Thursday, April 30, 2009

Waving Goodbye to Pontiac

Who knows how many GM brands will fade away before the company shrinks into nothingness or winks out of existence? This time, it's Pontiac's turn to say goodbye. When Oldsmobile was axed a few years ago, some fans protested--but not surprisingly, Pontiac's demise hasn't raised much of a ruckus among current owners (all "fourteen" of you).

In fact, comments on Ad Age's story are downright nostalgic. The GTO's racing lines and power were nothing short of legendary during the 1970s-era muscle-car mania. But these days, Pontiac seems part of a period that reached its peak long, long ago.

Here's the official announcement about Pontiac, direct from its brand web site. And from the MSNBC site, the above photo is actually the start of a fun slide show on the brand's history. Bye-bye Pontiac. No U-turns for you.

Monday, April 27, 2009

Mozy and A Way with Words

So often I enjoy a podcast or TV program but don't have an affinity for the sponsors. Happily, now I can report that "A Way with Words," an NPR radio show, is fascinating stuff and I'm grateful to Mozy--my favorite online backup service--for sponsoring the show.

In fact, Mozy sent me an e-mail letting me know about the show, which doesn't air in my area. I clicked the link in Mozy's message, read about the show, and then went to iTunes to download a handful of podcasts. Now I'm subscribed to "A Way with Words" and don't want to miss a single episode.

Thank you, Mozy. This sponsorship is a wonderful way to reach prospects and customers alike. I'm very glad I opened your e-mail (which you don't send often, another reason I appreciate you). Please keep up the good work and the good sponsorship!

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Inbound Marketing

Today's Boston Globe talks about the buzz around "inbound marketing," agency HubSpot's term for marketing that prompts the audience to seek out a company or its offerings online. This method makes more sense than one-way "outbound marketing," the traditional monologue advertising model which companies use to talk at audiences without engaging them or inviting response.

Any time you can get strong word of mouth/mouse going, you get much more bang for your buck as your audience spreads the word for you. Inbound is fun, entertaining, engaging. Ideally, it becomes a two-way street, leading to ongoing dialogue between audience and company.

However, the only real measure of success is whether inbound marketing achieves its business objectives. No matter how high tech the technique, marketing programs are successful only when they help the company progress toward its business objectives. Building awareness is a legitimate objective but eventually, effectiveness must be measured in bottom-line terms.

Pop quiz: Which office supply retailer is behind the "Elf Yourself" campaign? Nearly everyone has heard of the campaign (many of you even uploaded your photo to elf yourself). But do you remember who sponsored it?

So here's what I want to know. Did "Teddy Twitter" bring in higher program ratings for the tech-oriented home makeover show? Did's revenues go up after it added a Facebook application to feed job openings to users? The Globe doesn't say. And that would be the real story behind inbound, IMO.

PS--The retailer behind Elf Yourself is:


Thursday, April 23, 2009

Bargain Basement for Filene's Basement

How sad that Filene's Basement, a once-bustling outlet with an upscale "treasure hunt" feeling, has lost its cachet and changed hands once again. The flagship store, which used to be right in the middle of Boston's busy downtown shopping district, has long been closed for renovations; it sounds like any reopen date will be far in the future.

The entire off-price business has suffered as retailers over-expanded--which dramatically increased the amount of "quality" merchandise needed to fill the stores--and soft-goods manufacturing and branding evolved. IMO, off-price was never intended to be a mass business. Shoppers who checked Loehmann's and Hit or Miss--two early off-pricers--never knew what they'd find, and had to stop in regularly to catch shipments of favorite designers or special sizes. Corporate buyers never knew what off-season merchandise or odd size merchandise a manufacturer might have for sale on any given day. It was a business of opportunity for buyers and sellers alike.

Now that special sales or limited-time offers are as close as the click of a mouse, the bloom is off the off-price brick-and-mortar retailing rose. If Filene's Basement can be saved, it will need to focus on sharpening its differentiation and giving consumers a compelling reason to patronize its stores, again and again and again.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Google Labs

Yesterday, Google Labs pulled back the curtain on its latest tech toys. One is Similar Images, a search that allows users to find images that look much like one in the results listing. Suppose my image search turns up a photo of a black bear. I click on the "similar images" link below that photo and a new set of results comes up, all featuring black bears.

This is an intuitive way to help me find exactly what I want without describing it down to the last detail or clicking through pages of results to find the right kinds of images. Want to see the controversial Tropicana OJ package and the way it looked before (and after) that hiccup? This is a good way to search for it.

