Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Insights from Big Companies and Customers

Searching for something else, I stumbled across Think with Google, the company's  wide-ranging thought leadership pages, which highlight "consumer trends, marketing insights, and industry research." This is a wonderful example of content marketing at work!

Right now, for example, Think with Google features (among other content) an infographic showing perceptions of first-time wireless customers, an analysis of brand consideration on the path to purchase, and an interview with GE's CMO, Beth Comstock. All intriguing, and all free, without registration.

Other big companies also present insights and track trends that can be helpful to marketers planning strategy and tactics, available free (sometimes requiring registration). The following list is just a small sample:
  • Deloitte & Touche's industry outlook. Whether you're looking ahead to this year's developments in the healthcare industry, power and utilities, consumer products, banking, or technology, Deloitte's experts have ideas to share.
  • PricewaterhouseCooper's industry research. Organized by industry, and supplemented by special reports that cut across industry lines, you'll find infographic snapshots and detailed analysis here.
  • Ernst & Young's insights. Its recent report on new opportunities for growth through globalization looks at specific areas (like the BRICs) and includes case studies of the NFL, Heathrow, and Tata Power.
  • Microsoft posts interviews and ideas. If you're a CIO, you might click to the enterprise Get Connected thought leadership pages, for instance.
  • American Express OPEN forum. Small businesses (and marketers that target small businesses) can find news, analysis, and links to relevant blogs on these pages.
  • KPMG industry outlook. Based on client surveys, see what the players see ahead for their industry this year and beyond.
  • IBM's expert perspectives and trend analyses by industry and by technology. From sustainability to smarter commerce, IBM's experts share their ideas and show how other companies have addressed key challenges.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

Marketing Sugarpova

Tennis champ Maria Sharapova is building a second career, not in sports but as an entrepreneur. Her first product is Sugarpova, colorful, sugary gummy bears. This is premium candy, priced well above supermarket levels and marketed with the champ's worldwide celebrity power.

Sharapova is a high-profile spokeswoman for Nike, Samsung Electronics, and other big-name brands--and she earns about $28 million per year from these endorsements. She's also designed clothing and shoes.

But Sugarpova is her entrepreneurial debut, and Sharapova's $500,000 investment could earn her a sweet return. Earlier this month, she appeared in Australia to launch the candy down under before the start of the Australian Open.

However, the tennis star is also being criticized for promoting unhealthy snacks.

Whether you agree or disagree, you can follow her on Facebook (where she has nearly 9.5 million likes) and Twitter (where in her first 2 weeks she attracted 98,000 followers).

Friday, January 18, 2013

Rent the Runway Goes Pop-Up

If you're shopping for a gown for next week's Inaugural Balls, you still have time to visit Rent the Runway's pop-up shop at LivingSocial in Washington, D.C. (at 918 F Street). For an $8 fee, you get a personal consultation with a stylist, a tote-bag, and time to browse the most popular high-fashion dresses and accessories for immediate rental.

Rent the Runway is one of a growing number of rental sites where men and women can have temporary use of clothing, diamonds, and other high-end items for a reasonable price.

Rent the Runway will send your choice of clothing and accessories to you by mail (in two sizes to ensure proper fit). You also get return postage paid, all at a rental fee that's a fraction of the selling price. Want to try a new look or a new designer? Rent the Runway offers an affordable solution. And it's social, with 141,000 Facebook likes plus 34,000 Twitter followers.

TechCrunch calls it "the Netflix for designer clothes." These technophiles are especially enthusiastic about a new tool that allows users to "Find Women Like Me" and see how fashions would look on someone of a similar height, weight, and build.

Fast Company says that Rent the Runway is "servicizing" the product--providing online access to feel-good fashion experiences that will impress friends. It's not a purchase, it's a service.

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Eataly: First Italy, Then the World

Eataly is a combination Italian market and restaurant enclave, all in one cavernous space. Although the only Eataly I'm familiar with is in the Flatiron district of Manhattan, the business began in (where else?) Italy, first with a marketplace location in Torino and then one in Milano.

