Friday, March 29, 2013

Prom Time Is Prime Marketing Time

This annual high school rite of passage is prime time for many marketers. For products and services like dresses and formal wear, limos, flowers, hair care, personal care, jewelry, shoes, entertainment, party products, and photography or videography, the prom season is a prime marketing occasion. Last year, the average high school prom party-goer (or the parents) made more than $1,000 in prom-related purchases.

Fashion marketers watched reaction to Oscar-night styles to be ready for the dresses that might catch the fancy of high school girls shopping at local stores like Forever 21 and Sears. Prom Jams at local malls are already displaying the new prom styles, with celebrity appearances adding to the appeal of such special events.

Proms have become quite popular in the U.K., thanks in part to the influence of U.S. TV shows and movies (think High School Musical and Glee, for example). U.K. proms skew younger than U.S. proms, which changes the marketing approach, of course.

The feelings of prom time are such an integral part of U.S. culture that Audi based a 2013 Super Bowl commercial on the theme, aiming to connect with consumers on an emotional level.

Loren Angelo, general manager of brand marketing for Audi, explains: Audi is about making brave decisions. Prom is a significant point in time when a lot of brave decisions are made. This story brings to life one of our fantastic products, the Audi S6. It inspires this young man who had one brave opportunity to build a lot of confidence and build a lot of excitement and make some pretty brave decisions that night.

Thursday, March 28, 2013

New Trends in Store Retailing

One new trend in store retailing has made worldwide headlines: Charging for services that are typically free for in-store browsers and buyers alike . . . like the ability to try on clothing before you buy. Vera Wang had tried a $500 appointment fee for brides-to-be who wanted to try on wedding gowns in its Shanghai store. Public backlash prompted the company to eliminate the fee, which was intended to prevent Wang's exclusive designs from being stolen and remade into cheap knockoff versions in China.

Good riddance to this trend. Charging to try things on will only send more shoppers to their computers or phones for online shopping, because e-stores like Zappos will pay the postage both ways--no questions asked--if you buy shoes, try them on, and decide to return them. Of course the cost of shipping is included in the price, and for many customers, the convenience is well worth the price.

This photo of Hointer, a clothing store in Seattle, illustrates a second new trend in retailing: Using technology to accommodate customer behavior and preferences. Rather than have customers deal with (sometimes overly attentive) salespeople, Hointer displays apparel with QR codes attached. Employees are available for questions or assistance, but the customer is in control here.

The customer downloads Hointer's app and scans the QR code of each item he or she wants to try on (right). By the time he gets to the fitting room, the pants are there. Ready to buy? There's an app for that. No pressure or hassle, shop at your own pace. "It’s not about fast shopping. It’s about an easier way to shop," explains Hointer's founder.

Monday, March 25, 2013

Will New Pepsi Bottle Boost Sales?

New Pepsi bottle - with distinctive easy-grip shape
Pepsi is introducing a redesigned bottle (at right) for the first time in nearly 17 years. The label is smaller, allowing more soda to be viewed. And the lower half of the bottle has a swirl shape for easy gripping.

Bottles are critical branding cues for soft drink brands, especially in single-serve purchasing situations (such as consumers searching for a drink in the chiller case of a convenience or drug store).
"We started with single serve, because it is the package you're seen drinking and holding," states a Pepsi VP-marketing.
Coca-Cola's hourglass bottle

Archrival Coca-Cola has built entire campaigns around its trademark hourglass Coke bottle (modern version is at left).

Now Pepsi wants its bottle to be instantly recognizable and have a functional benefit, as well as playing a role in supporting brand image. The new bottle is "not uniform, it's a little asymmetrical, there's a little edginess and playfulness, which is consistent with Pepsi's equities and youthful spirit," the Pepsi VP explains in an Ad Age article.

The logo won't change, but it may take other shapes and sizes for resonance with specific advertising campaigns. Watch for more tweaks as Pepsi implements its "Live for Now" theme through all elements of the marketing mix.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Zippo Sparks Social Media Marketing

Zippo! The first Zippo lighter went on the market in 1933 and became an indispensable tool for U.S. armed forces during WWII. The iconic product has been seen in movies and TV shows worldwide, and early versions are particularly sought after by collectors. The lighter shape is so distinctive and recognizable that early this century, Zippo trademarked it to protect against copy-catting.

