Thursday, September 30, 2010

Domino's Pizza, Anyone?

Since Domino's released its iPhone app, pizza orders in the UK and elsewhere have soared. In Australia, the app is creating buzz and increasing online orders.

In the US, Domino's is actively using social media to involve customers and encourage ordering. Its Twitter account has more than 15,000 followers.

Its FB page invites customers to snap a photo of a Domino's pizza and receive $500 if the photo is chosen as one of 8 winners.

In fact, after a customer submitted a photo of a mashed pizza he had received, Domino's responded by using the photo in an "apology" commercial and replaced the pizza in very public fashion. The apology campaign has carried over into social media, as well. In short, Domino's is using technology and humility to reach its target audience, polish its image, and beat competitors. 

Monday, September 27, 2010

Will Marketing Buzz Boost Baby Carrots?

Baby carrots are getting a tiny bit of a marketing boost from a new campaign to encourage kids to "eat 'em like junk food." Here's one of the new commercials:

Given the packaging and marketing veneer, plus the eat-by-the-handful convenience, baby carrots might have at least a small possibility of interesting teens and preteens who ordinarily would grab a salty snack or choco treat.

It's a worthy effort, complete with app and branded vending machines and even seasonal "scarrots" for Halloween. However, with only a $25 million budget, I doubt baby carrots will make any significant gains in consumption, and that's too bad. Still, if other veggies follow this marketing path, their combined voices might make a difference.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

Smartphone + Check = Banking Convenience

Have you noticed how slowly mainstream banks are adapting to the enhanced utility represented by smartphones? Not niche player USAA, of course: For the past 18 months, USAA's customers have been able to register for USAADeposit@Mobile, a service that allows them to download an app so they can make deposits of checks from home or office or anywhere.

The core of the service is the phone's camera. All USAA really needs to accept a deposit is the amount and the bank routing/checking account numbers at the bottom of the check. In seconds, USAA can process and confirm the deposit. Fast and easy. So why don't more banks offer this?

Chase is starting to offer such a service for iPhone users, as a matter of fact (see image above), and Bank of America is in the experimental stage. “We have to be very deliberate about how we test and how we would introduce this type of product into the marketplace,” a B of A executive tells the NY Times. As the technology gets better, and fraud detection systems improve, we'll see a lot more services like this.  Many businesses already enjoy the convenience of scanning checks to deposit, so consumer versions are not far behind.

One challenge the banks face is the multiplicity of tech platforms. After all, not everyone carries an iPhone. A second challenge is balancing costs with profit payback. How much is this convenience worth to a customer? How will adding this service enhancement affect competition? Right now the banks are weighing their options and tweaking their marketing plans in light of recent changes in financial services regulation.

In other words, we can bank on more change ahead.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

What Happens After Blockbuster's Bankruptcy?

Blockbuster finally filed for bankruptcy protection today. TechCrunch, the well-respected tech blog, started its post this way (and I couldn't have said it better myself):
It’s come to this: the success of Netflix and Redbox in the United States have driven Blockbuster, as expected, to file for bankruptcy protection after failing to adequately and swiftly adapt its movie-rental model from physical storefronts to mail-order and online technology pioneered by its aforementioned competitors.
Now the question is: Can Blockbuster, slow to change its strategy in the past despite clear and present competitive danger, market itself into a profitable future? First, a look at the numbers:
  • Blockbuster has 3,000 stores but will probably close hundreds and hundreds to cut its costs for bricks-based retailing and encourage customers to rent via electronic methods.
  • Redbox has 23,000 kiosks in retail stores across the US and is expanding every day. Its costs are far lower than bricks-based Blockbuster and its limited inventory also keeps costs under control.
  • Netflix has 15,000 subscribers and enjoys growth momentum. Its costs don't include storefronts, but renting DVDs by mail is more expensive than instant viewing (especially with a USPS rate increase in 2011). It must put more movies up for instant viewing to contain costs.
The next 6 months will be the real test. If Blockbuster (with its long-established brand) can convert customers to kiosks and online rental transactions by demonstrating a meaningful advantage or at best competitive parity with real benefits (such as first-release of movies, ahead of competitors), it could survive and ultimately reshape its destiny for a profitable future.

For an excellent analysis of Blockbuster's "blind spot," see this Fast Company post.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Marketing Richard Castle

First there was Heat Wave, now Naked Heat. Richard Castle has been busy writing mysteries. Well, the ghostwriter for the main character of ABC's Castle TV show has been busy. Richard Castle, fictional character, author, and amateur sleuth, even has his own author bio page on Amazon. 