Eataly in Manhattan, open nearly 3 years, is an artisanal food phenomenon, with projected annual revenues of $85 million. Customers can buy gourmet meals or top-quality ingredients to take home, or sit down to a meal or snack in one of the seven bustling eateries on the premises. Just stepping inside Eataly, shoppers are treated to a cornucopia of delicious aromas and mouth-watering displays--an ambiance that few foodies can resist. And Eataly NY is a social media marketer, with 34,000 Facebook likes, 19,000 Twitter followers, a Pinterest account.

A new Eataly in the heart of Rome is the largest yet, with 170,000 square feet of fabulous food. More Eataly marketplaces are planned for Chicago and beyond, bringing the brand's combination of quality and experience to shoppers many thousands of miles from Italy.

Eataly's smart marketing strategy is to build long-term relationships with customers, as it says in the "manifesto" on its website: Our goal is to have you as our customer for a lifetime. The easiest means to that end is offering the best food and drink as well as the best environment in which to discover and expand your tastes.

Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Lessons from Struggling Competitors

What can you learn from a competitor that's struggling or has outright failed? Plenty.

CompuUSA and Circuit City were two casualties in the consumer electronics retailing field that illustrate some of the pitfalls to avoid in that part of the industry. On the other hand, H H Gregg is growing--because one of its strengths is customer service, not always available at big-box electronics stores.

Whether you're part of the same industry, serve the same customers, or operate in the same markets, here are some questions to ask about struggling competitors as you prepare your own marketing strategy.
  • What warning signs did this struggling competitor ignore or misinterpret? For Best Buy, multichannel marketing wasn't on the radar early enough. Best Buy correctly recognized that showrooming was a big problem--meaning customers were coming into its stores, examining merchandise, and then buying from an online competitor (Amazon in many cases). In response, the retailer decided to match the prices of selected local and online competitors during the holiday buying season just ended--but not every competitor. Customers must read the fine print to understand its policy, which opens the door to complaints and dissatisfaction. Will that be sufficient in a multichannel world?
  • What are this competitor's strengths and weaknesses? In the past, Best Buy sometimes had difficulty competing with the vast product selection and low prices of its online competitor Amazon. But during this most recent holiday shopping season, Best Buy's online sales improved in states where sales tax is collected on Internet purchases--meaning Best Buy can compete more effectively with Amazon when both have to charge tax. That's a point in Best Buy's favor, showing that its strategy has possibilities.
  • What are this competitor's resources and strategies? Best Buy's cavernous stores were a distinct strength in the past; now, with online assortments just a few clicks away, the company has been slow to rethink its big-box store strategy. The company's most recent sales reports showed little overall change, and its stores aren't gaining ground either. The good news is that certain categories are doing well: mobile phones, tablet computers, e-book readers, and appliances. Focusing on those--along with a smaller store footprint--might be a way forward.
  • What should YOU avoid, based on what you've learned from this competitor's experience? If you're a retailer, you now know that bigger isn't necessarily better. Retailers are "curators" of merchandise, not to mention experiences. You also know that for shoppers, price matters, so don't avoid tackling that issue. And, as H H Gregg shows, service can make all the difference when you're trying to attract customers. Self-service keeps costs down but good in-store service may actually pay for itself in the form of more shoppers and more loyal customers.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Learn from Your Competitors!

What can you learn from your successful competitors? A lot! When you're planning marketing strategy, you should analyze your competitive situation in detail, examining the companies you compete with today and the possible competitors of tomorrow.