Remember "Timetables of History" book? Google News Timeline is all about timelines, with headlines and photos arranged day-by-day to scroll up and down recent history. Choose from an odd but diverse assortment of sources: various newspapers, Time mag news, Wikipedia events, sports scores, blogs, and more. Want to see Time mag covers for all of 1999? Enter the year in the "date" search box and click. Voila!

Monday, April 20, 2009

Fortune 500 Time

The latest Fortune 500 list is out, and Wal-Mart has slipped to #2, with Exxon-Mobil now #1 among US businesses. GM is #6 but will it be in the top 10 next year? Here's the current top 10 list:

Exxon-Mobil (1)
Wal-Mart (2)
Chevron (3)
ConocoPhillips (4)
GE (5)
GM (6)
Ford (7)
AT&T (8)
Hewlett-Packard (9)
Valero Energy (10)

Another sobering observation: Fortune says that "128 of the U.S.'s 500 largest companies were in the red" in 2008. Ouch.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

Earth Day Turns 29

Only 20 million people celebrated the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970, according to the EPA. Wikipedia's succinct history includes the criticism, from "bright green" advocates, that Earth Day actually marginalizes environmental sustainability.

I disagree. Today the movement has spread worldwide and is a powerful marketing theme for many organizations, but that only adds to its message and meaning. Since 1970, an entire generation of youngsters has grown up and begun families of their own, living the sustainability ideals of Earth Day every day and passing those ideals to their children.

The US government has an Earth Day portal with links to all kinds of volunteer opportunities, suggestions for classroom activities, information about environmental awareness and action, and more. More links and suggestions at Earth Day Network (where this image comes from). Even NASA celebrates Earth Day.

Just a few of the many environmental and conservation groups carrying the Earth Day message are: the Wilderness Society, the Sierra Club, World Wildlife Federation, and more. Museums, schools, community groups, businesses are picking up the theme. In Second Life, nonprofits and their avatars will be holding Earth Day celebrations. Twitter has #earthday entries, of course (search for latest here).

Happy Earth Day and many, many more.

Thursday, April 16, 2009

Tulip Festivals Bloom

Tulip festivals have spread far and wide, thousands of miles from the Netherlands. One of the largest is the Canadian Tulip Festival in Ottawa, which brings in $50 million in revenue for the city's restaurants, hotels, souvenir stores, and service businesses.

In Washington state, the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival attracts 1 million visitors during its one-month duration. Orange City, Iowa brings in 100,000 visitors with its tulip festival in May. Of course, Holland (Michigan) has a tulip festival every year, as you would expect.

Marketing festivals is serious business, with so much riding on the outcome. The tulips are important, but they're only part of the attraction. Festival events range from concerts and parades to contests and lectures. They get newcomers excited about the community, drum up hospitality revenues from visitors, get schools and nonprofits involved, and show off the area to entrepreneurs and business owners seeking a place to locate.

Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Google Insights for Search

Google has a beta site called Google Insights for Search which looks like a fascinating and valuable starting point for finding secondary research about broad consumer and business trends.

In fact, the search categories are tailor-made for businesses seeking data to support marketing and management decisions. For example, one bullet, Seasonality, says: "Anticipate demand for your business so you can budget and plan accordingly."

You can filter your search by Web, news, image or product; by nation (and smaller geographic areas); by date or date range; and by category (such as automotive, business, games).

Google has a quick overview of how to use this beta tool here. Worth a try--and you can't beat the price.

Monday, April 13, 2009

New Packaging for Nestle

Nestle just changed the packaging of its Carnation Instant Breakfast. Guess which is old and which is new....

Left is old and familiar. Right is new, more modern and adds lots of benefit details. Note banner at top left of new canister that says "New Look! Same Great Taste!" Same amount in package but new (higher) retail price.

I'm a loyal customer and accustomed to flying down the grocery aisles, snatching up a Carnation Instant in an instant, and continuing on my whirlwind tour of the supermarket. New pkg meant taking a moment to process new look and "same great taste." It worked because the new pkg is similar enough to the old pkg that customers can identify the product quickly and easily.

Marketers can't make such changes lightly--customers devote only a few seconds to scanning the shelves for familiar packages and if your product looks radically different, it may not be identified and selected as the favorite that it used to be.

Sunday, April 12, 2009

Target's Targeting

Target is targeting-savvy: It knows it can't be all things to all people, and some people have specific buying needs that Target can readily (and profitably) satisfy. Want to save money? Sign up for Target's e-mailed bargains (or get a text message when sale notices are posted online). Stumped for a gift idea? Search for that special someone's TargetList (that's a wish list).