Now in its eighth decade, the Zippo brand has been extended to new categories like fragrances (shown here) . . . wristwatches . . . pens . . . knives. Mass-customization options allow for design-your-own lighters and engrave your own message. Still, the original Zippo maintains its cachet, most recently serving as a custom-engraved party favor during Oscar night revels.

Via social media marketing, Zippo is "dependable and befriendable" on Facebook, with nearly 400,000 likes. Nearly 7,000 people follow Zippo's Twitter account and it has thousands of views on YouTube.

The new digital initiative promotes Zippo's music sponsorships (metal, rock, alternative, and country music). Details are on the Zippo Encore microsite, including free downloadable apps and updates on the latest concerts, interviews, and more. You can follow the Encore activities on Twitter, too. Think of how many people have had the experience of holding up a lighter during concerts, and the connection with music makes sense. Plus it's very social for an 80-year-old brand, don't you think?

Saturday, March 16, 2013

Can QR Codes Avoid the CueCat Trap?

Can QR codes avoid the CueCat trap as other technologies break into the mainstream? CueCat was a transition technology of the turn of the century, a way for consumers to scan a code and receive product information. Time called it one of the 50 worst inventions ever. QR isn't the same as CueCat, because it's not as narrow, it's not tethered to a desktop PC, and it has more marketing potential--but whether it's still on the way up or has already jumped the shark, that's hard to tell.

One commentary (from SXSW) calls QR codes one of those tech trends that just won't die but hasn't yet reached its full potential. I have to agree.

We hear a lot about QR codes and see them in store windows, on billboards, in ads, often on grocery labels and even on produce tags. One of the most applauded campaigns is Macy's BackStage Pass, which brings consumers to proprietary videos and other content when they scan QR codes in a Macy's store.

Still, not many consumers currently use their smartphones to scan product labels, according to research. Yet the Macy's experience shows that QR codes can be useful if they lead consumers to details not easily accessed in other ways, especially when content is optimized for mobile users (meaning: easy to read on small screens).

IMHO, QR codes represent a transition between the past and the future technology. They can pack a lot of data into a small space and all you need is a smartphone to tap the info. One American Libraries article notes that that shortened URLs might serve the same purpose by bringing consumers to mobile sites with more info or databases, etc. In other words, QR isn't the only way to conveniently deliver info on demand.

In the near term, QR will stick around because other technologies (like near field communications) aren't quite there yet. And QR may very well develop other functionality and become a gateway to other information or activities available to smartphone users. Let's see what happens in 2013.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Peeps Celebrates 60 Years

Since its introduction in 1953, Peeps has become a year-round gift or dessert. By expanding into special colors and shapes to suit the season (Easter, Valentine's Day, Christmas, and--wait for it--Halloween), parent company JustBorn has enjoyed double-digit sales growth during the past couple of years.

Peeps is also a social brand, with more than 250,000 Facebook likes and nearly 10,000 Twitter followers. In fact, the brand's latest commercials build on social media.

JustBorn churns out 5 million marshmallow Peeps every day at its Pennsylvania plant. During this year's Easter season, it will sell 1 billion Peeps (yes, that's a "b" as in billion).

The iconic treat is so trendy that JustBorn now operates three retail stores (one in Mall of America, one in Pennsylvania, and one in Maryland) featuring its candies and other Peeps-branded accessories (plush, for example).

So happy 60th birthday to Peeps.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

Lowe's Goes Social and Mobile

Lowe's, the second-largest US home improvement retailer, has more than 5.8 million Pinterest followers as of today. Visitors to its Pinterest page are greeted by this heading: “We're Lowe's and we never stop pinning!”

Customers who are readying for a kitchen or bathroom makeover, thinking about gardening season, or planning another home improvement project can find ideas and inspiration on the 40 Lowe's Pinterest boards and 1600+ pins. Isn't that an excellent way to use Pinterest for marketing?

Lowe's is doing more and more with social, mobile, and digital marketing. For instance, one of several Lowe's apps offers instant access to its free digital Creative Ideas magazine, a great way to add value for customers who are at home or in the store with their tablet computers or phones.

