Monday, April 30, 2012

Can Sears Survive?

A recent Crain's Chicago Business headline is a stark reminder that no marketing success lasts forever. "Sears -- Where America Shopped" uses the past tense because so many people have turned to other stores and online retailers rather than buying from Sears or Kmart or their sites.

Sears catalogs were once direct-mail powerhouses, reaching into millions of U.S. households with much-needed merchandise variety and reasonable prices. Sears was a proven anchor in shopping centers coast to coast, and its credit card was in wallets all over America. Those glory days are gone.

In an effort to cut costs, Sears has begun closing dozens of "underperforming" stores, leaving places like Anderson, Indiana and Jackson, Mississippi after decades in business. This is understandable, given the difficulty of turning these stores around while the economy isn't yet strong AND the intense competition from discounters and specialty stores with profit-sapping price wars on some popular items.

Now Sears is trying to license the core brands for which it is so well known: Craftsman, DieHard, and Kenmore. If this happens, it's likely that the essence of those brands will be diluted. Will consumers still know what the brands stand for? Will they believe that licensed products have the same quality as the original brands? Will the brands keep a quality halo over Sears itself once they begin appearing on non-Sears products?

To raise money, Sears is also said to be trying to sell its Lands' End unit, which might mean the end of Lands' End boutiques inside Sears stores. Meanwhile, a new Scrubology boutique (above) is gaining ground within Sears stores. Will it help Sears attract a new generation of shoppers--before the retailer has to close hundreds more stores?

Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Graphic Cigarette Warning Labels

U.S. cigarette manufacturers are fighting the FDA's rule that they must begin adding graphic warning images to their packages this September.

The transition to these graphic warnings began in late 2010 but the manufacturers' lawsuit has made the implementation and the date uncertain at this point.

Other countries are already requiring graphic warning labels or planning to do so. Canada has mandated this type of label since 2000--and the smoking rate there has dropped dramatically. In fact, the labels are about to become even more graphic.

Indonesia wants 40% of the package label devoted to such images. Australia wants labels with brand names in tiny print and graphic images on 70% of the front and 100% of the back of the pack (a requirement the manufacturers are fighting before implementation begins this December).

More battles are ahead as the industry looks for ways to market tobacco and the regulators look for ways to be sure consumers are informed about the dangers of smoking.

Friday, April 20, 2012

Fenway Park Turns 100

One of the really legendary Major League Baseball stadiums, Boston's Fenway Park celebrates its centenary today with a match-up between the Red Sox and their archrivals, the Yankees (my hometown team).

The Red Sox are engaging their fans by posting photos of the stadium through the years, inviting submissions of stories and memories, and a special pregame ceremony featuring former Red Sox players and managers, the debut of a new John Williams composition, flyovers by vintage aircraft, and a fan toast to the stadium.

Today's Red Sox marketing engine is mighty, with mascot Wally the Green Monster taking center stage for kids plus Red Sox Nation as the adult fan club. Everybody tweets, of course. The team's Facebook page has more than 3.5 million likes (but the Yankees FB page has 5.4 million likes, I should point out in all fairness).

One hundred years ago, the Sox beat the Yankees (then known as the Highlanders) in the first Fenway Park game--and then the Sox won the World Series that year. May I humbly wish the Yankees good luck today? And congratulations to the Red Sox for keeping Fenway Park going in style.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Earth Day 2012

This weekend will mark the 42nd Earth Day, a very good opportunity for education, information, and--of course--green marketing.
  • The Nature Conservancy is promoting Picnic for the Planet 2012, a day to celebrate, try for a world's record, and raise money to protect the planet.
  • Nashville is holding an Earth Day Festival to showcase green products, services, and lifestyles.
  • Sacramento is hosting an Earth Day Celebration to promote sustainable living and products.
  • Sierra Club has an online Earth Day promotion inviting the public to submit their favorite videos of "wild places and open spaces" around the United States.
  • St. Louis is focusing its Earth Day efforts on recycling.
  • The United Nations has proclaimed April 22 to be International Mother Earth Day.
What are you doing to make the planet a little greener?

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Etsy and the Hand-Made Market

Etsy has built a solid business connecting craftspeople with customers who like buying hand-crafted or vintage items. It calls itself "the world's handmade marketplace."

Now nearly 1 million online "shops" sell artsy and craftsy items through Etsy's marketplace. Its revenue topped $525 million in 2011.

