Thursday, December 31, 2009

Levi Strauss Says: Wear Responsibly

A recent BusinessWeek blog post comments on Levi Strauss's addition of a new phrase to the care instructions for its jeans: "Donate to Goodwill when no longer needed and care for our planet."

This is sustainability in action from product cradle to grave (at least as far as the original purchaser is concerned). Levi Strauss devotes a page on its site to the idea that buyers should act responsibly by washing jeans in earth-friendly ways and donating unwanted jeans so they have new lives with other buyers, keeping landfills unclogged as long as possible.

Should brands preach sustainability? Well, why not? If it saves even one pair of jeans from prematurely entering a landfill, and someone else benefits from secondhand clothing, everybody wins. Buyers are free to do what they like, of course, but it makes sense to at least suggest a way to save the planet. Happy green new year.

Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Blu-ray Prices Plummet

Just in time for gift-giving season, prices of Blu-ray DVD players have plunged. Even industry insiders didn't expect prices this low.

The chart at left, by Envisioneering Group, shows that Blu-ray players are priced below regular DVD players at each point in the product life cycle--even though Blu-ray delivers better quality and the players have more functionality than ordinary DVD players. Consumers have more choices than ever before and retailers are enjoying the boom in demand for home entertainment products.

Now that Blu-ray players are low-priced and plentiful, brands that want to differentiate themselves as innovative and cutting-edge will look toward the next big thing in entertainment technology. Will it be 3D?

Monday, December 21, 2009

Visual Equity

Professor Pierre Chandon of INSEAD writes that unless a brand has the immediate eye-catching recognition of a Coca-Cola, "it's important to be visible on the shelves."

One item facing outward on the shelf (with extra stock lined up behind it) is a single facing. Two identical items displayed next to each other = two facings. A higher number of facings means more visual equity, leading to an increase in the product being noticed, and a higher likelihood that it will be purchased.

As basic as this sounds, it's even more challenging today, when retailers like Walmart are trying to lower inventory costs by stocking only the most popular items instead of every variety of every brand in every category. As a result, a very popular product might get more facings but less-popular items would get fewer facings or even be deleted from the merchandise mix.

According to Prof. Chandon, doubling shelf facings increases the percentage of people who notice the product by about 28 percent and increases the possibility that the product will be put into the shopping cart by about 10 percent. More facings will have an even more dramatic effect on purchases of low-market-share brands.

Slotting fees are one way to get more facings, but such fees (paid to retailers to get a product into a prime shelf location) are controversial. The ideal situation, of course, is for customers to be so eager for your product that retailers want to give it a prime position, without any additional payment for the added visual equity.

Friday, December 18, 2009

Got Despair?

Ray, a friend who appreciates irony, introduced me to Despair, Inc. and its droll humor. We marketing gurus (aka marketing divas) can order a calendar with this saying on the front cover:

Marketing: Because making it look good now is more important than providing adequate support later.

Or if you're tired of hearing execs endlessly chatting up the benefits of teamwork, how about this Despair quotation:

Teamwork: A few harmless flakes working together can unleash an avalanche of destruction.

Tis the season to smile and poke a little fun at tired business truisms. Enjoy!

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Home Page Advantage

A company's home page is its face to the world. And what a home page Patagonia has, at least today. This is a spectacular photo that communicates what the company stands for and what its customers aspire to. My hat (or helmet) is off to Patagonia, which has a visual home page advantage. This tiny image doesn't do it justice.

Sunday, December 13, 2009

Time for a Tiger Apology

Imagine this statement:

"I apologize--to my wife, to my children, to my parents, to the PGA Tour, to sponsors, to the legion of Tiger Woods fans, who I know are stunned and disappointed. In the process of cheating on you, I have cheated myself."

William C. Rhoden, a New York Times columnist, suggests that the world's best and most disgraced golfer step up to the microphone and say exactly that, in person. I agree.

Already, some of Tiger's sponsors are stepping back (Gillette is limiting his involvement in its marketing activities and Accenture removed his image from the home page). Gatorade says it had already decided to discontinue Gatorade Tiger (image above), even before recent revelations. So far, Nike is sticking with Tiger.

It's time for a full and heart-felt apology. Nothing less will do.

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Does Your App Measure Up?

So many apps, so little time. Does your app measure up as a marketing add-on?
  1. An app must deliver user value. Your app must be more than a one-time gimmick to retain the user's attention and be allowed to take up space on an electronic device. Think about the problem it will help users solve, the convenience it will offer, the time or money it will save users. Will your app help users compare products, check prices, save time, replace a phone call or a personal visit? Will it help users achieve a personal or professional goal? Of course apps must also be attractive, professional, and even entertaining, not just functional.
  2. An app must add value to your marketing. Don't jump on the app bandwagon just because everyone else is doing it. An app must help you achieve your marketing objectives, if only in some small way. Or it must help reduce/remove barriers to achieving your objectives. Your app should not create a lot of extra work for you and your staff, or increase costs without a corresponding increase in sales or customer relationships. The bottom line is that an app isn't right for you if it doesn't bring your business some benefits.
  3. Know what you want to achieve. Are you trying to boost traffic to your retail web site? Promote a specific offering? Increase referral business? Also define the ways in which you'll measure progress toward your objectives and how often you plan to check progress with appropriate metrics. Otherwise, your app will be a tactic in search of a strategy.
Small businesses are starting to leverage apps for marketing advantage. A recent WSJ article mentioned a Honda dealer in Ohio that offers an app for users to view photos and videos of cars for sale and to make service appointments. An app offered by the Founding Farmers restaurant in Washington, D.C., lets users reserve tables or book a party. These are only a few examples of apps that measure up.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Christmas or Holiday Marketing?

Brandweek notes that no matter which way brands turn, they may very well be criticized for wishing buyers a hearty "Merry Christmas" or a neutral "Happy Holidays" or whatever.

The Gap is being especially inclusive with its Gap Cheer Factory, where you can click to personalize an e-mail card for Happywhateveryouwannakah. A little humor might go a long way, but of course what makes me smile might make someone else frown or boycott.

A few years ago, Walmart began to reinsert the word "Christmas" back into its year-end holiday marketing. I just checked its web site and I notice that "holiday" is as prominent as "Christmas" on many pages, such as here. Kmart has a "Christmas Countdown" and the phrase "Bring Home the Holidays with Kmart" on its site. Costco offers "Toys for the Holidays" as shown in the graphic above, but no mention of Christmas on its home page (as of today). Target, on the other hand, features a "Christmas Delivered" tag line and graphics on its home page.

It's beginning to feel a lot like . . . holiday time. Hanukkah starts this weekend, and Christmas is coming up quickly. Will shoppers make buying decisions based on holiday slogans or will price and convenience win out?

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Are Your Competitors Actually Company Stakeholders?

First, a quick definition: Stakeholders are people and groups that can directly or indirectly affect a company's performance OR that are directly or indirectly affected by a company's performance.

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.

Of course it's illegal to cooperate and collaborate with competitors in the case of decisions such as pricing, and I'm definitely not advocating such actions.