I particularly like Target's targeted catalogs published on its web site. Bull's eye!
  • Club Wedd, a wedding registry catalog (with subcategories: entertain, cook, renew, play, care).
  • Baby Buying Guide, planning for new parents and those giving them gifts (registry too).
  • Baby Inspiration Catalog, gifts and purchases for after baby arrives (plus registry, of course).

Saturday, April 11, 2009

Nintendo in High-Stakes Game

Can Nintendo stay ahead of Sony in the video-game biz? Its new DSi handheld, the latest version of this popular game device, sold more than 600,000 units in the first two days of sale in US and Europe. In Japan, however, the Wii game console was recently outsold by Sony's PSP3 console, in part because consumers wanted to play hot new games made only for the PSP. Nintendo says it has no immediate plans to discount the Wii to jump-start purchasing.

According to a Japanese video-game mag, Nintendo sold more games in Japan than any other company last year. Yet its share was estimated at only 40% because more third-party game companies are entering the field.

One industry rumor says that Sony will incorporate some iPhone-like functionality in its new-generation PSP product. How will Nintendo react? Will it lose customers as game-playing on smartphones becomes more popular? Will it develop a DS with iPhone-like features? Or will it concentrate on the Wii, where its targeting of women, seniors, and families has kept sales humming in the US and Europe?

Thursday, April 9, 2009

Mobilizing Mobile Marketing

Calling all marketers: Think creatively about how to engage customers through mobile marketing. For instance, Kellogg has brand fans in Britain and Ireland using their cell phones to participate in its "Big Bake" program.

Kellogg invites customers to Bake (a recipe of your choice, using a Kellogg cereal) + Snap (photograph yourself with your baked item) = Ta Da (send the photo via cell phone or e-mail to Kellogg and your creation could star in a future Kellogg TV commercial or print ad). In addition, Kellogg posts submitted photos of customer-baked goods on its Big Bake site, the way Jones Soda displays customer-submitted label designs on its Web site.

Ring up a few other mobile marketing campaigns at the Yahoo! mobile marketing awards. Be sure to read this thought-provoking post about pitfalls of mobile marketing before you start dialing for dollars (or pounds sterling).

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Online Content: Fee or Free?

WSJ has proven that consumers will pay for an online newspaper (currently, $1.99/wk for online access only). But just about everyone else is struggling to find the best formula for profiting from content on the Web.

USA Today
offers a digital online replica of its print edition for "only" $13.95/four weeks, but do these subscriptions sell? USAT's print edition subscription base is way down, thanks to the travel slump. I doubt its online edition is booming.

Today's NYT has a story about free-versus-paid content, wondering whether the newspaper industry can learn from other situations in which goods/services formerly provided for free now carry a price tag. Airlines are charging to check luggage, for instance, and getting away with it. But newspapers and magazines are another story, IMO.

Encyclopedia Britannica, once ailing as free online competitors attracted consumer attention, now charges $70/yr for premium access to its knowledge database (after free 7-day trial). Meanwhile, Microsoft will stop offering its Encarta encyclopedia by the third quarter.

Clearly, no one answer fits all. Asked about consumers paying for newspaper and magazine content, Professor Raghubir of NYU's Stern School of Business told the NYT that "maybe part of what you would pay for is the privilege of helping the business survive, but that is more of a difficult sell."

Difficult sell, but not impossible (as WSJ and Britannica have discovered). Just as consumers subscribe to Consumer Reports to get objective, factual information about goods and services, they may become accustomed to the value equation of paying for online newspaper and magazine content they value. The key issue is time. The middle of an economic crisis is not the best time to convince consumers to pay for content. Can publications survive the economic drought long enough to develop a viable subscription biz model?

Monday, April 6, 2009

Embrace the Reviewosphere

The reviewosphere (my made-up word for the world of online product reviews) is, like our universe, ever expanding--and that's a good thing.

The Economist recently discussed whether it makes sense for customers to write an online review when hundreds (or thousands) of others have already rated and commented on a good or service. Marketers should care about this answer, which is "yes," because, to quote The Economist:

". . . the raw number of reviews or comments, and the proportion of positive and negative ones, send useful signals to other people, even if they do not trawl through all of them."