Castle's first novel Heat Wave, made the NY Times best-seller list. As recently as this summer, its paperback version was still there. Heat Wave was reviewed more than 360 times by readers who posted thoughts on Barnes & Noble's site (composite rating is 4 stars out of a possible 5). And the follow-up novel is available for preorder on Amazon in hardcover or Kindle.

What's the marketing point? Well, in a multimedia world, presenting a TV character as a novelist popular enough to get his books into real stores and real best-seller lists is good cross-platform marketing. Posting chapters online to draw fans to the official web site of the TV series (where DVDs of previous seasons are also sold) is good cross-platform marketing.

Giving the "author" Richard Castle his own slightly tongue-in-cheek Facebook page and Twitter account is good cross-platform marketing. Plus these elements encourage engagement and dialogue with fans. No mystery there! The only mystery is who actually wrote the two Castle novels...

Monday, September 20, 2010

Forecasting via Crowdsourcing

This week's Fortune has an article about how David's Bridal and other (unnamed) retailers are using or testing online games to forecast hot styles and plan purchasing. The company behind the Sold game (shown above) is FirstInsight, which is leveraging consumers' enthusiasm for such online activities to crowdsource reaction to potential or actual products. Soon FirstInsight will have its forecasting games on Facebook so consumers who are avid Farmville or Frontierville players will be able to play in ways that help marketers forecast demand.

This is a variation on the online prediction market (shown in Exhibit 10.7 on p. 180 of my new US edition) that more marketers are using to tap the collective wisdom of customers or employees or a combination of stakeholders who can "bet" on the outcome of events such as the date when a new store is likely to open. Although such tools are high profile in the political world, they're less well-known in mainstream marketing.

Want to see how Sold works? Try the demo here. Maybe the game won't allow retailers to precisely forecast demand, but it has potential to indicate relative demand (which item is likely to be among the most popular within a given product line, for instance). 

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Can Newspapers Prove Their Advertising Worth?

According to the Newspaper National Network, which is majority-owned by the top US papers, advertisers spent $28 billion in newspaper advertising last year (about 10% of that was advertising with online news outlets).

Looking at trends in newspaper/online news advertising expenditures compiled by the Newspaper Association of America (NAA), ad spending was down 27% in 2009 compared with 2008, down 16.6% in 2008 compared with 2007, and down 7.9% in 2007 compared with 2006. According to the NAA, the last time print/online newspaper ad spending was up was in 2005.

Now the Newspaper National Network wants to show that print/online news ads can boost sales by 10% or more (as measured by IRI's InfoScan). In fact, it will guarantee this kind of sales gain and, if the results don't measure up, the advertisers will receive a rebate on some of their ad expenses (in the form of free ads, for instance).

There's a lot of small print attached to this offer, but it's a good start on the path to demonstrating efficacy. In many cases, advertising results are measured in terms of brand awareness and recognition. However, this program is geared toward sales results, a bottom-line measure that's vital in today's challenging economy.

Monday, September 13, 2010

The Challenges of Market Forecasts

By this time, the planning process for 2011 marketing activities should be well underway at most companies. High-tech firms often examine analysts' forecasts when sizing up the market for hardware/peripherals/software and related goods and services. But Matthew Miller's recent post on ZDNet asks a very important and intriguing question that can be generalized beyond smartphones:
Is there really any value to 3-year smartphone forecasts?
Miller comments on a Gartner prediction that the Android smartphone operating system will gain share over the next few years as Symbian, Windows Phone, and RIM lose share. He points out that Apple's iOS skyrocketed in popularity as the iPhone became a best-seller, coming seemingly from nowhere to capture significant share in a hurry. Symbian is far from dead, he notes, and is likely to gain because of its ties to Nokia. Android is also likely to gain, but Miller doesn't think it will win to the degree that Gartner suggests.

His bottom line: the next three years will be a "wild ride" and analysts can only guess at how the market will look that far out. And that's probably true in any number of electronics categories. Even experienced forecasters examining non-tech markets have difficulty looking a year out--just consider the real estate market, for instance, and how its ups and downs (mostly downs) have confounded analysts. There are lots of complex elements to factor into any forecast, and tech markets generally move faster than non-tech markets.

