Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Yakkety-Yak--Please talk back

Everybody's talking about word of mouth marketing. Two new books are of special interest:

Lois Kelly's forthcoming Beyond Buzz is all about crafting a conversational message that will get customers buzzing about the product/brand/company and keep the buzz building. As a fan of Lois's Foghound blog, I'm eager to see this book (due out in February).

Andy Sernovitz's Word of Mouth Marketing discusses the five Ts of buzz marketing: talkers, topics, tools, taking part, and tracking. reviewers (and Marketing News) really like this book.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Snapfish in My Snail Mail

It was the day after Thanksgiving and what to my wondering eyes should appear but a Snapfish brochure with gift ideas for holiday cheer! My family will be getting personalized photo calendars for 2007, thanks to a mailing I got from the photo web site Snapfish. Although I usually open e-mails from sites where I've previously been a customer, it's unusual to get a snail mail brochure from an e-business.

Looking at the brochure, I instantly decided to buy personalized calendars, complete with family photos and celebration dates (birthdays, anniversaries, etc.) Getting dozens of photos uploaded took a little time, and I had to learn how Snapfish's design system worked, but it was all worth it.

The calendars arrived yesterday and they're high quality, extremely professional, and impressively substantial. I can't say enough good things about the color, the stock, the formats. My family will be surprised and thrilled. All because Snapfish spent a little cash to get a brochure into my snail mailbox. Bravo, Snapfish, good marketing!

Sunday, December 3, 2006

Ask the Locals

This year, Washington Mutual and Panera's both opened in my town (across the street from each other, as it happens). Their marketing materials were created outside the local area, however, and that's too bad.

The marketing info was fine--but the stick maps showing location were pitiful. Both businesses are located on a major state route...but you'd never know that from the stick maps, which used local road names and omitted the name of the biggest shopping strip in the area.

The marketer in me is shouting: "Next time, show the map and/or directions to a local before you go to print!" What do you have to lose? And you might even seed local interest. Try it, you'll like it.

Wednesday, November 29, 2006

Shopping Too Soon

Yesterday I went to the local mall with my holiday gift list in hand. Macy's, however, refused to honor a coupon that goes into effect today. Since JCPenney and Sears are also in the same mall (along with 100s of other stores), I left Macy's and flashed my plastic elsewhere.

Contrast this experience with what happens at Bed Bath & Beyond, which will not only take competitors' coupons, it will honor its own outdated coupons as well.

Message to marketers: cater a little to customers because we have LONG memories and SO many choices.

Speaking of coupons, a bit of browsing can turn up all kinds of discounts for online and in-person shopping at sites like Val-Pak and Yahoo Shopping. Happy hunting.

Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Tactful Targeting?

Today's Wall Street Journal has a fascinating story about how some online retailers vary pricing and offers depending on an individual shopper's behavior (which key terms you use to search for products, what time of day you browse, whether you've shopped there before, etc.).

In other words, you and I might see a different page/price/offer when visiting or Delightful Deliveries. Do I really want to find out that I paid shipping fees for that MP3 player I bought when my sister got free shipping for buying the identical product on the same day from the same site? What happens to the retailer's reputation once word gets out? Ouch.

As a marketer, I'm all for targeting. As a customer, I want targeting that benefits me. Tactful targeting might be a compromise: the idea that based on my real-time behavior (such as switching back and forth between two products before going to the checkout page), a site would offer me something to encourage me to buy now.

Thursday, November 16, 2006

Ask Someone Why They Love Their BlackBerry

That's the headline on the full-page add appearing in the New York Times this week. I don't mind staccato sentence fragments (such as these gems in the body copy: "Every day. All around."). They add. Something. But I do mind ignorant grammar. A product as sophisticated as RIM's BlackBerry should have intelligent advertising.

Here's an easy fix: Ask People Why They Love Their BlackBerry.