As a marketer, you want to encourage as many people as possible to review the products you make or sell. The top 4 reasons why you should embrace the reviewosphere:
  1. Reviews build trust. Simply inviting reviewers to have their say demonstrates a level of transparency and builds trust with current and prospective customers. Let 'em talk about your brand in their own terms and in their own time. According to the marketing concept, it's all about them, anyway.
  2. Negative comments are opportunities. You often learn more from a critical review than from a positive review. Keep an open mind and listen for improvements that will strengthen your product's benefits. And if you're ever tempted to refute a negative review, take your fingers off the keyboard. Your satisfied customers will defend what they like--and it's their voices, not yours, that count in the reviewosphere.
  3. More reviews, more buyer confidence. Buyers are looking for the voice of experience. If only one or two reviews have been posted, they may be reluctant to buy. If dozens or hundreds have been posted, interested buyers will at least sample the good and the bad and feel they've made a more informed decision when they finally punch the "buy" button. Wouldn't you like to reduce the chance of buyer's remorse?
  4. Resistance is futile. Marketers are not in control of their brands or communications. Customers have the power to buy or not, recommend or not, badmouth or not--in person, if not online. So go ahead and invite reviews, because people will talk about your brand anyway. Don't you want to know what they're saying?

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Blogging About Blogs

Ad Age posts the Power 150, its listing of the top marketing and media blogs. Some I was already checking (or reading their tweets) and some were new to me. Here are a few to sample:
  • Ads of the World blog. An eye-opening monthly roundup of interesting and often striking ads, many of which never appear in my area.
  • ProBlogger. A must-read for serious bloggers, with ideas for better blogging and building audiences, such as how to convert new readers into regular readers.
  • Search Engine Roundtable. Search is a key element in today's marketing. This blog keeps me updated on developments, implications, and sometimes a laugh too (as on April Fool's Day).
  • PR 2.0. Insight into PR strategy/tools/possibilities. Browse "greatest hits" posts for special treats.
  • Social Media Explorer. All-around social media coverage with a viewpoint and a nice long "Blogs I Read" listing for more, more, more.
  • Hitwise. What's going up and down and on in web traffic. Quickly read headlines, click to read more, and you're sucked into a story before you know it.

Thursday, April 2, 2009

Eco-Labels: The Coming Shakeout

How do you know that something marketed as green is really green? Marketers need transparency and disclosure to gain customers' trust, but eco-labels are still evolving and nobody really knows which will survive the coming shakeout.

Certainly a shakeout is overdue. Today's WSJ points out that consumers are confused by the many competing green certification programs, from Green Seal to Greenguard, the Forest Stewardship Council to Biodegradable Products Institute, and beyond.

Then there's the carbon footprint labeling movement, including third-party labels such as those awarded by the Carbon Trust. Just to add to the confusion, Timberland and some other companies are doing their own eco-labeling. (If you want to calculate your carbon footprint, try this tool.)

In the US, the FTC is mulling new Green Guides for claims of environmental product benefits. The Australian Association of National Advertisers has drafted a self-regulation code for environmental claims advertising and marketing. In Europe, the EU Ecolabel is in the works. Change is coming, and soon.

Actually, marketers and customers alike would benefit from clear standards and guidelines. Meanwhile, brands with overblown or unsubstantiated eco-claims should watch out--they'll be outed sooner or later by consumers who will spread the bad buzz around the world.

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

April Fool Roundup

The financial advice site Motley Fool is anything but stuffy and formal, as the photo shows. On April 1st it always posts some financial foolishness (drawing extra traffic from curious visitors like me). This year is no exception. The site has "accepted financial recovery funding from the United States government to the tune of $25 million." My first thought: Why not $25 billion? Who bothers with millions these days?

Of course The Onion can't resist some silly April Fool's stories, such as "Obama Depressed, Distant Since Battlestar Galactica Series Finale." But anyone who lands on that site knows what to expect in any case.

Then there's Google, which offers more subtle foolishness in announcing "CADIE Awakens." CADIE stands for Cognitive Autoheuristic Distributed-Intelligence Entity. Sounds fishy to me. Check the blog links below this announcement for more fun, such as Amazon's new web service, the Floating Amazon Cloud Environment (FACE).

In London, The Guardian announced it's going all-Twitter, no print. "Any story can be told in 140 characters." Right.

Expedia is offering travelers the chance to save over $3 trillion on flights to Mars. is renting hotel rooms on the Moon from 800 pounds per night.

Seriously, can April Fool's jokes really help your brand? Fast Company says yes--here's why.

Finally, a bit of older news that sounds like April Fool stuff but isn't--who could make this stuff up? NASA held a contest to name its new room on the International Space Station and "the Colbert" (as in Stephen Colbert of the Colbert Report) was the top vote-getter. Have a fun day.