Not surprisingly, Etsy was the domain with the most "pins" in a recent study of Pinterest--and that means a lot of people are following the "pins" back to Etsy crafts, making it a social experience as well.

Etsy is also testing a "similar items" search feature to help buyers locate and browse crafts they might want to consider before narrowing down their choices.

However, Etsy's reputation depends on keeping mass-manufactured goods off the site--and that's why the company has a team of people checking up on sellers to be sure they're complying with the rules. This helps Etsy protect its image and its unique connection with both customers and crafters.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Wendy's and the Burger Battles

Wendy's has been battling the big burger rivals for years. Its iconic slogan "Where's the beef?" was introduced in 1984 and reprised last year. Wendy's recently passed Burger King to become the #2 burger chain by sales. It has more than 2 million Facebook "likes" and 67,000 Twitter followers.

 With the rise of Five Guys Burgers and Fries and other fast-casual restaurant chains, however, competition is fiercer than ever. This has prompted Wendy's to reemphasize quality, taste, value, and presentation. The chain went back to the kitchen to revamp its burger last year, changing the bun, the onion, and the packaging.

Time now says that Wendy's hamburger and fries are better than Five Guys' hamburger and fries, thanks to improved ingredients and value for the money. Watch for a new ad campaign within weeks, with the tag line: "Now that's better."

Monday, April 9, 2012

Not So Plain Vanilla: Ice Cream Prices on the Rise

The past year's vanilla pod crop was very poor, which means ice cream manufacturers (and anybody else that uses real vanilla) now face higher costs as they try to buy the quantities they need. In turn, this undoubtedly means higher prices at the ice-cream stand and the supermarket ice-cream freezer case.

Searching for "vanilla crop" turns up the news that vanilla prices can gyrate wildly, in part due to unpredictable weather and in part due to competition from synthetics. However, vanilla is only the latest in a series of ice-cream ingredients being priced higher in recent years.

Last year, price increases for butter, sugar, chocolate, and nuts put the squeeze on margins of ice-cream marketers. As one ice-cream store owner said, "There’s no way you could ever pass on the total increase to the customer." Instead, many marketers are accepting thinner profit margins to keep their customers.
Another option is to add a lot of value to make ice cream more of an experience, not just a sweet treat. That's what Treatbot is doing. Treatbot is one of the new crop of gourmet food trucks, combining karaoke and ice cream. Engaging customers helps: with about 2,000 Twitter followers, Treatbot is building its buzz in California.

Friday, April 6, 2012

Amazon's Top Metric: The Customer

When Jeff Bezos calls a meeting, he often leaves an empty seat at the table--symbolizing the customer, "the most important person in the room."'s top metrics revolve around things that customers care most about--having products in stock, avoiding delays. Every day brings new improvements, with an eye toward reinforcing long-term customer satisfaction and loyalty.

On, the founder's profile includes this mission statement:

Amazon’s mission is to be Earth's most customer-centric company where customers can find and discover anything they might want to buy online with low prices and fast delivery.  

Putting customers first has landed Bezos as #4 on Fortune's list of the 12 greatest entrepreneurs ever. Ultimately, is there a better metric than the customer?

Monday, April 2, 2012

National Library Week, April 8-14

Coming soon, to a library near you: National Library Week. Read all about it on Facebook or Twitter, watch videos on YouTube, or visit your local library to join the celebration. The overall campaign is national, but individual events are extremely local.

In Chattanooga, Dalton College's library is presenting local authors for a week of discussion. Clearfield, Pennsylvania is using the week to kick off the library's participation in the statewide One Book, Every Young Child project. Jamestown, New York is hosting a local art exhibit and bringing children to the library for games and readings during school spring break. Tucson's libraries, like those in many cities, are participating in the Food for Fines program during the week--bring a can or package of food and reduce overdue fines.

Check out what your local library is doing next week and every week!

Sunday, April 1, 2012

ThinkGeek Fools Again

ThinkGeek has its usual crop of funny, faux products for April 1st. Want to buy Minecraft Marshmallow Creeps (like Peeps but green with menacing faces)? Or K-cups 5-star Meals (brew up your own fresh corn dogs in a hurry)? Whichever faux product you click to buy, you'll see "Gotcha" and a winking smiley-face, as above.

Gizmodo likes ThinkGeek's "Hungry Hungry Hippos iPad Game." The Chicago Tribune notes that one of the fake products from 2010, the iCade, has become real. Sometime soon, those Marshmallow Creeps or Hungry Hungry Hippos game might be available for sale. Or not.