Click to Lowe's Facebook page (which has more than 2.2 million likes) and you can see more photos, home improvement ideas, links to promoted products, and links to photo posts on Instagram, where Lowe's has almost 3000 followers.

Yes, Lowe's tweets--early and often. It has 80,000+ followers and 10,000+ tweets. And here's something I especially like: On its Twitter banner, Lowe's says: “Got a complaint, compliment or question? Let us know!” In other words, Lowe's invites customers to join the conversation and speak up about what they like and don't like, or ask for more information.

Lowe's latest ad campaign is cross-platform, on TV and online. The digital ads are keyed to the weather and appropriate home improvement or gardening projects that start with a shopping trip to Lowe's. Watch for more social and mobile marketing ahead.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Why Competitors ARE Stakeholders

Over the years, the blog posts that have drawn the most readers have been about the idea of competitors as stakeholders. Stakeholders are groups that can have an effect on or that are affected by an organization's performance in some way. Traditional lists of stakeholders include customers, regulators, suppliers, distributors, the media, and so on.

I encourage marketers to include competitors as an external stakeholder group to be considered in any situation analysis. To recap my previous posts on this topic:
  • Smart competitors try to anticipate what rivals will do and how customers will react, so never underestimate your competitors - and be aware that a strong industry is in the interests of all competitors.
  • Competitors often target your customers or your market share, meaning what they do is likely to affect what you do, either directly or indirectly.
  • When a large competitor goes bankrupt, its absence immediately changes the marketing situation for the remaining industry players. In fact, intense competition (sometimes from unexpected sources) is often the reason for one company's inability to compete and its bankruptcy.
Pirelli, the tire manufacturer, explicitly acknowledges that competitors are stakeholders in its 2012 explanation of stakeholders and strategy: "More than ever, Pirelli is absolutely convinced that its business is inextricably linked to its capacity to create value while satisfying the expectations of all its stakeholders."

The company lists these categories of stakeholders: Shareholders, customers, employees, communities, public administrations (meaning business infrastructure and government obligations), institutions and NGOs, suppliers, competitors, and the environment. As the graphic below shows, Pirelli believes that "fair competition generates improved customer services as well as market qualification."

Thursday, March 7, 2013

Marketing at and to SXSW

SXSW (South by Southwest Interactive) is already setting up in Austin for its March 8-17 run. Even before activities commence, SXSW has 291,000 Facebook likes, 252,000 Twitter followers, 579 Vimeo videos, and its own e-zine.

The official SXSW sponsors include:
SXSW has grown large enough to provide marketing FAQs to companies. Check its marketing 'deck' for 2013 demographics. For example, 32% of registrants are 30 years old or under, 59% are 31-50 years old, and 8% are 51 and older. Of registrants, 30% have a combined HH income of $150,000 or more. And on and on.

One panel I wish I could attend is about Brainy Marketing--neuro-optimized websites. Martin Lindstrom, Brian Clark, A.K. Pradeep, and Roger Dooley will the panelists. Don Tapscott has already presented a talk about marketing to the net generation.

Go, Austin!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

The Pros and Cons of Freemium

"Freemium games . . . are an almost unique case where companies can price-discriminate down to the level of the individual consumer." 

This is the view of Ben Holmes, who recently wrote a piece for the Wall Street Journal about the economics of freemium games. His point is that customers who try a game (or another product) without any risk or outlay can then decide what extras, if any, they're willing to buy. This means individual customers determine how much they want to invest in special characters or props or levels, after trying the game for free. Many will decide not to pay anything, but those who do want to continue will pay willingly for extras because they've discovered the value for themselves.

This freemium approach to pricing is paying off for some marketers. Evernote (which makes software for organizing notes and data) said in mid-2012 that consumer acceptance of paying for the premium version takes time. After the first year, only 1% of its customers were converting from the free version to a paid version. After the second year, however, 12% were using a paid version.
Fast-forward to 2013: Evernote now says 6% of customers are converting to the premium version. In other words, as it attracts more users and builds buzz, more people recognize the value and pay for the upgrade. As Evernote's CEO says: "The easiest way to get one million people paying is to get one billion people using."