When analyzing successful current competitors, ask yourself:
  • What makes them so successful? Apple's expertise in user-friendly design is not just a strength, it's a core competence (built into the firm's DNA and not easily replicable). Now Nokia is trying to take a page from Apple's success story by putting design at the top of its marketing priority list (see its phone at right).
  • What are their strengths and weaknesses? Samsung sees Apple's unified ecosystem as a strength, especially in cloud-based services such as iCloud, and is looking at this from a competitive perspective. On the other hand, as the highly public problems with Apple Maps indicate, sometimes companies overestimate their abilities--which can be a weakness. 
  • What resources and strategies give them momentum? Apple has LOTS of cash on hand. It's been buying back its shares and paying dividends, but still has the formidable financial strength to bankroll any new product and marketing campaign. The Apple Maps debacle is another example of Apple's willingness to yank things from the marketplace after listening to what customers say and watching what they do. It axed Ping, among other offerings, when they failed to catch on. That's a good thing.
  • What can you adapt to compete more effectively? First, think about whether a successful competitor's strength or competence or strategy makes sense for you. Nokia is trying to adapt slick design as a way to compete with Apple; Samsung is looking at Apple's cloud services ecosystem. They're not exactly copying Apple, but taking cues from what Apple does that makes it so successful. Maybe Samsung and Nokia will do well simply because they're trying something new instead of sticking to what made them successful in years past? But this means matching the experiments with opportunities that can be exploited. Apple has proven that customers value good design enough to pay more for it. That's an opportunity for a competitor willing to boldly innovate on the road to earning a reputation as a design leader. Remember, niche competitors are already trying to get a toe-hold in your market, often by building on some idea sparked by a runaway success story in your industry.
My next post will be about analyzing and learning from struggling competitors--and competitors that haven't even become competitors yet.

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

New Sample Marketing Plan: Pretzels, Not Smartphones

The new edition of my Marketing Plan Handbook has been published by Pearson Education, thoroughly updated with the latest marketing concepts and new business examples.

This 5th edition includes a new sample marketing plan: How a (fictional) startup I named PretzL Elegance launches new gourmet snacks I called Artisanal Chocolate Twists.

The idea is to show what a basic marketing plan looks like, minus the financial details and schedules for implementation.

To help this startup on its way, I gave it a strategic supply alliance with Lost Legends Luxury Chocolatier--the subject of the fictional sample marketing plan in my UK book, Essential Guide to Marketing Planning.

Here's my SWOT analysis for the very fictional (and probably very tasty) Artisanal Chocolate Twists:
  •  Strengths: Exclusive cobranding and sourcing deal with Lost Legends Luxury Chocolatier; innovative recipes/processes for peanut- and gluten-free snacks
  • Weaknesses: Lack of brand awareness and image; more limited resources than competitors
  • Opportunities: High demand for chocolate/salty flavor snacks; growing awareness of food allergies
  • Threats: Increase in premium snack intros by major firms with marketing muscle; public health concerns about obesity
The previous sample marketing plan, about a fictional startup launching a new smartphone, has been updated and will be available on the textbook's web site in a matter of days. I'll post a link here when it's ready.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Speed Is Everything at Zara

"What seems great today, in two weeks is the worst idea ever." So says Loreta Garcia, head of the Zara Woman's Trend department, as she talks to Fortune about spotting new styles by following bloggers, visiting clubs, checking out street fashion, listening to customers--anything but going to designer fashion shows.

Speed is everything at Zara, owned by Inditex, the world's largest fashion retailer, with 6,000 stores in 85 countries. Zara follows the rule of refreshing stock twice every week, year in and year out, so inventory turns are high. Customers know that if they don't buy a style when they see it, it may not be there next time. That's a recipe for full-price retailing.

Even though Zara stores dot the globe (see map above), no store is more than 48 hours away from a shipment of the freshest fashion (Inditex intros 20,000 new items every year). Controlling the entire supply chain enables Zara to ensure quality and quantity in time to catch the wave of the latest style--and be ready to launch the next new look within days.

Can fashion get any faster?

Saturday, January 5, 2013

Dollar Menu Marketing Strategies

The marketing battle of the dollar menus continues into 2013 as price-conscious consumers keep a lid on their fast-food spending. Although dollar menus don't do much for the bottom line, they do keep customers coming back (instead of switching to rivals).