Yet smart marketers do think about probable competitive responses to actions such as introducing a new product, changing prices, changing channel relationships, changing suppliers, and so on. Clearly, the point is not to satisfy the needs of competitors but to understand how competitors act and react to your company's moves. Remember, the best competitors are thinking about how your firm will react to its new products and channel moves--ideally, looking ahead two or three moves to achieve goals such as growing sales and share to overtake the market leader.

For a 2015 update on this topic, read about Target's withdrawal in Canada here.

IMHO, it makes sense to consider competitors to be stakeholders of your company, for these reasons:
  1. A healthy industry is in the best interest of all stakeholders--including customers and suppliers. As a customer, I once doubted the wisdom of this concept. But in recent years, with so many companies bleeding red ink and other big, established firms gone forever, I've come to realize that an ailing industry actually reduces my choices as a buyer. That's not a good thing. Also, desperate industries do desperate things, like cutting corners on quality and service, ultimately hurting customers.
  2. A little respect goes a long way. Viewing competitors as stakeholders is a way of acknowledging their ability to affect your performance--making it more likely that you won't underestimate them. That little upstart start-up firm you might brush off as a flash-in-the-pan could grow up to be the next Zappos or Netflix. That lumbering corp giant seemingly ready for the scrapheap might pull off a stunning turnaround and eat your lunch tomorrow. Accord competitors the respect of stakeholders, and you won't be tempted to dismiss them.
What do you think? Should competitors be considered stakeholders? Read my UPDATE to this post here.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Updating Puerto Rico's Advertising

Today's New York Times ad column by Stuart Elliott focuses on the new ad campaign for Puerto Rico, which revisits and updates the classic tourism campaign from 50 years ago.

At top is the old ad, photographed by Elliott Erwitt and with lots of copy about the renaissance of Puerto Rico and the island's highlights. The bottom ad is Erwitt's current take on the island, with fresh copy and a fresh new look.

The accompanying See Puerto Rico microsite features the new photos, categorized to grab the attention of vacationers who care about romance, cuisine, history, culture, beaches, and other activities. Click the videos link to see more.

This is a refreshing and welcome break from the usual sun, sea, and sand tourism campaigns for sunny destinations. It's classy and artistic without being stuffy, and--most important--it differentiates Puerto Rico from all of its neighbors. In short, smart marketing.

Monday, November 30, 2009

CyberMonday Morning

It's the starting line for CyberMonday. During the weekend I heard lots of discussion about cyber bargains and some doubts that employees worried about layoffs and such would actually be surfing for deals at their desks (presumably while the bosses surf for deals at their desks). Maybe before or after work, they'll mouse around the merchant sites...

The buzz indicates that's CyberMonday blitz has been effective in spreading the word. Even if shoppers don't click through the official CyberMonday site, they're planning a bit of online bargain-hunting, achieving the promotion's goal.

In the UK, this is Mega Monday, also expected to be a very big day for online shopping. There's another reason for UK shoppers to click and buy today: Trying to get ahead of a possible postal strike.

Amazon UK expects its busiest Christmas season ever. Visa projects that UK shoppers will make 2.4 million online buys today with a Visa debit or credit card. Will CyberMonday and Mega Monday live up to expectations? Definitely--there's no question that buyers are increasingly comparing prices, researching products, and buying online (not just on computers but also on their now ubiquitous smartphones).

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Keeping Up with Kiva

The microlender Kiva's slogan is: "loans that change lives." I became a Kiva lender earlier this year and so far, the experience has been very positive. I still feel good about it, despite recent controversy over exactly how the Kiva model really operates.

Coverage in the New York Times, on Walletpop, and on other sites indicates that when people lend on Kiva, they're often "backfilling" loans that have already been made to entrepreneurs by microfinance institutions.

So when I clicked to loan money to a specific small business owner, I was under the impression that my money was going directly to her. Instead, my money was very likely added to an aggregate sum sent by Kiva to microfinance organizations in the field, which in turn have made or will make the loans to the entrepreneurs.

The difference is subtle, to be sure, but it could make all the difference when people are deciding whether or not to make a loan. To its credit, Kiva is striving to be more transparent about its model and now provides a more detailed explanation here. In all, Kiva has loaned more than $100 million in its first four years of existence. It feels good to be part of a movement that is helping so many people create a better future for themselves, and I'll be staying with Kiva.

From a marketing perspective, to keep the cash flowing in, Kiva must do everything in its power to build and maintain trust through its communications and its activities. Especially in today's tough economic times, the competition among charities is too fierce to risk alienating potential contributors. Transparency is a necessity, not a nicety.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

New Marketing Plan Handbook

And now for some shameless self-promotion: Amazon recently posted the cover image of my Marketing Plan Handbook 4th edition, to be published on my birthday. Look for expanded coverage of social media, metrics, crowdsourcing, mobile marketing, and much more. Also new: Cases and examples showing marketing planning in businesses and nonprofit organizations around the world.

As in the past, my book will be bundled with Palo Alto Software's Marketing Plan Pro software, ready for use in undergrad and grad courses in marketing, marketing planning, marketing management, and marketing strategy.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

IKEA Engages on Facebook

When IKEA opened a new store in Malmo, Sweden, its agency used an unusual Facebook campaign to engage fan brands and build buzz.

First, it created a FB profile for the store manager, Gordon Gustavsson. Then it began uploading a series of showroom photos (12 in all) and let it be known that the first person to tag an item with his or her name would win it.

In short order, thousands of FBers posted links in their newsfeeds, signed up for interactive IKEA catalogs, and let their friends know about the giveaway. The promotion was unusual and wildly successful because it played on the engagement strengths of social media, particularly the highly popular photo tagging function. The video shows it all in action.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Black Friday Comes Early

Wal-Mart and Best Buy are showing their Black Friday sale specials early. One reason is to preempt other stores; another is to help shoppers plan their buying trips. This morning I was able to page through the Wal-Mart flyer online to see all the specials available in my area. The Best Buy flyer is also online, as this graphic shows. Want to shop while the turkey's in the oven? Log on and buy. Another holiday season of bargains for buyers, slim margins for sellers.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Do You Zhu Zhu? Holiday Hamsters

Do you Zhu Zhu? Talk around town is all about those hard-to-find Zhu Zhu toy hamsters. They're among the hottest holiday items for kids and in very short supply, happily for the hype but unhappily for next week's Black Friday shoppers.

Here's a preview on YouTube, showing how the Zhu Zhu race around.

This is a breakout toy that will have parents scurrying around looking from store to store in hot pursuit. "Shop early, would be my advice," Carl Steidtmann, chief economist with Deloitte, told the Journal Sentinel. My advice: Click around, use your mouse to find a hamster.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Choosing Segments to Target: Q&A with Erika Bruhn

This is the last in a series of Q&As with Erika Bruhn, a partner with Sawtooth Technologies Consulting Group. Today's topic is how to evaluate and select segments for targeting. Thank you, Erika, for sharing your expertise!

Question #3 for Erika Bruhn:

What kinds of criteria do you use when recommending which segments a marketer should target, and why?

