Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Cash Mobs Give Small Businesses a Boost

The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times have both reported on this phenomenon during the past week: Just in time for holiday shopping, the cash mob movement is using the power of social media to give small businesses a boost.

A cash mob is a group of buyers who assemble to give their business to a locally-owned business (small store or restaurant, for example). They're tipped off by a blog or tweet or Facebook and show up with $20 or more in cash to spend.

One cash mob shopped at an independent Cleveland bookstore; another bought holiday gifts from a Milwaukee gift store. Above, a cash mob organized by the Chamber of Commerce shops at a retail incubator in Grand Rapids, Michigan.

Movements such as cash mobs and Small Business Saturday are putting the focus back on local community businesses. Everybody wins!

Happy new year, and please click back here in 2012 for more marketing news, views, and ideas.

Sunday, December 18, 2011

E-Book Pricing: Regulators Look Closer

When digital books cost more than printed books, it's no wonder that regulators are looking at the whole pricing model.

The roots of this pricing issue go back to the ongoing competition between Apple and Amazon, both of which are marketing hardware for reading downloaded books.

Amazon used to deeply discount digital books, offering many best-sellers at a flat $9.99. The point was to gain market share and (more important) support its Kindle e-readers. Amazon cut its own profit margins to keep those e-book prices low, and when consumers saw how many books were available for download at very reasonable prices, they began buying Kindles. And buying. And buying.

The publishers were not happy with super-low prices because (1) Amazon was controlling the retail price, rather than the publishers, and (2) publishers feared consumers would then question the pricing of printed books, which carried higher prices than digital books.

Ultimately, after a lot of behind-the-scenes discussions and some books being pulled from its e-storefront, Amazon agreed to let publishers set their own prices; the bookseller would buy e-books from them at a discounted rate of, say, 30%.

Meanwhile, the publishers were listening when Apple announced its iPad would include an e-book reading function. Who wouldn't want to reach loyal Apple iGadget owners? Better yet, Apple said publishers could set their own retail prices. Five big publishers signed on: Hachette Livre, Harper Collins, Simon & Schuster, Penguin, and Macmillan.

Now the U.S. Department of Justice is looking into e-book pricing. The European Union's regulators are also investigating whether the publishers "are engaged in illegal agreements or practices." Stay tuned for more developments.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

AKB48 - A Giant Brand in Japan

If you've never heard of AKB48, you will soon. It's the brand of an all-girl musical group based in Tokyo (Akihabra, to be exact, the high-tech crossroads of Japan) that has had hit after hit after hit. The girls, in their late teens and early 20s, come from all over Japan and are featured in several teams that perform in the group's own Akihabra theater and on tour around Asia.

AKB48 is so popular, in fact, that Japan is about to issue a new stamp sheet featuring the group. Not that this stamp set needs any additional promotion, but the postal service is holding a contest and a few lucky winners will get group members' autographs on postcards.

The group hosted an MTV charity event earlier in the year to raise money for the Japanese Red Cross to help earthquake and tsunami victims. One of its most recent singles sold 1 million copies on the first day of release. No wonder Advertising Age calls AKB48 one of the hottest brands in the world.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Less Packaging = More Satisfaction

Less is more: Amazon and Walmart are putting pressure on manufacturers to reduce the amount of packaging on their products, especially targeting those hard-to-open protective plastic shells in which small items arrive. Amazon calls this its "frustration-free" initiative. Already, toymakers are doing away with frustrating and unnecessary packaging.

With the holidays here, less packaging (and less frustrating packaging) can mean more satisfied buyers AND a cleaner planet.
Each American sends about 800 pounds of packaging to landfills each year. The frenzy peaks between Thanksgiving and New Year's Day, when the EPA estimates that the average US household’s trash load headed for landfills skyrockets about 25 percent.
Think how much greener we can keep our planet if all manufacturers slash the amount of packaging they use. Hasbro recently introduced new Play-Doh packaging (above) without paper labels and with tapered bottoms to stack neatly, encouraging reuse. A big change? No, but that's the point: Little steps can add up to big environmental savings and less frustration.

Think how much time will be saved too: The Daily Mail cites a survey saying that parents blame excessive packaging for much of the time they have to invest to assemble toys such as doll houses and bicycles.