So what's a marketing planner to do? My thoughts:
  1. Look at multiple analyst reports to tease out insights into and ideas about how buyers in your target market think, feel, behave, and buy.
  2. Think of analysts' reports as a starting point. They're no substitute for doing your own research into buying behavior and market trends.
  3. Examine both micro- and macroenvironmental forces. What role do suppliers and distributors play in your target market? How are global economic issues and governmental standards/regs influencing tech developments? What is the competitive situation and how is that likely to change? What do all these developments mean for your market?
  4. Be prepared to adjust your forecasts and activities during the planning process and after implementing your plan. Some markets can change so rapidly and evolve in such unexpected ways that you may need to think in terms of months rather than years.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Retailers Test Christmas Club Savings Cards

Remember Christmas Club savings accounts? You'd get a book with weekly tickets to have punched, stamped, or removed as you deposited into the club account at a local savings bank (saving 50 cents or $1 or even $10 per week). Then in late October or early November, the bank would mail you a check or allow you to bring the completed account book in to withdraw your savings to spend on holiday stuff.

Now this old idea is back in a new way, thanks to retailers like Sears and Toys 'R' Us, which are both inviting shoppers to load a debit card as a "holiday savings card" and receive a 3% bonus on their money. Although the 3% is considerably more than most banks are paying on savings accounts these days, customers have to spend the entire debit card amount at the one chain. In other words, any customer who loads a Sears debit card for the holidays gets a 3% bonus but can use this card to pay for purchases only at Sears.

Toys 'R' Us is trying this for the first time in 2010, following in the footsteps of Sears, which debuted its holiday savings card in 2009 in Sears and Kmart. Money cannot be added to a Toys 'R' Us club card online, although the card can be used for online purchases.

The Sears club card, available in stores and online, has no fees and no expiration date, nor can it be used to pay a Sears credit account or buy a debit card.

Will budget-conscious consumers embrace this old idea in its new form?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead

I haven't read Marketing Lessons from the Grateful Dead, but it's a wonderful book idea that I wish I'd thought of first. I agree with the authors, David Meerman Scott and Brian Halligan, that every business can learn from the marketing successes of this band.

One lesson is that sampling (in this case, allowing concert attendees to record the band--just the opposite of the usual concert policies) can, if done properly, lead to word-of-mouth referrals, more ticket sales, and bigger profits. This is the basis of the freemium strategy that so many businesses are adopting today.

Another lesson is that the marketer (here, the Dead) should build a customer database and take the initiative to maintain contact, nurturing a long-term relationship with fans and reinforcing loyalty.

Despite the change in personnel over the years, the Dead have continued their marketing success by embracing the latest technology to stay in touch with customers, including offering an iPhone app with streaming audio of performances.

The bottom line: Look outside your own industry for good marketing ideas that can help you strengthen customer bonds and widen your circle of customer influence.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Marketing Libraries in the Digital Age

At the height of the dot-com boom--a decade ago, in other words--some observers couldn't see a real role for public libraries in a world of digitized media. By now libraries have found their place, assuming new roles and new importance in the digital age, with Internet access and electronic resources that bring the world's knowledge, history, and new ideas to users' fingertips.

Many market themselves on the basis of multimedia collections that include print, audio, and video materials. The Playaway audiobook (shown above) is a good example. Instead of borrowing audio books on cassette tape or CD, library patrons can borrow a tiny preloaded Playaway, smaller than an MP3 player. Just plug in a headphone or speaker and listen while on the go or doing something else. Local libraries often have extensive DVD collections, including how-to videos, PBS dramas, Hollywood movies, and much more. Often these multimedia collections are as popular as or more popular than books in the collection.

Valuable ideas for library marketing come from vendors such as ProQuest and Gale, which supply information and databases, plus newsletters such as those by Information Today. Many blogs offer advice about and share best practices of library marketing, including The M Word and Bubble Room from Library Journal. Libraries are taking up social media marketing and using every tool at their disposal to serve their "customers," including pre-school kids, students, adults, job-seekers, entrepreneurs, and businesses.

Today libraries are successfully positioning themselves as hubs of intellectual and cultural life, not as mere repositories of books. They deliver educational programs, reading clubs, fun-filled kids' events, and much more. No matter how the technology changes, libraries will continue to evolve to serve the needs of their communities--which is, in the end, the essence of marketing.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Mars Direct Says Thank You

I ordered custom-printed M&Ms and the package came pronto, along with this nice note of thanks (note personalized M&M with photo of the customer care manager). The reverse side has signatures of the employees who work there. Everything worked exactly as it should in this mass customization strategy--I ordered online from My M&Ms and two days later, the M&Ms were at my door, safe and sound in special packaging to resist the summer heat. Now that's customer care!