Erika's answer:
Typical criteria include segment size, market share (volume and dollars), alignment with your current products, and alignment with your distribution channels. However, there is not a "one size fits all" approach to choosing targets. Segment size should always be considered, but targeting a niche segment that the broader market doesn't serve can be a winning strategy, especially for a new entrant in a market.
There is typically an alignment between attitudinal segments and the brands in the market, meaning that certain segments skew strongly toward particular brand usage. This is a good place to start when choosing target segments. Where does your brand "live" today? These segments are a natural target. Where do competitive brands live? These segments may be more difficult to penetrate.
Which segments' values are a good fit with your brand and company? What investment would be required to target a segment of interest? (For example, do you have the capital resources to target an Innovation segment which expects a constant stream of new and updated products?) Is there a segment that is underserved by the current brands? These questions will help direct you to the most appropriate target segments.

Question #4 for Erika Bruhn:

Once target segments are identified, what comes next? How is the segmentation used?

Erika's answer:
In an ideal world, all of your products and all of your communications will be focused on your target segments. The products you develop will be aligned with your segments' values, and in fact, future market research can and should be done with consumers who fit your target segments. Brand messaging and positioning should be based on your segments' values, as well.

It may require a radical shift in thinking from seeing every customer as a target to focusing on those in target segments. But aligning your brand and products with a small number of segments, and "owning" those segments, is the ultimate payoff.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Segmenting by Motivation: Q&A with Sawtooth Technologies

This is the second in a series of Q&As with Erika Bruhn, a partner with Sawtooth Technologies Consulting Group. In yesterday's post, Erika discussed the importance of understanding the motivations of customers in different market segments. In today's Q&A, she explains how to use such motivations as you segment a market.

Question #2 for Erica Bruhn: How do you identify the attitudes and lifestyle preferences that affect customer behavior toward a particular product or brand?

Erika's answer:

First, you must identify the level at which to segment. If your client is a chocolate bar company, you may think that you should segment the market for chocolate bars. However, that would be a very narrow definition of the competitive space in which your client operates.

You need to go broader to include substitute products. How about a candy segmentation or a snacking segmentation? Either of those may be appropriate. How about a food segmentation? Now we're getting too broad. There is not always one right answer here, but the principle is to expand the thinking beyond the immediate product category to include products which represent substitutes.

Second, you must identify the segmentation dimensions. What are the broad "buckets" of attitudes which will likely define key differences across segments? The segmentation dimensions are hypothesized and can be developed in a team brainstorming session or through qualitative research, such as focus groups. Think of segmenting dimensions as the polar opposites which may define different segments of the market. Some examples are Price Sensitivity (from high to low), Innovative (from early adopter to late adopter), Convenience-Driven vs. Service-Driven, Status-Driven vs. Function-Driven, etc. These dimensions will vary from category to category.

Finally, you must express each of the segmenting dimensions in a variety of ways. A market research survey will be written with a long list of attitudinal statements with which the respondent must agree or disagree. These statements need to capture the nuances of what drives a particular segment and how segments differ from each other.

For example, let's focus on the Price Sensitivity dimension. A very simple price statement might read: "Price is very important to me." When we express price in a variety of ways, the list of statements will be broader and more varied, such as:
  • Quality is more important than price.
  • I always buy the lowest priced product.
  • I frequently use coupons.
  • I never buy anything on sale.
  • A low price means low quality.
These statements may come directly from qualitative research by asking consumers what is important to them and how they make purchase decisions.

Now that we have a variety of statements, when we have identified our segments, and one (perhaps) is a price-driven segment, we will have richer information as to which specific statements most drive that segment and which statements most differentiate our price-driven segment from other segments. This richness is the key to arriving at a full picture of the segments and their motivations.

The final Q&A post in this series will focus on selecting segments to target.

Monday, November 16, 2009

Q&A with Erika Bruhn of Sawtooth Technologies

Today's post is the first in a series of Q&As with Erika Bruhn, a partner with Sawtooth Technologies Consulting Group. The company is a leader in advanced quantitative market research techniques, including segmentation, conjoint analysis, and customer satisfaction modeling for consumer and B2B markets.

Erika specializes in developing insights to drive complex product development and pricing decisions. Given Erika's expertise, I asked her to talk about some of the key issues marketers face in segmentation and targeting.

First, a quick review: Segmentation is the process of grouping customers within a market according to similar needs, habits, or attitudes that can be addressed through marketing. Segmentation enables you to understand customers' needs, wants, and preferences, segment by segment, so you can focus your resources on the most promising opportunities--improving your marketing effectiveness and efficiency. In general, you can segment by customer behaviors, attitudes, demographics, geography, and/or psychographics.

Question #1 for Erika Bruhn: What are the benefits of segmenting a market according to needs, lifestyle, and attitudes, rather than relying on demographic and geographic variables?

Erika's answer:

Motivations drive behavior, and by understanding the motivations of different segments of the market, one can reasonably predict how those segments will behave. Products which save time will likely appeal to a high convenience segment, products with strong design will appeal to status-driven consumers, and so on. There may be demographic similarities of those within a segment, but demographics don't define a segment. So those valuing good design may skew higher income, but not all higher income people value good design.

Product development efforts in particular will be more successful when executed with a specific attitudinal segment in mind. How do you design a new shampoo for a woman, 50 to 65 years old, who lives on the West Coast? I don't know either. But now imagine there's a segment called the Whole Beauty segment. This (hypothetical) segment sees personal beauty as a larger part of the beauty and longevity of the Planet Earth. Can you imagine the type of shampoo which would appeal to this segment? The product's ingredients, packaging, and positioning would all be driven by the segment's motivations and values.

Tomorrow's Q&A will focus on segmenting a market according to customers' attitudes and lifestyles.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Elf Yourself - Test Yourself

This month was the kickoff of the latest Elf Yourself campaign, with a flashmob event in Union Square, New York City.

Before you click to the Web site where you can Elf Yourself (always entertaining), test yourself: Who sponsors this promotion?

Now put yourself in the shoes of that company. What do you want to achieve, other than giving people a big smile during the holiday season? And how will you evaluate the results of your promotion?

Friday, November 13, 2009

What's Ahead for Holiday Shopping?

Deloitte sees a challenging holiday season ahead for the nation's retailers. First, a look in the rear-view mirror: Deloitte's chart of historical holiday sales results, based on US Department of Commerce figures, shows a lot of minus signs for last year's results. In contrast, during every holiday season since 1993, sales increased during November, December, and January. But then came 2008-9, when consumers slammed their wallets shut.

This year, Deloitte's annual survey of retail spending and trends indicates that consumers' fear of recession is starting to subside. Still, its survey shows that shoppers plan to spend less on gifts and will be looking for sales and bargains when they do open their wallets. The top destination: discount stores. The top gift: a gift card.

The survey suggests that mobile marketing is gaining importance. A growing number of shoppers say they'll use their cell phones to locate stores, comparison shop, and obtain coupons. MediaPost's coverage of the Deloitte survey points out that Facebook and other social media will be a factor in this year's holiday shopping, as well.

Retailers are already offering Black Friday specials to encourage early spending and grab revenue from competitors. What will the price promotions mean for profits? Sounds like tough sledding ahead.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Amazon: Much More Than Books

Amazon has successfully expanded well beyond books and media, as this chart shows, building sales and profits hand over fist in the process. Despite the difficult economic climate that's battered many other retailers, Amazon's reputation for sharp pricing, expanding assortments, and good customer service has carried it through the tough times.