Sunday, November 12, 2006

Back to School as an Adult

Have you seen the ads for One Day University educational seminars? Each full-day program is a series of one-hour lectures by great professors. There are some very good subjects (like history of the Supreme Court) and highly knowledgeable professors but . . . as fascinating as this concept is, I can get lots of great lectures absolutely free in my local library.

How? By borrowing any of the Modern Scholar series of lectures. Here's a link to one series of 14 lectures that my husband and I enjoyed just a couple of months ago, an indepth look at fantasy literature like Lord of the Rings. The range of subjects goes on and on, from history (like the surprisingly fascinating Wars That Made the Western World) to almost everything you'd ever want to know about Darwin and his influence on scientific thinking.

So instead of spending my day in a classroom or hotel ballroom, I take the CDs in my car and listen to very articulate professors as I drive. Each set comes with a course guide summarizing the highlights of the lectures and offering additional reading ideas (plus questions if you want to quiz yourself). Highly recommended and free for the borrowing from my wonderful public library, thanks to the generosity of the local Friends of the Library.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

Hello from Toronto. . .

UPS's "brown" branding applies even to the uniforms, socks and shoes worn by its pilots, I discovered when I spotted a UPS pilot one row over on my flight from Toronto yesterday. Pilots aren't usually seen by UPS customers, but the company puts them in brown anyway--great touch.

Watching SkateCanada on Canadian TV, I saw a quick BMO (Bank of Montreal) commercial geared specifically to skating fans: a BMO credit card "skates" across the ice, spelling out "Tokyo" (which is where the World Figure Skating Championships will be held in 2007). The ad invited viewers to check the BMO web site for a chance to win a trip to the Championships. This is a wonderful way to involve viewers who care about the program in which the ad is embedded.

BMO does something else interesting: Its web site includes a "Newcomers" guide to settling in different areas of the country. Not only is this public-spirited, it gives immigrants a very positive view of the bank just at a time when they're likely to need financial services.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Season Creep

The back-to-school marketing season starts right after July 4th and Halloween marketing gears up immediately after Labor day. Christmas marketing pops up in mid-summer but really gets going during October, more than a month earlier than even a decade ago.

Do consumers buy more if the selling season is longer? I suspect we string out our purchases but spend about the same as we would if retailers didn't display merchandise earlier and earlier.

More about the season: The National Retail Federation estimates that Halloween is a $5 billion business. Those temporary Halloween stores (like Spirit Halloween) are just the thing for serious costume/decoration shopping, because they have such deep assortments.

My sister bought her grandson a skeleton costume in a Halloween specialty store, just days before the big event. Why a skeleton, rather than Spiderman or Superman? "It was the scariest costume in the store," Michael told me. Happy Halloween.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

C2C Barter Meets Technology

A recent New York Times piece mentions sites where consumers can arrange to trade used DVDs, books, CDs, etc. for a very small fee. Although I usually donate my books and DVDs to the local Friends of the Library group (which holds a gigantic book sale every year), online swaps are a good use of the technology for consumer-to-consumer transactions.

Here are three of the sites--check them out:

Peerflix (DVDs)
La La (CDs)
Paperback Swap (books)

Thursday, October 12, 2006

New Life For Chuckles?

Nostalgia marketing at work: Remember those pocket-size packs of Chuckles with 5 different flavored jellies? Staples of my childhood, Chuckles have been hard to find of late. But now Farley's and Sathers Candy Co. of Round Lake, Minnesota is making them under license. I rediscovered Chuckles in a Manhattan candy store just two weeks ago and hope this nostalgic brand gets wider distribution (meaning shelf space in supermarkets near me).

Farley's and Sathers has other familiar brands, including Jujyfruits and Super Bubble, that candy-lovers of a certain age enjoyed back then and might still enjoy today. Here's the URL:

Tuesday, October 3, 2006

Everlast Fragrance?

On p. 38 of this month's Fast Company magazine is a fun feature titled "When Brand Extensions Go Bad." Everlast cologne, Sylvestor Stallone high-protein pudding, Harley-Davidson cake decorating kit--who could make this stuff up? These are not brand extensions that I'd buy or, as a marketer, would recommend.