Here's the latest on dollar menu marketing strategies:
  • McDonald's trimmed its dollar menu early in 2012...but sales lagged during the fall, so to increase traffic, it put the marketing focus back on the dollar menu ("good taste doesn't cost a lot"). McD's also included new low-price sandwiches and pushed "extra value" meals. The strategy worked: Revenue was up in November. Profits? No word yet. But remember that soft drinks, coffee, and other beverages are typically higher-margin than burgers. So a buyer who chooses a 99-cent burger and adds a cola to the order is helping to balance the profit picture for McDonald's and giving the fast-food chain a higher share of wallet at the same time.
  • Wendy's is emphasizing its "Right Size, Right Price" menu, a dollar menu with an added tier of under-$2 items. This expands lower-price choices for customers and allows franchisees to promote higher-profit items, not to mention helping Wendy's compete more effectively with McD's.
  • Sonic has "everyday deals"--a few budget-priced items in budget sizes. But the strategy is actually to move in the opposite direction, beefing up the premium sandwich menu. And Sonic offers happy-hour deals on discounted soft drinks, an interesting twist in light of the higher profits on drinks.

Friday, January 4, 2013

Mobile Marketing: Small Screen, Big Potential

eMarketer projects ever-higher mobile ad spending
Small screen, big potential: What's ahead for mobile marketing in 2013?
  • Rich media customized for small screens. Mobile marketers are learning how to make video and other elements look good and function effectively on smart phone screens, within apps and on mobile web sites. Watch for more experiments and incremental improvements.
  • Relevance in content and presentation. Intrusive interruptions aren't customer-friendly. Consumers won't pay attention long enough to respond unless mobile marketing is meaningful, presented in a relevant context, timed properly, and geared to their needs and interests. Coca-Cola has had success with text messages, for example, related to its Olympics campaign worldwide. At the same time, it's important that customers be able to opt out of text message marketing.
  • More compelling business rationale for mobile marketing. Decision-makers are looking to make every dollar count. Just because mobile is relatively new and attracting attention doesn't mean it's right for every marketer. Accidental clicks don't count. This is the year when pilot programs and big data will make the case (or not) for mobile marketing, brand by brand and company by company.
  • Clearer rules for mobile marketing. The FCC had to step into the controversy over companies (and their digital agencies) sending a confirmatory text when a consumer opts out of receiving marketing text messages. (Companies are now allowed to send consumers one final ad-free message "confirming" that they've opted out, within 5 minutes of receiving the opt-out notice.) The rise in mobile marketing inevitably means more squabbling over details and more guidelines for marketers to follow.
  • Competition for customer attention. Expect more noise, more clutter, more competition for attention. Mobiles are in every hand or pocket, and customer power is stronger than ever before, so target wisely and post-evaluate every program or test.

Tuesday, January 1, 2013

What Happens When Social Media Sites Change the Rules?

Ryan Block, co-founder of the gdgt site and formerly editor in chief of tech blog network Engadget, brings up an important point about social media content posted by users. What happens to users' data and content when a site changes its user agreement and/or privacy rules, jumps the shark, or gets acquired?

In his New Year's Eve post, titled "Why I'm Quitting Instagram," Block tells about joining the pioneer social media site Friendster in its early months and then moving on. Friendster was purchased in 2009 by a Malaysian company and has been repositioned as a social gaming and dating site targeting users in Asia. Months ago, Block began getting promo e-mails from Friendster's current owner. That's when he realized that his info had been transferred without his knowledge or permission, and is now out of his control.

In the context of Instagram's recent announcements and reversals about changing its user agreement, Block has decided to give up that account, as well as his Facebook account (remember, Facebook now owns Instagram). Given the need for social media sites to build profits--usually via advertising--Block's concerns are understandable. Not to mention that privacy policies can be confusing . . .  and even a highly public fuss may not roll back changes that prove unpopular with users.

However, as Andrew Couts points out in his post, "Why I'm NOT Quitting Instagram," the social media sites have already won. Advertising sales form the basis of their business models, and consumers mostly don't care about what happens to their content, now or in the future. Rules may change, ownership may change, but once we're connected to friends, family, and colleagues, we're unlikely to quit.