Meanwhile, Amazon's Kindle e-book reader is being challenged by Barnes & Noble's Nook e-book reader, sparking a price war to go with the book and DVD price war that recently erupted among major retailers. But B&N can't keep up with demand (remember the long waiting lists when Amazon launched the Kindle?) and now it's scrambling to increase inventory ASAP. If Amazon has plenty of Kindles in stock, that could tip the balance in its favor for the holidays.

What's next for Amazon? More private-label products are on the way as the company leverages its distribution and branding strengths. The company is also pushing its cloud computing services and other B2B offerings, which helps it weather bumps in consumer spending. And Amazon's unexpected but savvy acquisition of Zappos is a great way to profit from the lessons of using super customer focus to cement long-term loyalty.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Coming Soon! Sawtooth Technologies Q&A

Watch this space for upcoming Q&A interviews featuring the experts at Sawtooth Technologies Consulting Group, leaders in advanced market research techniques, discussing market segmentation and targeting for insightful, effective marketing.

The Battle Over Early Termination Fees

Verizon Wireless has drawn fire for its latest move on early termination fees for cell-phone contracts. First, a bit of background. In 2006, the company announced it would prorate early cancellation fees by a small amount for every month a subscriber remains with Verizon. That change earned it some goodwill and helped to reduce consumer ire over the industry's cancellation fees and policies.

Now Verizon Wireless is doubling its early-cancellation fees (to $350) for smartphone contracts, effective November 15. The thinking seems to be that since the company subsidizes the price of these high-end phones, it would like to recoup some of that money in the event a customer wants out of the contract early.

Verizon Wireless's move has refocused public attention on the issue and brought the threat of legislative action. Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota says the higher fee is "anti-consumer" and is preparing to introduce a bill addressing her concerns about the effect on wireless subscribers. However, given all the issues vying for Congressional action, this is unlikely to make it to the top of the legislative list in 2009-2010.

Still, the early cancellation issue is important because it reveals some of the inner workings and complexities of wireless phone pricing. It also contributes to customer confusion and dissatisfaction. Is there a way for marketing to bring more clarity to the situation?

By the way, if you've never read a Verizon Wireless customer agreement, take a look here and get ready for your eyes to glaze over as you scroll through clause after clause after clause. Let me add that I'm a Verizon Wireless customer--but, happily, have not had occasion to request early termination.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Join the Choir at IKEA

IKEA has kicked off its annual Soft Toys Aid campaign, donating $1 for each toy sold before Christmas to UNICEF and Save the Children. This program alone has raised nearly $17 million since 2003. And that total doesn't count the millions of dollars IKEA has committed to UNICEF projects through 2015.

Soft Toys Aid includes a fun social media component, with singing stuffed animals. Members of the public can "Join the choir" (record your voice and upload for one of the animals to sing) and "Share" (on Facebook, Digg, etc).

IKEA got involved with the children's nonprofits when it discovered that some of its suppliers were employing children. Instead of simply dropping the suppliers, IKEA asked the nonprofits for advice. Then it began monitoring its suppliers and established pilot programs to prevent the use of child labor. It became a strong supporter of children's rights and later created Soft Toys Aid, which allows shoppers to join the choir and feel good about helping children without spending an extra dime. Sing out for children!

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Future of PR

Whatever the future of public relations may be, it's not going to look like the past. In a survey of 401 corporate communicators by Ragan Communications and PollStream, only 49% said that press releases "are as useful as ever." One-third agreed that press releases are "a necessary evil that won’t go away soon."

So is the press release dead? According to Larry Weber, head of the W2 Group and author of Sticks & Stones, "I claim--not without a certain amount of opposition from my colleagues--that companies don't need press releases any more." Looking at the future of PR, he observes: "It's the craft of PR that is changing as the technology changes."

Weber emphasizes that one-way, static, corporate-controlled communication (like a press release) is not very effective in today's never-ending 24/7 global news cycle. Instead, he argues for harnessing social media and other always-on technology to listen to and engage audiences in two-way dialogue.

A recent Ad Age article notes that more companies are, in fact, side-stepping journalists to engage directly with consumers. The article quotes Sam Lucas of WPP's Burson-Marsteller: "The traditional one-way media model has definitely had its day. So agencies are talking to clients about these engagement models much more."

In other words, the future of PR is engagement.

Sunday, November 1, 2009

Influence in the Blogosphere

Technorati released its latest State of the Blogosphere report last week.

RaceTalkBlog's Kyle Austin analyzed the report in detail and his recent blog entry makes a number of important points. He says:
. . . the numbers probably don’t adequately represent the folks that are corporate blogging for the 16% of Fortune 500 companies active in the blogosphere. They most likely have other job responsibilities outside of blogging.
Austin has another interesting observation:
However, while professional blogging is on the rise, the report also illustrates that the “hobbyists” have a voice. In fact, 45% of the 5 million blogs tracked by Technorati have an authority ranking of at least 1. This makes at least a portion of the 72% of hobbyists (with some following) a growing challenge for brands, who must allocate most of their blog relations time for more influential bloggers.
In other words, marketers must identify "hobbyist" opinion leaders in the blogosphere and develop a dialogue with them. These "hobbyists" and their readers are an excellent source of information about markets, customer needs and attitudes, competitive issues, etc.

Don't just think in terms of influencing the influencers--carefully read their blog entries and the comments on those entries and factor that data into your marketing decisions. Who knows what insights you'll discover?

Friday, October 30, 2009

My List of Twitter Lists

Twitter's new functionality allows users to create lists of tweeters and to become followers of lists created by other tweeters. It's great to be able to learn from the interesting tweets, links, and interactions of groups of Twitter users. The Influential Marketing Blog has a good, quick summary of the advantages of the new list functionality.

Here are a few marketing/social media lists I'm following:
  • @ctmarcom/marketing - Three dozen marketing specialists who tweet (yes, I'm on it), list compiled by Coreen Tossona
  • @jowyang/thought-leaders - List of thought leaders, compiled by uber thought leader Jeremiah Owyang (alas, not including me)
  • @b2bspecialist/CMO - List of 56 chief marketing officers, also compiled by Chris Herbert (I'm not eligible but glad this list is available)
  • @thewebchef/Marketing - From "web chef" Paul Gibler, a listing of must-follow marketing tweeters (I just made it onto this list)
To be continued as the listing of lists grows. Happy Halloween to all.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

VW's Drive to Overtake Toyota

Volkswagen's long-term goal is to overtake Toyota as the leading automaker on the planet, by 2018. VW is already #3 worldwide and wants to zoom up to the #2 slot soon--not right now, however, since Toyota's most recent results show it pulling away from the pack, thanks to improved sales in Asia.

In a Financial Post article on, the head of Volkswagen Group Canada observes:
“What most people don’t know is that we go quietly along. We sell more Jetta diesels nationwide in a month than Toyota sells Priuses. And yet the Prius gets all the press.”
Stimulus programs have helped VW increase sales in Germany, China, and Brazil, among other markets, and the car company's marketing plans call for more aggressive advertising in the Americas.