Friday, September 22, 2006

Unlocking the PLU Code

According to Cooking Light (October issue), the Product Look Up (PLU) code on non-organic fruits and vegetables consists of four digits. Organic produce bears a five-digit code starting with 9. Genetically modified produce bears a five-digit code starting with 8. So take a closer look next time you're in the supermarket.

As a marketer, I believe consumers should be informed about how to decode these ubiquitous numbers. Of course, I also believe in open dating (so buyers can quickly determine when a product expires, for example) but apparently many manufacturers and retailers think otherwise. What do you think?

Thursday, September 14, 2006

More Products Get Personal!

Sure, Jones Soda and Heinz both sell their products in personalized bottles (see and You can also order customized M&Ms (at

But did you know you can put your favorite photo on a box of Wheaties? Check it out (at

Want a bobblehead of someone near and dear? Now it's possible (at

Or have a few letters or your logo stamped on Texas steak (at What's next?

Tuesday, September 5, 2006

Ads in the Movies

From Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man's Chest to Talladega Nights, the movies I've seen in theaters during the past month have been accompanied by a full ration of ads (and previews, of course).

My current favorites are the animated Coca-Cola ad in which the young man dances around doing good deeds throughout his neighborhood ("You're gonna be remembered for the things that you say and do") and the Old Navy "Fash" ads. However, I'm not the target audience for either of these ads so I'm not sure whether they miss or make the mark. Any thoughts?

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Laptop Batteries--Hot Stuff

Luckily, my husband's MacBook Pro (sitting five feet away from me here in the office) doesn't have one of those potentially unsafe batteries. Does yours? Here's the Business Week story:

Years ago, my old Dell laptop went through one battery recall, yet I've continued to buy Dell products. Now this battery issue has become an industrywide problem and could turn out to be a PR turning point in the battle for market share. How will the big dogs handle the recall(s) and the aftermath?

Thursday, August 10, 2006

Far-Out Brand Extensions

An interesting story in Business Week poses the question: How far can brand extensions go? A Harley-Davidson cake decorating kit sounds unlikely but then again, super-loyal customers will do all kinds of things.

Here are some brand extensions I don't want to see:

  1. Nike nose-hair razor (not for athletes only)
  2. Mountain Dew photo scanner (no caffeine jitters for my photos)
  3. Starbucks plumbing service (no caffeine jitters for my pipes)
  4. Airways

Monday, July 31, 2006

Say Hello to Wi-Fi Phones

Remember when cell phone technology disrupted the traditional land-line phone industry? Now Wi-Fi phones are on the way, becoming the new, new thing that will disrupt the cell phone companies that once disrupted the land-line companies.

The New York Times reports that Earthlink is building networks in Pennsylvania and California in preparation for launching Wi-Fi phone service priced at a fraction of cell phone service. Skype has several manufacturers producing Wi-Fi phones compatible with its Internet calling service.

Hello to Wi-Fi, goodbye to land-lines and cell phones? I've already cut one of my two land-lines in favor of a Vonage line . . . maybe I'll hang up on cell technology when Wi-Fi phones come calling. How about you?

Tuesday, July 25, 2006

Stressing Benefits, Not Just "Lifestyle Side"

Yesterday's N.Y. Times has an advertising column about Reebok's new campaign, starring NFL athletes like Peyton Manning. Reebok's vp-marketing for North America says that Adidas-Salomon, which now owns Reebok, wants "to re-emphasize [the brand's] performance heritage and capabilities" instead of the "lifestyle side of the business."

Because Reebok is the official supplier of NFL-licensed clothing, it makes sense to showcase Reebok's performance benefits, not just brand "sizzle." What a great idea--to actually suggest that the product can satisfy customers' needs! Music-dominated ads may entertain and convey a fashion image, but how well do they inform or build interest in the product itself?

