Friday, May 28, 2010

Movie Night Marketing

Redbox, Kroger, and Pepsi want shoppers to "Make it a movie night:" Buy 3 Pepsi or Frito-Lay products at Kroger's and get a coupon for a free Redbox movie rental.

Redbox is already a standout in movie-rental kiosks, having rented some 750 million DVDs during its lifetime. As local and regional movie-rental chains close, Redbox is in a good position to benefit by picking up new customers.

However, Redbox faces critical challenges. Yes, it represents "disruptive technology" compared with movie rental stores (such as Blockbuster). But Blockbuster is still around, rolling out its blue Blockbuster Express kiosks, which carry more DVDs and, in some areas, allow later return times than Redbox allows. Of course, Blockbuster's ongoing financial woes make the company's future a big question mark.

Cable video-on-demand offerings are clear competition for Redbox. So are Hulu's online offerings and Netflix's "watch instantly" movies and TV episodes. Can Redbox continue its profitable growth based on $1 per night movies? Tune in again...

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Brands Get Greener

What are brands doing to communicate their sustainability initiatives and achievements? A growing number are incorporating sustainability into their communications strategy to keep customers, employees, suppliers, and other stakeholders informed about their green efforts.

Here are a few examples:

  • JCPenney's corporate social responsibility report includes sections on sustainability.
  • IKEA's site and its reports cover sustainability from many angles, including sourcing.
  • Coca-Cola's "live positively" site explains its sustainability programs.

Keep up with news at the intersection of branding and sustainability by clicking to these sites:

Sustainable Life Media
Environmental Leader

Saturday, May 22, 2010

E-shopping for Apparel

Virtual dressing rooms are not new--Lands' End and other online apparel retailers tried them a decade ago, inviting customers to input their measurements and then click to see how clothing looked on virtual models.

Today's versions of virtual dressing rooms are even more user-friendly., a San Francisco boutique, invites shoppers to access a virtual dressing room via webcam. And Cisco's viral video hit, "The Future of Shopping," shows an in-store virtual dressing room that's fun and appealing. This video has already attracted more than 2 million views. Is this the future of apparel shopping?

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Zappos Wows with Service

Although I'd heard about the legendary service at Zappos, I hadn't experienced it first-hand until last week.

During a purchase and later an exchange, I was impressed not only by the variety of choices on the site but also by the knowledge and friendliness of the Zappos employees I spoke with (yes, I used old-fashioned phone calls to discuss the shoes and the return procedure).

Also impressive: Zappos followed up with an e-mail to ask about my reaction to the phone rep I'd talked with.

Here's the survey in its entirety, sent by a Customer Loyalty Lead:

>>Do you remember your conversation with _____ from
>> a. Yes, it was awesome
>> b. Yes, but vaguely
>> How would you rate the service you received? Please elaborate if possible.
>> a. Fantastic - I wish I could speak with _____ every time I have to call Zappos
>> b. Standard - This is the service I receive whenever I contact a company's customer service
>> Do you have any points of feedback regarding your call/conversation with ____ from Please list details.
I responded with comments and specifics and got another note thanking me for participating in the survey. No wonder Zappos is known for its service--every detail counts.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Retail Returnaholics

WalletPop recently reported on the trend toward returning items to stores...some of which seems to be driven by fraud, not changes of heart.

It's fraud when shoppers return products after they've been used (think: buy a fancy dress, return it after a big evening out; buy a TV, watch the Super Bowl, and return the TV on Monday). It's fraud when buyers ask a store for a refund on items purchased elsewhere.

According to the National Retail Federation, up to 8% of returns are fraudulent. During the holiday selling season in 2009, this amounted to $2.7 billion.

Efforts to curb fraudulent returns also affect ordinary shoppers who return items for refunds, as the Consumerist points out. When shoppers have to show ID to get a refund, and their names are run through a database to check for refund abuse, the situation shapes up as retailer security vs shopper privacy.

Although only a tiny percentage of shoppers commit fraud, everyone "pays" in one way or another.

Monday, May 17, 2010

Walmart, the Champion of Green

Marketing textbooks call powerful intermediaries like Walmart "channel captains," and that's not an exaggeration in this case.

Walmart's embrace of eco-friendly products and practices shows how a big, influential business can become an extremely well-regarded industry leader--actually, a champion--not just a giant competitor to be feared.

When you're as big as Walmart, small changes can make a big difference to the environment. The company's cardboard recycling efforts alone are saving 125,000 trees and 40 million gallons of water. From energy to plastic waste, carbon footprint to land-fill waste, Walmart is making progress on many environmental fronts.