VW is revving up its hip factor. When it introduced its 2010 hatchback model recently, the announcement was made not on TV or radio, not in newspapers or magazines, but via a racing game in the form of an iPhone app.

VW's new plant in Tennessee will give it the capacity and the flexibility to produce fuel-efficient cars geared to local driving tastes. The company is also exploring new technology for the car of the future. Can VW get its marketing into overdrive and overtake Toyota by 2018?

Sunday, October 25, 2009

New Face of Branding: Faces of College Athletes

Watching Notre Dame win over Boston College yesterday, I noticed what you can plainly see in this NBC Sports file photo: Adidas gets audience attention every time the TV camera focuses on quarterback Jimmy Clausen (which is much of the time). Other UND players had Adidas logos on their faces as well. Adidas is one of the team's corporate sponsors, along with Coca-Cola, JP Morgan Chase, Gatorade, McDonald's, and Xerox.

I'm accustomed to seeing logos all over sports uniforms, hats, helmets, etc.. But college football stars' faces as brand billboards?

Saturday, October 24, 2009

New Twist on Ingredient Marketing

This month's Entrepreneur mag has a full-page ad about Nestle Toll House Cafe by Chip franchise opportunities.

The ad sends readers to the site, where I learned that "The concept was conceived in 1998 and takes advantage of the fact that people love to reward themselves with items they feel have a distinct quality and freshness." The cafes feature Nescafe coffee, cookies with Nestle ingredients, and Dreyer's ice cream--all well-established Nestle brands. The franchisor, Crest Foods, has awarded 100+ franchises and recently opened its own cafe in California.

The Nestle choco chip is often discussed in marketing texts as an example of "ingredient marketing" because it's incorporated into a finished product. This franchising concept puts an entirely new twist on that idea, with the spotlight on multiple Nestle brands that have earned reputations for quality and flavor.

Friday, October 23, 2009

NASCAR Sponsors Chase Brand Connections

This weekend is the TUMS Fast Relief 500 NASCAR race. At first I wasn't sure about connecting the TUMS brand with a NASCAR race; then I realized that this is a good way to reinforce the brand's benefit of speedy relief. Plus TUMS gets thousands and thousands of brand impressions in one day through this sponsorship, not counting pre-race publicity.

Every NASCAR race has a different sponsor, each brand seeking to leverage audience demographics, psychographics, and interests. For instance:
  • Chevy Rock & Roll 400 (natural connection)
  • AAA 400 (associate with auto/travel benefits)
  • Pepsi 500 (link "fun" soft drink with exciting sports event)
  • Amp Energy 500 (high-energy sports event, high-energy Pepsi drink)
  • Ford 400 (another natural connection)
  • Sharpie 500 (get a driver's autograph with a Sharpie?)
  • Carfax 400 (check Carfax before buying used cars?)

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Marketing Win 7

After months of build-up and promotion, Microsoft launches Windows 7 tomorrow. Searching for "Windows 7" on Google a few minutes ago, I found that most of the results on the first page are from Microsoft (good optimization!). The top result was for news, including links to more than 1,000 articles and reviews from publications as diverse as PC Magazine and the Houston Chronicle.

Amazon is selling tons of Windows 7. In the UK, the Daily Mail quotes an Amazon exec as saying: "The launch of Windows 7 has superseded everyone's expectations, storming ahead of Harry Potter and The Deathly Hallows as the biggest-grossing pre-order product of all time at, and demand is still going strong."

Monday, October 19, 2009

Intel Code Names

Remember Pentium or, even earlier, those Intel microprocessor chips that had only numbers like 386, not names? Today Intel likes to use code names for chips and other products. The company Web site has an alphabetized list of processor code names, starting with Banias and ending with Yorkfield. Chipsets go by code names such as 870, Crestline, and Springdale. Boards carry code names like Buffalo Creek, Fly Creek, and Raisin City. Makes me want to get out my atlas or use Google Earth to look up where in the world these are named for (except 870, of course).

Speaking of Intel, Fast Company has a quick slide show of Intel past, present, and future, to go with its November cover story Intel Risks It All (Again). Worth reading, especially the parts where Intel learns to work with Apple and how its recent ad campaign came about. Chipzilla?!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Social Media Guidelines

On Twitter, I saw a post by @TrendTracker (via @Twitter_Tips) about a site where the public can view the social media policies of dozens of companies, nonprofit groups, and government agencies.

It's Social Media Governance's online database of social media policies, to be exact, and it's worth a click or two to see how organizations are striving for transparency while balancing the need to protect proprietary info.

You can see, among others, the American Red Cross's social media policy for employees and for local units; the Canadian Broadcasting Co's Facebook policy; GM's blogger policy; IBM's social computing guidelines; Microsoft's blogging and tweeting guidelines; Roanoke County's social media policy; the US Air Force's new media policy; and Wal-Mart's Twitter discussion guidelines.

It's smart marketing to let employees (and the world) know about social media policies so there are no misunderstandings or miscommunications. This is especially important in light of the new FTC rules, taking effect soon, that material connections must be disclosed if a blogger or tweeter gets paid or gets freebies for promoting or reviewing a product. I hope more organizations, small businesses included, will post their policies for everyone to see.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Amazon Vine Reviews

Have you heard about Amazon Vine? Here's the description from the web site:
Amazon Vine™ is a program that enables a select group of Amazon customers to post opinions about new and pre-release items to help their fellow customers make educated purchase decisions. Customers are invited to become Amazon Vine™ Voices based on the trust they have earned in the Amazon community for writing accurate and insightful reviews. Amazon provides Amazon Vine™ members with free copies of products that have been submitted to the program by vendors. Amazon does not influence the opinions of Amazon Vine™ members, nor do we modify or edit their reviews.
I ran across Amazon Vine reviews when looking at what readers had posted about the hardcover edition of The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. In fact, the first three reviews featured for the hardcover, at least today when I looked, were from Amazon Vine and were all posted during late July 2008. All were clearly marked as "Amazon Vine" reviews, a disclosure that I appreciate.

This is an interesting development and I'll be interested to see whether other companies do this, especially in light of the recent FTC rule change requiring bloggers and celebrity endorsers to disclose "material connections" (payment by or freebies from companies).

Monday, October 12, 2009

CSR at the Gap

Corporate social responsibility reports are new for some companies, but not for the Gap. The San Francisco-based retailer got deeply involved in international CSR years ago, after bad publicity about living and working conditions at the overseas factories where its apparel products are made. It instituted strict supplier compliance rules and backed them up with action. It has also focused on going green throughout its value chain.

The Gap has been issuing CSR reports for some time, switching to online-only communications in recent years to save trees and money. Its latest report is a multimedia affair, chock full of info about its factories, suppliers, environmental initiatives, employee engagement and much more.

Check out the Gap's "data dashboard" page with metrics reflecting the retailer's CSR goals and progress. Very well done, easy to understand, and a good tool for letting stakeholders know, at a glance, what the chain has accomplished in CSR.

