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.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

Got Luxury?

Do consumers buy something because it's marketed under a luxury brand? The answer, in many cases, is yes, according to recent research. But extending a luxury brand can only go so far. How exclusive can a luxe brand be when it's on hundreds and hundreds of items, including many that are far removed from the original branded product category? Brand extensions do have their limits.

Another factor: Will other people be able to see what brand the buyer is buying or using? It's one thing to pay more for an upscale brand of clothing or another product that is publicly visible or even prominent...quite another to pay for a luxury that's used in private, never to be seen by someone else.

Coach, which makes highly-recognizable branded products, has created the new Poppy line of affordable luxury handbags to deal with the economic turmoil that has dampened sales of many high-end items. With Poppy, customers can enjoy the cachet of the Coach brand, and the company avoids discounting its well-known top-priced bags. Although profit margins have narrowed a bit in recent months, the Poppy line seems like a good way to avoid watering down the brand's overall luxury halo.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Buy Local

Buy local! The Economist is catching up with this trend, citing studies that say local businesses pump more into the local economy than chain businesses owned by corporations far from the community. There's also a green argument to be made, because the carbon footprint of products made and sold within a small radius tends to be lower than items that must be transported long distances to market.

Meanwhile many cities and towns are marketing their own "buy local" programs. Here are a few organizations involved in this movement. Note the emphasis on independently-owned business participants and "shop local first" activities:

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Retail Showdown at Herald Square

Once upon a time, NYC's Herald Square was a major retail crossroads in one of the world's best shopping cities. During the past 40 years, too many chains and independents went bankrupt or were merged. Now JCPenney has opened a big new store in Herald Square, across the street from Macy's, in a high-stakes retail showdown that will make NYC shoppers the big winners.

Probably this new rivalry will be lower-key than the great Gimbel's vs. Macy's competition that inspired key elements of the plot in The Miracle on 34th Street. No matter what, both retailers need the increased foot traffic that the new store opening will bring to Herald Square.

JCPenney is no stranger to NYC: It has stores elsewhere, and its pop-up temporary shops have attracted considerable attention in recent years. Macy's, which has outlasted all rivals in Herald Square to this point, has an unusually high public profile at this time of year, thanks to its annual July 4th fireworks extravaganza. Let the shopping begin!