNet notes, customers and stakeholders who want the latest news or developments will check a company's Facebook page or Twitter feed. My take: Corporate sites will still be vital for expanded info and archived details that some stakeholders want or need once they've checked the Facebook page.
  • Location-based services will grow. Social Media Explorer points this out, and who could disagree? The real question is, how quickly will they grow?
  • Mobile-based social media and marketing will grow. So says Social Media B2B, and I concur, of course.
  • Watch for more Tweet-a-thons. Reuters added this to its list of social media trends 2011, and I'm quite sure this will happen. As Twitter loses its novelty, however, I wonder how effective these will be in raising bags of money for good causes.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

Drive: Subaru's Glossy Marketing Mag

Happy new year! Just a few days ago, the quarterly glossy magazine published by Subaru arrived in my mailbox. Called Drive, it's got a little something for everyone. (And yes, I'm a serial Subaru owner.)

If you like beautiful scenery or sports, see where Subarus can take you (above, in the winter issue, to snowshoe). If you like human interest, read all about the featured owners (in this issue, it's Olympic gold medal freestyle skiier Donna Weinbrecht). Want to drill down into the tech details of Subaru vehicles? Read all about the new engine. Also in this issue: community involvement activities, eco-friendly ideas for sustainability, tips for Subaru owners.

And each issue has "Dear Subaru," a compilation of letters and photos from Subaru owners. This is where the marketing gets interactive. Owners are invited to go to and submit their stories and photos from the Subaru driving experience. These slice of life vignettes often show how Subaru owners used their vehicles on family trips or in emergency situations or for doing good in the community. But having a printed selection in the quarterly magazine is a nice touch too.

At a time when so many marketers are cutting back to save money, Subaru still mails out its printed mag every quarter and invites new subscribers, both owners and non-owners alike (smart!). For those who like to click around, the magazine is online and so is "Dear Subaru." If you want your Subaru info delivered online, you can go to the web or to YouTube's Subaru Channel or its Twitter posts or its Facebook presence. The choice is yours!