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Boo! Halloween marketing

Theme parks and attractions across the US are doing more to market themselves as fun/frightful destinations for Halloween season. In California, Universal Studios is challenging Knott's Berry Farm as the two parks promote special themed nights, parties, and activities during the run-up to Halloween.

Knott's has been targeting this segment for more than 30 years; Universal's latest Halloween theme initiative began a couple of years ago. If the parks can encourage families and teens to establish a holiday tradition of visiting during the fright events, they'll gain traction and extend the season profitably.

Lake Superior Zoo is marketing "Boo at the Zoo" as a limited-time Halloween event. The Party Central theme park in Shreveport, Louisiana is "Scary Central" for the month of October. The list goes on and on. Plus Halloween and the whole trick-or-treat concept are spreading around the world. Will this year be tricky?

Friday, October 2, 2009

Retail Webcam: Transparency or TMI?

Asda, the Wal-Mart-owned discount chain in the UK, has introduced webcams into some of its production facilities and backrooms. Take a look here for updated views of the dairy where Asda milk is processed and other areas not normally in full view of shoppers.

The idea, says CEO Andy Bond, is to demonstrate that Asda is run "by the consumer for the consumer", and "there is no 'behind the scenes.'" Like a restaurant with an open kitchen to show off its cleanliness and quality, Asda wants to use its webcams to demonstrate transparency. You can see Andy Bond discussing his vision of "democratic consumerism" here.

Now that I've watched bags of carrots moving up and down the conveyor belts on Asda's carrotcam, I can see some of the appeal. If cameras capture the view 24/7, shoppers feel more reassured about the journey their carrots take from field to package to store. These days, consumers are asking more questions about where their food comes from, so this kind of transparency is a good thing.

Yet I can't help wondering: Are such webcams increasing transparency or are they delivering TMI (you know, too much information)?

Is there another way to be transparent without training a webcam on the minutiae of everyday operations? Do I, as a consumer, want to be a quality-assurance inspector for the stores? Not me. Either I trust the store to do its job properly or I don't.

At the same time, I applaud all efforts toward increasing transparency and wish more companies would be more open about their products, processes and policies. I won't be watching carrotcam, but it's good to know that somebody can watch.

Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Next big kiosk idea?

The parent of Redbox, which started the frenzy for DVD rentals via kiosk, is looking for that next big kiosk idea. Just click to Coinstar's The Next Big Idea Contest and write down the big idea you think will appeal to a $1 billion-plus market. Your reward: $10,000. Think fast! Deadline is October 8th.

Big blue movie box

Blockbuster Express's big blue movie box has arrived in local supermarkets, along with signage promoting its $1 per night DVD rentals. I took a moment to explore the touch-screen interface and found everything easy to use. The rental kiosk is co-branded by Blockbuster and NCR, by the way.

I noticed the prominent statement (at the kiosk and on the website) that no membership is needed to rent a DVD. That's reassuring to consumers who aren't Blockbuster members: They won't have any problem making impulse rentals and they don't need to register or make an ongoing commitment. Just choose a movie, swipe a credit card, and pick up the DVD from the kiosk's slot. Go home, watch the DVD, return it, and repeat as often as possible.

Or you can rent DVDs by mail from Blockbuster ("cancel anytime--we mean it!") or download from Blockbuster for immediate viewing. That is, unless you're a Netflix customer or you prefer renting from a Redbox kiosk closer to home. Let the movie rental wars begin. And the winner is . . . the consumer!

Friday, September 25, 2009

Google Insights for Search

Have you tried Google Insights for Search? The partial screen grab, above, shows a search I conducted to see the trend in search volume over the past months. There are lots of search options, but I happened to choose these as a test.

After I clicked to conduct the search, up came a graph showing month by month since Jan 2008. Not surprisingly, search volume for this topic has never been higher.

If I want, Google has a link to code so I can embed the results of my search (or any search on the Insights engine) into a webpage.

Wouldn't this be useful when doing research for a marketing plan? It's still in beta, but try it anyway.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

Who really owns your brand?

Attention, marketers: You think you own your brand? Actually, you should hope that your customers own it. My experience last night is a perfect example of who really owns a brand.

With five friends sitting around a neighbor's dining room table, one got the group's attention by telling how Moen lived up to its warranty by sending a replacement for her leaky kitchen faucet--via FedEx. Good thing she'd saved the receipt from the purchase 9 years before! Moen was her brand and she was proud to talk about her wonderful customer experience and urge all of us to buy Moen.

Another friend said she'd used Bank of America's bill payment service to pay her credit card bill. A few days later, when she tried to use the card, the charge wasn't approved and she didn't know why. Rushing home, she logged into her account and discovered that she'd authorized payment to the wrong card. She called B of A and the rep immediately applied the payment to the proper card and waived all fees. B of A was her brand, and she couldn't be happier with the way things turned out.

Clearly, these positive experiences had reinforced each friend's choice of brand--and just as clearly, we listeners were impressed at how well the companies had lived up to their brands' promises. No marketer can buy such enthusiastic and spontaneous word of mouth or think up testimonials as credible and compelling as these real-life experiences.

In brief, marketers: Give your customers the kinds of experiences that will make them want to own the brand.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

Top 100 Global Brands

As reported in BusinessWeek and Marketing magazine, Interbrand has released its annual ranking of the top 100 global brands.

Coca-Cola remains at the top of the list for 2009, exactly where it has been for the past 9 years. The next four slots are occupied by the same companies that were #2, #3, #4, and #5 in 2008: IBM, Microsoft, GE, and Nokia. Of the top 10 on the Interbrand list, 8 are US corps and 2 (Nokia and Toyota) are based elsewhere.

In the top 10, Google enjoyed the biggest increase in brand value, according to Interbrand's calculations. Its 25% increase brought it from #10 in 2008 to #7 in 2009. Yet Google could also face anti-trust issues as it continues to grow so quickly, BW notes.

The Interbrand site has more analysis and detail, including a complex interactive chart tracking companies in the past decades' listing.

Friday, September 18, 2009

Opting out of Yellow Book deliveries

Yesterday the Yellow Book people delivered a new county Yellowbook in yellow bags (of course) left by the mailbox at dinner time. Yet another unasked-for directory (see my YP entry from July)!

This time I opened the bag, looked at the title page, and found a prominent note about my "Directory Options"--I can order more directories or opt out of future deliveries by calling a toll-free number or visiting the Yellow Book site. I've just opted out to save trees and landfill space...and because I don't use YP directories any more.

I let my mouse do the I'm sure most tech-savvy consumers and businesspeople do. It's time to stop delivering unsolicited directories and use the opt-in approach to be sure a directory is welcome. Businesses who pay to be included would also be reassured because opt-in recipients really use the directories, which makes the advertising investment more worthwhile IMHO.

Thursday, September 17, 2009

Fast Co 144, Bus Week 080

The October issue of Fast Company just arrived via snail mail and I'm comparing it with the September 21st issue of Business Week. As the entry title shows, FC has 144 pages in this issue, compared with BW's 080 (that's how the designers styled the magazine's page numbering format so I'll respect their structure even though I think it's pretentious).