Not everyone favors freemium. "The freemium business model certainly has its place, but getting the conversation about money out of the way up front allows your company to focus on user experience," writes Andrew Flachner in a different (also recent) Wall Street Journal piece. He says that customers who perceive the value from day one will be willing to open their wallets and, as a result, will be more committed to using the product.

When USA Today reviewed Real Racing 3, a freemium game from Electronic Arts, it complained about being "nickel-and-dimed" with "a freemium model that makes gamers cough up money often or wait it out." Here, the point is that a really good game should be able to attract paying customers rather than frustrating users with intermittent payment options.

Will freemium become more popular as a pricing strategy?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Marketing Marbles (the Brain Store)

In my previous post, I wrote about marketing toys to Dads and Moms. This post is about Marbles, the Brain Store, headquartered in Chicago and headed by CEO Lindsay Gaskins and cofounder/chief merchant Scott Brown. After a disappointing start selling educational/brain development games through a mall kiosk in 2008, Marbles rebooted as a full-fledged store retailer in a busy downtown Chicago shopping district and has been expanding ever since by filling a need for people of all ages to exercise their brains.

Instead of jam-packed areas of gender-defined merchandise or aisles devoted to toy categories such as dolls and crafts, its "BrainCoaches" (aka store employees) help customers of all ages select from an edited assortment of games, toys, and accessories for specific brain-building interests, such as word skills, critical thinking, visual perception, memory, and coordination. Each of the 250 products has been selected, tested, and merchandised with one of these brain development areas in mind. (Some of Marbles' products were, in fact, created in-house or at Columbia College.)

Customers are invited to participate in a BrainSessions profile (at the in-store kiosk or online) that pinpoints strengths and suggests areas to be further developed, along with recommendations for specific toys or games that are suitable for strengthening those skills. "I think the experiential nature of the store has benefited us greatly," Gaskins says. In fact, the third Thursday of every month (except November and December) is Game Night at Marbles stores, a few hours where kids, adults, and multigenerational families can enjoy trying different games.

The company is not yet profitable but with sales exceeding $600 per square foot, the retailer is ringing up healthy revenues. It's gaining a following on Facebook and maintains both a Twitter account and a company blog.

I heard about Marbles from a friend who found its web site and was happy with the box full of products she ordered for her grandchildren's birthdays. Despite the challenging economy, positive word of mouth and repeat business is helping Marbles grow, month after month.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

Marketing Toys to Mom AND Dad

Toy companies realize that before youngsters are old enough to have an allowance or shop on their own, Mom and Dad (and Grandma and Grandpa) make most toy purchases. No surprise, then, that toy marketers are reaching out to adults, explaining the underlying appeal of their products and tweaking marketing to fit the decision-making considerations of both Moms and Dads.

Mattel is conducting consumer research with mothers in relation to its Big Wheels toy cars. "By talking to Mom, we are extending out the conversation to the actual purchaser," explains Mattel's vp for the North American boys' toys and games unit. Because most Moms didn't play with Hot Wheels when they were kids, they don't "get why cars, engines, and all the shapes and crashing and smashing are so cool," he adds.

So Mattel has hosted breakfasts for Moms, contacted Mommy bloggers, and used social media to spark dialogue, with the aim of turbo-charging Hot Wheels sales. Already, Hot Wheels has 1.1 million Facebook likes and 15,500 Twitter followers. An app is in the works to suggest which Hot Wheels purchases parents/grandparents can make to complement the cars and trucks already in the hands of their youngsters.

Meanwhile, understanding that Dads (and Grandpas) grew up with building block sets, while Moms (and Grandmas) grew up with Barbie, Mattel and Mega Blok have teamed up to create Barbie Mega Bloks (right). The idea is to leverage the venerable Barbie name and personality with building sets that play to the spatial thinking strengths of block sets.

Lego's extremely popular Lego Friends for girls (below) have helped pushed that Danish company's sales up 25% during the product line's first year on the market. Yes, the sets build on Lego's famous block reputation but also offer unique colors, characters, and story-telling possibilities that appeal to girls in particular.

Initial public reaction was mixed, with some Moms worried that pink blocks and cute characters bordered on gender stereotyping--but the unexpected sales success of Lego Friends suggests that girls like the product and parents like that their girls are building with blocks.