Thursday, March 31, 2011

Play Ball! Marketing Baseball's Opening Day

Today is Major League Baseball's opening day, with six games scheduled. The Giants, who won last year's World Series, will play the Dodgers. The Rangers, who lost to the Giants in the Series, open their season against the Red Sox tomorrow.

Topps, maker of baseball trading cards, is marketing a special "opening day" assortment. Sports Illustrated has an entire section on opening day predictions, opinions, players, and so forth.

For a business wrap-up of last year's season and a preview of this year's business possibilities, click over to Forbes. The Yankees (my hometown team) have already sold $3 million worth of tickets--at the league's highest prices, says Forbes, which predicts that the Yankees and Phillies will be tops in attendance in 2011.

You say you want a baseball app? Well, you've got lots of choices. Never miss a game or a score, even if you're hundreds of miles from the nearest stadium. Batter up!

Monday, March 28, 2011

QR Moves into the Mainstream

Quick--which catches your eye first, the QR code or the Mini-Cooper?

QR (quick response) codes are moving into the mainstream. Commonplace in Japan, they're new and intriguing for US consumers--and that's part of the appeal. All you need is a smartphone and an app to decode the QR and locate the material it points to. The puzzle and the feeling of being "in the know" are part of the experience.

Macy's is using QR in its windows and in its stores, inducing customers to watch proprietary content such as videos showing celebrity designers at work. "It's one application that can speak to customers across so many vehicles," a Macy's exec told CNN. "QR codes are such a sensible way to send content with immediacy." Well said.

Home Depot is using QR to invite shoppers to check product reviews and do-it-yourself project guides while they're still in the store. This certainly boosts buyer confidence and reduces buyers' remorse.

QR codes on billboards are a growing trend. Point your smartphone or snap a photo and you can look up the info on your own schedule, interact with the brand at any time. Calvin Klein used QR to replace some racy billboards--now the content is "private" yet accessible via QR.

Where will QR pop up next?         
(PS - I've included a QR pointing to my UK marketing blog, see left column)

Friday, March 25, 2011

Helping Customers Through a Crisis

The Japanese earthquake, tsunami, and nuclear problems have created an unprecedented crisis for people and businesses in Northern Japan. This is where customer service takes on new meaning. Any number of businesses have stepped up to help their customers through this terrible crisis.

For example, Otis Elevator immediately sent technicians into Northern Japan to make repairs and restore service to 16,400 of the 16,700 elevators that had seismic detectors and had automatically stopped operating until they were checked and cleared by the company.

Telecommunications firms offered free phone and text services to customers calling Japan. No word on how many customers took advantage, but the offer is thoughtful and helps ease anxieties of people who want to check on friends, family, and colleagues in Japan.

The public relations payback is a plus but the biggest benefit of helping customers through a crisis is reinforcing their loyalty. Customers have long memories. A company that gets them through a challenging period will earn their loyalty for a long time.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

The New Nostalgia Marketing

I can't resist saying that nostalgia marketing is nothing new. For years, it's been a fun and fairly effective strategy for reminding baby boomers of the "simpler times" of their childhood and young adult days.

Now Pepsi and other marketers are bringing nostalgia back for newer generations. MediaPost reports that Pepsi has, in fact, created an entire "throwback" team to manage nostalgia marketing targeting the Millennials, who were born digital and--like their baby-boom parents--are attracted to reminders of their youth. Luden's cough drops--a staple of 1950s childhood--are making a comeback with throwback packaging and graphics that link to the past but speak of authenticity today. Heinz is going retro, too.

Wisely, many of these retro marketing touches are limited-edition. Change is good--especially for Millennials, who often crave variety and novelty.

On the plus side of nostalgia marketing:
  • Packaging stands out in a crowded marketplace. No one can mistake the "throwback" Mountain Dew with new-fangled fruit-flavored fizzes, etc.
  • Heritage gives a brand the authenticity that come-lately brands can't match.
  • Being old enough to go "nostalgia" gives brands a wider range of possible marketing approaches based on previously successful campaigns.
Possible pitfalls of nostalgia marketing:
  • Overdoing the retro feeling until consumers think the brand has "jumped the shark."
  • Not backing the brand promise up with real benefits that satisfy contemporary buyers' needs.
  • Too many changes can confuse consumers and drive them back into the arms of brands that look familiar.

Sunday, March 20, 2011

Ronald McDonald Has a Good Side

I know Ronald McDonald has been blamed for luring kids to eat unhealthy McDonald's meals. And he's also an icon whose time has probably come and gone. So many brands, mascots, and symbols are being updated these days, it's not surprising that McDonald's is deemphasizing Ronald in its marketing efforts.