FC appears to have more ads plus an advertorial. Here's my quick list of the major display ads in each mag:

Porsche, IBM, Xerox, Appleton rum, Lexus, Principal Financial Group, NEC, SCAD, University for Creative Careers; Michigan; UnitedHealthcare; Dell; Dish Network; Allstate; GM's Lincoln; Budweiser; Louisiana; MarriottRewards; Ad Tech NY; 3M; U of Chicago Booth School of Business; USPS; Las Vegas (2x); AIGA Design Conference; Verizon Wireless; Ally Bank; Library at Hudson in NYC; Panasonic Toughbook; AT&T Global; Dymo; GoToMeeting; Turkish Airlines; American Airlines; Morgans Hotel Group; 1&1;; Mercedes-Benz.

Ford; S.C. Johnson's Edge; NEC; Sprint; SkyTeam; Prudential; Wells Fargo Advisors; SAS; Yale-New Haven Hospital; International Monetary Systems; Kyocera; GrantThornton; Zurich HelpPoint; Xerox; Advertorial section on financial literacy; T. Rowe Price; USPS; Verizon Wireless; Bose; Salvation Army; Harvard Business School; U.C. Davis M.I.N.D. Institute; E*Trade; GEICO; IBM; Trend Micro.

For the record, I was a loyal BW subscriber for 25 years, dropped the mag last year but then started it again (this time using frequent flyer miles to buy). The editors and writers really know their stuff, they write well, they write concisely, and every issue has at least one story that I rip out and file for future reference. For an all-around review of what's happening in business and in-depth analysis of key firms/industries, BW is my go-to mag.

I started getting FC years ago when it debuted, stopped when I had difficulty differentiating between the ads and the articles because the design didn't clarify which was which. Thanks to frequent flyer miles, I'm again a subscriber and this time around, I like what I see. The cutting-edge coverage of social media and convergence is an important strength. This month's focus on Masters of Design was particularly interesting and such behind-the-scenes analyses of trends are an important reason why I look forward to FC.

Both mags have excellent, info-packed websites and blogs that deliver far more than the printed page can carry and more than any one subscriber could hope to read. Take a look at Fast Company and at BusinessWeek, then decide for yourself.

What will happen after BW is sold? I hope advertisers will clearly understand that there's a place for both mags. The challenge is to sharpen the differentiation, aim to build a particular audience for each mag with great editorial in every issue, and show advertisers that their messages will reach the targeted readers.

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sites that follow marketing trends

Looking for the latest news and views in social media, green marketing, and more? Here are three sites I check for reports on marketing trends:
  • Social Media Today. Thoughtful insights into latest in social media marketing via blogs, tweets, mobile devices, and more.
  • Environmental Leader. Daily dose of green marketing and related issues and trends from around the world.
  • Chief Marketer. Timely CMO interviews plus analyses and critiques of marketing trends and activities, digital and otherwise.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Tuning into Product Placement

In the US, product placement has long been commonplace all over the TV dial, in broadcast and cable programs. American Idol's deal with Coke might be the most prominent example; Bravo's Top Chef is another good example, according to Product Placement News. Brands want the halo of being associated with popular programs and seen by millions of viewers.

In the UK, however, product placement was outlawed in TV programs, because of concerns about 'editorial independence' and quality. Now that ban is expected to be lifted (except for BBC programming and all kids' shows on all channels), which could lead to lots of new placement deals in UK entertainment.

Some consumer advocates on both sides of the Atlantic worry that product placement may interfere with program integrity...or be misunderstood. The creator of the UK reality program Big Brother says that product placement should be done in a transparent way, adding:
"But you have to trust the consumer. If it's overdone or tasteless, viewers will switch off."

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Retailing 2009: Everything old is new again

BusinessWeek quotes the CEO of Macy's saying: "You have to do something different." For Macy's, that means starting to tailor the merchandise assortments in its 811 US stores to local tastes.

Now it wasn't so very long ago that department stores did just that--before the days when mega-retail corporate parents bought up local chains and homogenized the buying process.

The local chains were as close to their customers as it was possible to be, and they knew how to compete through distinctive merchandising. In other words, they were merchants and were in tune with their shoppers' lifestyles, preferences, and buying habits. Customers understood what retail brands stood for, and they made their choices accordingly.

Davison's, in Atlanta, was a part of Macy's long before the parent erased the local name in a move to give Macy's a national brand identity. Shoppers in Atlanta could tell the difference between department store rivals Davison's and Rich's, not just because of the names but also because of the way the stores looked, the merchandise they carried, the services they offered. (Wikipedia chronicles the history that led to Rich's and Davison's becoming part of Macy's and eventually losing their separate identities, if you're interested.)

Similar retail dramas played out in Chicago, in Philadelphia, in Cleveland, all over the country. Local brands and local approaches to merchandising went away as national retail chains sought efficiencies of scale through centralization.

Now, in the retailing world of 2009, everything old is new again, with Macy's trying to give local shoppers what they want. Looking at the big picture, sales help is scarce in most stores. Price promotions are prominent. And too many malls have empty storefronts.

Retailers absolutely must return to their merchant roots by responding to and even anticipating nuances in customer wants, needs, and buying patterns. Retail brands have to stand for something meaningful to local shoppers. If every store offers the same brands at approximately the same prices, why would customers buy on the basis of anything other than price and convenient location?

Saturday, September 5, 2009

Ad Break messages "sell you something"

If you haven't noticed "Ad Break" or similar notices on brand-related websites that attract kids (not to be confused with spyware AdBreak), take a moment to check these out:

From Postopia....and here's the warning in context, at bottom of the Postopia home page...and a warning at the bottom of the home page on Oreo from NabiscoWorld. To quote the NabiscoWorld Ad Break in its entirety:
Hi kids, when you see "Ad Break" it means you are viewing a commercial message designed to sell you something. Remember, if you are under 18 years old, you should get a parent's permission before you submit any information about yourself or try to buy anything online.
Research indicates that young children have difficulty distinguishing between "information" and "advertising" so this kind of warning is a start.

Still, the Postopia games seem very integrated with cereal brands and spokescharacters, and include special extras for kids who enter codes from cereal boxes; the entire experience therefore seems to be one big marketing message (well, we were warned).

I noticed the Ad Break warning on the bottom of every Oreo and ChipsAhoy page I happened to check on NabiscoWorld, including pages where TV ads are posted. Again, we were warned. But how much do kids understand about the reason for the warning and what the warning means?

Friday, September 4, 2009

Take Back the Beep: Customers Call for Action

David Pogue's "Take back the beep" campaign has been around for a month now, as I write this. The New York Times tech columnist started the campaign to get the big wireless companies to stop giving those "time-wasting, redundant, airtime-eating, 15-second recorded instructions that you hear every time you leave a message for someone." There's a big-as-life website at

AT&T replied that it's making changes; Sprint replied with details on how customers can turn off the recorded instructions; T-Mobile said all the feedback had gotten its attention. And Verizon said very little, as of Aug. 13, according to Pogue.

Searching for "take back the beep" on Google, I found more than 860,000 hits. No, I didn't read every hit, but I did browse the first few pages. Pogue has definitely struck a nerve. I found a Fox News story about how to get rid of the instructions; a Gizmodo blog saying that Pogue's campaign was having an effect; many--many!--blog entries from people who supported the campaign; even a T-Mobile forum entry and a Sprint community page inviting comments.