It's also pushing suppliers to go greener. Walmart's Sustainability Index, which will label products according to their effect on the environment, is nudging vendors through disclosure. Customers will be able to see which products are greener . . . and vote with their dollars (or pounds or pesos).

The chemical industry, for one, welcomes Walmart's initiatives, and many chemical companies have their own green agendas that coincide with the retailer's objectives. Championing green does more than polish corporate images; it increases customer choice and, more important, cleans up the environment.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Kit Kat with Corn? Yes

Kit Kat with corn or soy sauce? In Japan, Nestle has introduced some unusual chocolate bars to cater to the craze for seasonal/limited edition foods.

Corn--often added to Japanese salads and other dishes--is the star of one Kit Kat bar, shown above. Below it is a seasonal Kit Kat featuring red beans, production limited to spring and fall.

This morning, National Public Radio discussed Kit Kats in Japan and concluded that the craze is fueled by the intense competition between convenience stores, not just consumer interested in variety. Limited edition bars are also introduced for national holidays and for special sports events.

Because not every variety is available in every location, Nestle's marketing encourages shoppers to buy Kit Kats when they travel around Japan and bring them home as gifts or souvenirs. Clever marketing!

Sunday, May 9, 2010

How Long Will Silly Bands Last?

The silly band fad has been spreading across America for almost a year. School kids trade them, wear them as bracelets, use them as status symbols. Silly Bandz, ZanyBandz, and others make the bands in many shapes, with new competitors jumping on the bandwagon as quickly as they can.

"It's totally viral," one mother told the NY Times. And it's true: Kids are showing off their collections on YouTube, as you can see if you do a quick "video" search, word of mouth in action at the grass-roots level.

Area by area, the fad is taking over the country, sending children and adults to local stores, or online (eBay for instance), for new shapes or colors that aren't yet in wide circulation. The price is low ($5 or less for 24) and if you haven't seen these yet, keep your eyes open.

Yes, I went to the local dollar store and picked up two packs of tie-dye sea-dino bands for a young relative. Of course, his school has banned them, but he can trade after school and around the neighborhood. Just in time for Memorial Day, I found packs of patriotic bands too.

How quickly will silly bands last? Will they be this year's pet rock?

UPDATE: Three weeks later, silly bands are still sweeping the nation. In fact, the Silly Bandz brand may be featured as a float in a future Macy's parade. Another update: T-shirts featuring silly bands can be seen here.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

How Consumer Reports Tests

Consumer Reports has earned such a strong reputation for quality testing that when it gave a "don't buy" rating to a Lexus SUV (shown above) last month, Toyota temporarily halted sales of the vehicle. How does the non-profit CR do it?

Today's WSJ has an article about the non-profit's quality testing methods. To test the effectiveness of automatic dishwashers, CR's experts dirty dishes with a combination of messy, sticky, hard-to-clean foods (such as oatmeal, chili, and Cheez Whiz). After the stains are left to harden overnight, dishes are loaded and washed in each model being tested. The test is repeated three times, with photographs to document what goes in and what comes out of each model--including the exact position of the dishes in the dishwasher. This is only one example of the exacting and sometimes unusual tests CR uses.

Non-subscribers can see some CR content online for free. Browse its blogs for the latest news about cars, health, technology, home and garden, and more. If you're a marketer, CR is a must-read for insights into objective criteria for evaluating goods and services in your product category. You should also know what CR says about your offerings and those of your competitors.

Sunday, May 2, 2010

Facebook and Transparency

During the past few days, many Facebook users have complained about the new "privacy" settings and controls. It seems that the word "privacy" is relative. One Washington Post blog post quotes a FB exec saying: "Facebook is all about sharing information. At some level, sharing information is antithetical to secrecy."

However, FB users have some expectation that when they set controls to restrict "sharing" to their own friends, that's exactly what will happen. IMHO, FB should be sharing much more about its changes to privacy controls. Over time, it has been slowly eroding privacy controls, as this timeline shows. No wonder some government officials are calling for FTC investigations.

Successful marketing depends on solid, up-to-date information, which is probably at the heart of this matter. Marketing also depends on trust. FB needs to earn the trust of its users every day through increased transparency. Otherwise, other social media sites will become the new favorites and FB will wither away. And that will affect the many marketers that have posted FB fan pages, not to mention Zynga and other firms that profit from FB-distributed apps and games (FarmVille and its cousins).

More transparency, please. Privacy should be the standard setting, and users can opt-in for various apps, data sharing, and the like--with the full knowledge that when they "like" a page or use an app, they are giving permission to share some or all data.