The market for athletic apparel is huge; surely some of those customers must care about what the product offers to meet their needs? Let's see whether deemphasizing the "lifestyle side" in favor of product performance brings sales results.

Monday, July 17, 2006

The eyes have it

Today's WSJ reports that OgilvyOne and Eyetools have teamed up to find out which specific parts of an e-mail marketing message people look at and read -- and how to improve customer response.

One thing Cisco Systems learned is to have strong imagery at the end of an e-mailed newsletter to draw the reader's eyes through from top to bottom. IBM learned to make customer response fast and easy by putting clickable icons and buttons in its e-mails.

Here's how the Eyetools Eyetracking works:

Progress! What an interesting idea whose time has come.

Monday, July 10, 2006

More on Adware and Spyware

Business Week's July 17th issue covers the business end of adware and spyware, focusing on Direct Revenue and other companies that use annoying and sometimes PC-crippling approaches to get "ads" out to a still-unsuspecting public. Read the fascinating story here:

Why would any legitimate company choose this ethically questionable route to reach consumers? I can't imagine a worse way to introduce goods or services to prospects--or a better way to alienate such a large audience. Down with adware and spyware!

Thursday, July 6, 2006

The Weakest Link!

Companies spend millions to keep trade secrets safe--but people really are the weakest link in the security chain. Here's's brief account of the apparent attempt by a Coca-Cola employee (and two accomplices) trying to sell some Coke secrets to Pepsi:,0,4607400.story?coll=sfe-guide-headlines2

Pepsi, of course, did the right thing, as I'm sure Coke would do if the same kind of offer reached its management. A happy ending after all and at least the landmark Coke formula was never at risk...

Friday, June 30, 2006

Does Size Matter?

BusinessWeek just posted an article about how small restaurants are competing with the big fast-food chains:

I remember independent stores complaining, in the 1980s, about competing against giants like Sears, Montgomery Ward, and JCPenney. Now Ward's is long gone, Sears is struggling, JCPenney has reinvented itself more than a few times, and Wal-Mart reigns as retailing royalty.

All along, the savvy independents have been doing what BusinessWeek describes--connecting with customers, building relationships, and cost-effectively differentiating themselves in unique ways. Although technology is giving small businesses a big boost, they're essentially competing on their smarts--as always.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Metrics and More

I'm impressed by the new book Marketing Metrics: 50+ Metrics Every Executive Should Master, by Paul Farris, Neil Bendle, Phillip Pfeifer, and David Reibstein. Here's a link to an excerpt on the Wharton School Publishing site:

The authors suggest metrics for many important marketing outcomes that aren't necessarily measured as accurately or as carefully as they should be. Willingness to recommend, cannibalization rate, out of stock percentage, direct product profitability,cost per customer acquired, return on marketing investment--it's all here. Definitely worth a look!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

Branding and the Umbrella

So what if Citigroup ditches the red Travelers umbrella? Citigroup is not sure it will keep even the red eyebrow version of the umbrella that graces the Citibank blue logo.

"Our branding initiative is an ongoing process and we don't expect to see an outcome for months," says a Citigroup spokesperson quoted in the Hartford Courant's story:,0,4035762.story?coll=hc-headlines-business

IMHO, who needs the red umbrella? Citibank's blue logo is distinctive enough to be recognized on its own--the umbrella is just another doodad. Let the umbrella go--and don't spend years and millions of dollars agonizing over a new doodad.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

Does Green Lead to Green?

The clamor for green products grows louder each day--but it turns out that environmental friendliness is not the only (or even the main) benefit that buyers want. That's one of the excellent points that Ernest Beck makes in his Business Week article, "Do you need to be green?" which you can read here:

Customers want more than green products . . . they want products that solve a problem, satisfy a need, are priced right, are available when/where needed, etc. Being green can be a competitive advantage and can even command a premium, if customers understand the extra value. I'm willing to open my wallet if you show me how your product will help me AND how it will help the planet. What about you?