Here's the bottom line: Companies crow about crowdsourcing (some say they're inviting customers to "co-design" goods and services) but when they get clear feedback, they don't always know what to do with it. Pogue's campaign was a grass-roots call for action from an unusually high-profile customer. It led to a Groundswell (yes, just like the book) of support from other customers. Calling all wireless carriers: This calls for action, right now. Take back the beep!

Monday, August 31, 2009

Crowds at Apple Stores

No recession at the Apple store in my area, where 60 consumers (including youngsters) crowded in at 4 pm on a Sunday for back-to-school shopping. Some of the folks were probably looking for Snow Leopard, available at a special price and heavily promoted online.

Apple is continuing to open new stores around the world and, in fact, the Telegraph says the London Apple store is the 'most profitable' in the city, for its size.

From personal experience, I can understand why customers want to buy at Apple stores. First, if you know to reserve a personal shopper online for a certain time period, you get the attention you need. If you have no appointment, show up anyway. A concierge checks with each browsing shopper from time to time, asking whether any additional help is needed, etc. No pressure, just a friendly inquiry.

Second, the store is user-friendly, with LOTS of working computers to try and even use (I saw several "shoppers" checking e-mail, updating FB pages, playing games, etc.) One big table is low to the ground with beanbag chairs for kids to sit and play games at a couple of Macs. Just the thing to keep kids busy while parents ask questions at the Genius Bar.

Third, the Genius Bar is, well, retail genius. The crowds were three-deep at my local store's Genius Bar, with separate waiting lists for iPhone/iPod help and Mac computer help. Very comforting to know you can have someone look at your gadget while you wait and maybe even get it working for you within a few minutes.

Fourth, the paperwork is pretty quick because each salesperson logs in at any nearby demo computer, enters all the data, and e-mails customers their receipts to print at home (saves trees too).

Apple is still using those stylized plastic shopping bags, however, which I wish they would ditch in favor of eco-friendly paper, but that's a quibble. All in all, a very positive customer experience. Now let's see whether the migration of apps and data from the old Mac to the new Mac goes smoothly and on time.

Friday, August 28, 2009

Companies connect with students

Researching a case study about McDonald's UK, I came across its pages for students and instructors. Lots of downloadable information about customer service, marketing, financials, franchising and entrepreneurship, stock control, recruitment and work experience. Plus a contact for instructors who want more data or want to arrange a class restaurant visit.

The "About Us" section of McDonald's US site has links for students, as well. McDonald's has clearly put a lot of thought and effort into reaching out to students on both sides of the Atlantic--what a smart marketing move.

Levi Strauss--American icon of denim--has a page for students and teachers, with suggestions for how to research the company for a school project. It also welcomes inquiries to the company historian (although response time may be as long as 1-2 weeks).

Marks & Spencer also knows that it's the subject of many a school it has a page with many links for students. Click and get much more detail about the company, management, annual results, financial performance, recent presentations, sustainability, charitable and community involvement and ethical standards. Well done.

If you haven't seen the London Times 100 case studies, click on over to take a look. Each shows how an interesting company approached an important business challenge or opportunity. Consumer and B2B companies are both represented (Tesco, Kellogg, Siemens, Nivea, Vodafone and many more). And this is a wonderful way for the Times to reach out to students and instructors alike.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

The ROI of the Google Doodle

How many Web sites get loads and loads of PR (and attract extra hits) just for making a change on the home page? Google does it all the time, every time it changes its logo (also known as its "Google Doodle"). Today's case in point: Google's logo celebrating Galileo's telescope (above).

Not only does Google get a nice surge of positive publicity, it also educates anybody who clicks on the logo. Today's telescope logo led me to a results listing of 2.36 million hits about Galileo and his invention. Clicking on news about "Google Doodle" turned up 81 hits, some about today's Galileo logo, some about upcoming contests, and some about previous logo changes.

If Google's ROI in Google Doodles is measured in number of additional searches, my guess is that the company enjoys an extraordinary return every time it loads a new logo.

BTW, when I entered "Bing" in the Google search box, the top result was a sponsored link to . . . I clicked.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

Marketing DaaS

Marketing Data as a Service (DaaS) is a hot new business trend, says the WSJ. To succeed, the marketer must have (1) up-to-date data valued by buyers and (2) software capable of slicing and dicing as the buyer requires. Want to find a restaurant according to average customer rating or neighborhood or price or type of food? DaaS at your service. (Note that the term DaaS can be interpreted in a few ways; often it's used to refer to cloud computing services.)

The profitable marriage of data and software has been around, in some form, for more than 30 years. Back in the days when big retailers such as Saks Fifth Avenue and Sears owned their own credit-card programs, store marketers used sophisticated data mining software to analyze the cardholder base and tailor offers to specific segments. Here, the retailers maintained proprietary databases that were never shared with outsiders, although manufacturers might negotiate to have their brands receive special marketing attention in targeted store communications.

Today's DaaS holds huge marketing potential. What new insights can be gleaned from patterns buried in the data? What new targeting, product, and outreach possibilities will emerge? And, from the customers' perspective, what does today's DaaS mean for privacy and marketing transparency?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Cruise Marketing: When Is the Price Final?

In the spirit of marketing transparency, cruise lines should clarify whether passengers will pay a fuel surcharge for cruises booked for later this year and into 2010. Some cruise lines have eliminated the surcharges, which were tacked on during the period of $100+/barrel oil. Others are leaving the door open to possible surcharges if the price of oil surges.

The most surprising surcharge policy I found was in Cunard's "New Fuel Supplement Update" (dated June 2009)--click the supplement update link at left of the page to read. Even if customers pay in full for their cruises on the Queen Mary 2 (above) or another Cunard ship, they still may be hit with a fuel surcharge if oil prices spike above $70/barrel before their cruise begins (read the fine print for more info).

Disney Cruise Line says it doesn't plan to add a surcharge for new bookings on its cruises through 2010. Also Disney may refund fuel surcharges prepaid by passengers for 2009-2010 cruises, depending on the price of oil, as explained on its website.

USA Today reported that some cruise lines are reconsidering fuel surcharges as oil prices gyrate.

How can customers make informed decisions if they don't know when the price of cruise is final?

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Got Data?

The new ways of presenting data are both intriguing and disorienting. After a lifetime of creating and reading bar charts and x/y axes, understanding how to interpret data presented as cloud tags and 3D representations requires a bit of practice.

BusinessWeek has a good article on how data visualization helps managers better understand consumer behavior and improve the relevancy of their marketing activities. And here, from Web Designer Depot, are dozens and dozens of eyecatching examples of data visualization options.

Ad Age had a neat post about using data visualization to build brands online. The NYT Visualization Lab lets users create visualizations about the day's news. I found this an interesting way to see the tools in action and appreciate the powerful insights that come from getting a fresh look at data.

One last thought: Marketers can't stand still--we have to actually take action, even if this means pilot programs and small steps at first, to avoid falling into the trap of analysis paralysis.