But let's not forget that Ronald McDonald has a good side--his name, image, and fundraising power are behind the 300+ Ronald McDonald houses that help ill children and their families stay together throughout terrible medical times and months of treatments.

Ronald is doing good works around the world. Below, he rides through Rio de Janeiro on McHappy Day, an annual event that raises enough money to help treat 30,000 ill Brazilian children.

The Ronald McDonald House Charities are very much alive and they serve hundreds of thousands of children and families every year. So even if Ronald the clown is moving out of the marketing spotlight for McDonald's, Ronald as the symbol of the children's charities should get a bit of respect.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Infrastructure Is the New Frontier

The terrible situation in Japan has caused untold human suffering and loss of lives. As the government and industry leaders assess the damage, help survivors, and prepare to rebuild, it's clear that infrastructure repairs and improvements will be needed just to get started. In other words, infrastructure is the new frontier for Japan.

This nearly-empty supermarket is fast becoming the norm throughout Tokyo and surrounding areas. Most streets are dotted with tiny convenience stores that, in ordinary circumstances, would receive daily shipments of fresh foods and ready-to-eat entrees. Vending machines are outside every major train station and on many street corners, and these are usually replenished every couple of days. Now, with train service spotty, and gasoline supplies dwindling or gone, the supply chain can barely function. The result: empty shelves, empty vending machines. And for survivors in the Sendai area, where the tsunami hit, food is scarce despite relief efforts, in part because it's simply a challenge to transport anything into this region.

Electricity is being shut off in different areas of Tokyo for hours at a time, with no end in sight, to conserve power. Imagine the impact on refrigerated foods and medicines that must be kept chilled. Friends in Tokyo say that many businesspeople are staying in downtown hotels because they must be at work but they can't get home to the suburbs. Yet how long can hotels and restaurants stay open when supplies run out and power is turned on and off erratically? Many restaurants are small businesses, and without customers or supplies, their ability to keep going in the long term is obviously in question.

To help its people and rebuild its economy, Japan will have to tackle its infrastructure problems--and quickly. The ripple effect throughout the global marketplace is already being felt. Japanese factories are big suppliers of memory chips for smart phones and other devices. Marketers that depend on Japanese suppliers are being forced to buy from other sources, when they can, and with limited supplies, prices are rising (which means higher retail prices at the end of the channel). Popular electronics products are made in Japan (think Sony Blu-Ray for example) and those factories aren't back to normal quite yet.

Car manufacturers like Toyota that operate local factories are gearing up again following nearly a week at a standstill. But they, too, rely on their supply chain partners for parts and materials. And they need a consistent, reliable power supply to keep their assembly lines going. If gasoline isn't available, Toyota can't get the parts it needs and its cars won't sell in Japan, anyway, if buyers are trying to survive or have money to buy a car but can't get gas.

Infrastructure is Japan's new frontier. It will be very difficult, time-consuming, and costly to rebuild, but Japan has done it before--and it can and will do it again.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Donations to Help Japan

Oh, Japan, what devastation. Want to do something to help in the disaster relief efforts?
  • Consider donating to Doctors without Borders (I just did).
  • You can donate to the Red Cross via a special iTunes page. 
  • Donate to Save the Children via Farmville without leaving Facebook (above).
  • Texting your donation? You have lots of options
Even a small contribution will help. Thank you!

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Can Facebook Help Researchers Decode Emotions?

Being able to decode a person's emotional state--just by glancing at his or her face--would be a big boon to marketers. Now researchers think they've cracked the code, training computers to recognize not only facial expressions but also body language and other subtle cues. Here's a quick look at such research:

Can social media further this research? In the words of one researcher, "If you do an experiment on Facebook, you've got half a billion people in your sample."

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Tablet Computers: Pricing Is Key

Any minute now, Apple will intro its newest iPad, amid much fanfare and anticipation. But Apple isn't the only firm pushing tablet computers.

HTC--the company behind many Android-powered smartphones--is targeting the tablet market with a new product called the Flyer, which features a stylus for input.

With the tablet on the verge of becoming a mature product and new entries proliferating, price is increasingly important to capturing customers new to the category and attracting current users ready to trade up. In fact, a Boston Consulting Group study notes that tablet prices will have to fall further for the product to become truly a mass-market item.

So a price war may actually be on the way, boosting industry volume and putting tablets in the hands of people who otherwise might have purchased a netbook or a new smartphone. Interestingly, an Economist article from last fall found that iPad prices vary from country to country. This suggests pricing latitude and the potential for country-by-country price competition as more tablets come to market.