Friday, June 9, 2006

Down with Adware

Writing in PC Magazine, Robert Lemos notes that legal action against adware companies and advertisers is a minor deterrent because "the money is just too good." Read his article here:,1895,1971927,00.asp

Ever hear anybody (marketer or consumer) singing the praises of adware? I didn't think so. The Center for Democracy and Technology has been trying something new: listing the names of companies whose ads have been disseminated by adware. Its full report is here:

So what else is there to say except: Thumbs down on adware!

Wednesday, June 7, 2006

So many marketing blogs, so little time!

I've discovered many informative, timely, and well-written blogs out in the big blogosphere.

Below are just a few of my favorites, in no particular order.

Which marketing blogs do you check regularly? Inquiring minds want to know!

Tuesday, June 6, 2006

Easier on the Wallet, Easier on the Environment

A movement to make low-priced PCs for world markets is gaining momentum. Although price is a key factor, it's not the only consideration. According to one executive, this new generation of PCs must be "smaller, cooler, quieter, and greener."

Business Week reports on the latest developments here:

In the U.S., the availability of very low-priced PCs could lead to many homes having a PC in every room, the way we now have a TV or radio in every room.

Do you agree?

Monday, June 5, 2006

The New Spirit of Pricing?

Ben Baldanza, CEO of Spirit Airlines, was quoted in today's Wall Street Journal as saying his company was "traditionally an irrational low-price player" but now it's "trying to be smart about pricing."

Like so many other carriers, Spirit is being squeezed by skyrocketing fuel costs. When it raised prices a few months ago, passenger traffic dipped--but profitability apparently improved. Here's a recent article (from Boca Raton News) about Spirit's new spirit of profitability:

Having been involved in pricing a variety of offerings, I think this is the trickiest of all marketing decisions. Among other things, you must consider your costs--which are often the floor for pricing--and your objectives, such as profitability or market share (short-term and long-term, product-by-product as well as for the overall product line or company). You also have to factor in competitive offerings and prices plus the environment in which the purchase will be made.

The bottom line for the bottom line, however, is to know who you're targeting and how those customers perceive value. Is Spirit targeting family vacationers or business travelers? How do these customers behave? Why do they fly and what benefits do they seek? How price-sensitive are they? What are their alternatives and priorities? What costs are associated with delivering the offering(s) customers are willing to buy?

As a customer, I don't just look for the lowest price. Any airline that thinks I'd be willing to save $200 by flying from Boston to Calgary by way of Atlanta and Dallas (with 2 layovers in 11 hours) is sadly mistaken. As a marketer, I need to approach pricing decisions by starting with my customers, not focusing only on my costs. What do you think?

Thursday, June 1, 2006

The future, according to Boeing and Airbus

Calling all marketers: which future vision of the airline business do you think will become reality? Airbus and Boeing disagree on what airlines and passengers will want in the coming years--and I sure hope Boeing has it right.

Airbus thinks I'll want to be one of 500 (maybe even 800!) passengers squeezed onto a gigantic super-jet, flying from one hub-city bottleneck to another before finally boarding a regional jet to my actual destination.

Boeing believes the market is moving toward smaller, lighter jets for long-distance point-to-point flights. These planes won't be tiny by any means; I suspect I'll be with some 300 other passengers but at least I'm less likely to be flying from New York to Atlanta with a stop or so in, say, Detroit or Chicago.

Clearly fuel efficiency plays a major role in which jets an airline decides to buy. Boeing seems to have thought of that, too, by using more lightweight composite materials.

What does this have to do with marketing? When writing a marketing plan, it's important to keep the customer experience in mind. And on customer experience alone, the winner is . . . Boeing. I don't know about you, but I'd even pay a bit more to bypass those crowded hubs and fly non-stop to my destination, if Boeing's vision becomes reality.

Here's what the BBC News says about Boeing vs. Airbus:

As a customer, would you want to live Boeing's or Airbus's vision of the future? If you were writing or approving a marketing plan, which would you include?
Please let me know!