Monday, December 12, 2011

Macy's and Mobile Marketing

Mobile Marketing mag names Macy's the top mobile marketer of 2011. Why?
  • Macy's Backstage Pass uses QR codes and texting to give customers more info about designers, styles, and more--while they're standing in the stores, which have WiFi to power this program.
  • Macy's created apps (see photo at left) for customers to use to preview the groups and progress of the famous Thanksgiving Day Parade.
  • Macy's has a shopping app, of course.
The Macy's mobile site is stripped down for smaller screens but also recognizable as the store's mobile gateway, not just because of the logo  but also the color (Macy's red).  Oh, and promotions like sales are front and center on the mobile landing page. After all, who doesn't love a bargain?

Tuesday, December 6, 2011

Evolution of a Sample Marketing Plan: Sonic

When I wrote the first edition of my Marketing Plan Handbook for Prentice Hall back in 2003, I created a sample marketing plan focused on the fictional product "Sonic Personal Digital Assistant."

At the time, PDAs were hot, and it was fun to create a plan for a new product to compete with Palm, Handspring, and other handheld digital assistants that were taking the market by storm. I used actual market statistics as background for the sample plan, learning (among other things) that growth in wireless-enabled PDAs was far outstripping growth in non-wireless PDAs. Clearly, wireless was the future.

PDAs didn't double as phones in those days, and few were GPS-enabled. So as the upgrade to my fictional product, the Sonic PDA, I planned a cell phone/GPS/PDA with a color display and commands via voice recognition system. Also I added built-in MP3 play/storage functionality, a wardrobe of colorful cases for the fashion-savvy, and celebrity voices serving as the voice of the Sonic. In later editions, I dropped the PDA part and focused the sample marketing plan on a smart phone with so many bells and whistles that it could be a one-man band.

As I look ahead to the sample marketing plan for my 5th edition, that future has become reality: the iPhone's Siri is a mainstream voice command system, even more sophisticated than the one I had envisioned years ago. Phones are routinely multifunction, with way more features and options that the fully-loaded PDA model I thought up 8 years ago. Virtual keyboards, which I included in my sample plan for a Sonic smart phone, are now widely available. I included streaming video and video recording capabilities in a later marketing plan, and now those are also readily available in the real world.

So goodbye, Sonic Superphone, it's been fun but you're so yesterday. I'll be creating an entirely new marketing plan for a new fictional product. Watch for it in the 5th edition.

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Dear CMO: What, No Facebook Page?

Dear CMO:

Ignoring social media is NOT an option in today's highly social world. Surprisingly, however, as Steve Olenski points out by quoting a UMass study, more than 25% of the Fortune 500 corporations have no Facebook or Twitter presence. His analysis is well worth reading.

Going social means giving up some measure of control, and that's why I believe so many of you CMOs are hesitating. After all, some dissatisfied customers may post on your FB page or tweet about problems with your product or service. You already have a process for managing complaints, now figure out how to do it publicly, in real time, so you can protect your online reputation and reinforce brand loyalty.

If you truly want to get closer to your customers, you must be where they are. And your customers, old and young, domestic and international, are very social these days. According to Pew, 65% of all US adults who are online are using social media. This isn't just the Millennials: Baby-boomers are going social at a record pace.

Not being involved in social media is an ostrich decision. Social media are not going away any time soon, and your competitors are already out there, building a follower network or engaging customers in a FB contest. Need some ideas? Here are just a few ways that big firms are using FB and Twitter.
Ford permits comments posted on its FB wall in response to specific posts. Hewlett-Packard hosts a customer support forum on FB. Walmart's FB presence handles public participation by segregating consumer comments on a "feedback" page. Target, a very active social media participant, has more than 200,000 Twitter followers. McKesson has a big disclaimer on the left of its Twitter account page, just in case.
What are you waiting for? 2012 is almost here. Sincerely,

Marian Burk Wood

Friday, December 2, 2011

Angry Birds Christmas

Now that the Angry Birds game has been downloaded 500 million times--yes, that's half a billion times--the company has been branching out with all kinds of products to capitalize on its good fortune during the holiday shopping season.
  • Angry Birds cookbook. Above, one of the illustrations from this cookbook, Bad Piggies' Egg Recipes, all about eggs in every imaginable combination: scrambled, quiche, and so on. Lots of fun, with a dash of irony. It's #4,000 on Amazon at the time of this writing, but Santa hasn't finished his list yet, so expect the book to rise in the standings week by week.
  • Angry Birds plush. In almost every major store, you'll find small and large birds and piggies for kiddies who love stuffed animals. Some of the toys can make sounds, some just look cute.
  • Angry Birds board game. If your thumbs get tired from electronically pulling back the slingshot, try this board game, yet another branded item that has been doing well.
  • Angry Birds backpacks, piggy banks, key chains, and other items. These were hot sellers for back-to-school and now they're great stocking stuffers. 
Will those birds be singing Christmas carols too?