Thursday, April 25, 2013

Loews Tells Its Story in Graphic Format

Loews, which owns hotels, financial services firms, energy companies, and other businesses, is adapting a "comic book" style to tell its value story to investors. This is an interesting and creative way to market itself, especially in light of the intense competition for investment dollars these days.

BusinessWeek reports that the idea is to grab attention and engage potential investors through a graphic novel format, starring private eye Lotta Value.

On behalf of a potential investor, Lotta checks out each of the Loews businesses. She explains what they're about and how they add value for customers and investors. The comic ends "To be continued..."

Loews is careful to remind investors that they should read the disclosures in its SEC filings, etc. for detailed information on financials, risks, etc.

Loews isn't the first US business to tell its value story in graphic format. United Therapeutics issued a comic book annual report in 2011. And when Marvel Entertainment went public in the early 1990s, its first annual report was, of course, a comic starring heroes like Spider-Man.

In today's multimedia global economy, it's a good idea to consider diverse ways of presenting messages to the various audiences a marketer wants to reach. That's the takeaway here.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Unilever Thinks Green for the Long Term

Just in time for Earth Day, Unilever announced that it will be requiring all brand managers to complete a weeklong sustainability challenge as part of their corporate training. The company has also trained thousands of tea growers in the use of sustainable practices, with plans to involve even more supply-chain participants in the coming years.

Unilever wants to make every day Earth day. Sustainability is an integral part of its business model for satisfying customer needs. The chief procurement officer says, "The trick is to find the sweet spot between the brand delivering something good for the planet or societies, while offering something good for our consumers."

The graphic above shows how Unilever views the interrelationship between sustainability, cost, innovation, and profitable growth. This is not just an image-builder--it's a business proposition for the 21st century, adding value to the company and its brands by leading through sustainability.

Program by program, Unilever is moving toward highly ambitious goals for reducing its environmental impact on the planet by 2020. For example, the company aims to send nothing to landfills (a goal it has already achieved at its North American facilities and some European facilities). Unilever also has a group of sustainability champions who are either leading efforts to make operations greener or working with suppliers and other partners to green their operations.

For accountability and transparency, Unilever publicly announces its targets and results. To check the firm's progress, just click to its Sustainable Living Plan site. Also look at its Facebook page, which has 1.3 million likes, for more about specific programs (and brands).

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Top-Priced Cellphones: Ka-Ching!

Cell phones are becoming status symbols around the world. It's not just about having the latest technology or the coolest brand . . . it's also about the design and elegance of your phone. So I was interested in this week's Fortune, which writes about the $10,000 cellphone made by Vertu (see right).

The upscale phone is hand-crafted with quality materials and bundled with what Fortune calls the "killer app" of concierge service for booking hotels, restaurants, etc. (This app has also been called "a butler in your pocket.")

Vertu began life under the Nokia umbrella but majority ownership was sold in 2012 to a Swedish private equity firm. This allowed Vertu to shift gears to the Android operating system, a plus because of the many apps available to users.

But Vertu isn't the only super-luxe phone being marketed.

At left is an iPhone embellished by British designer Stuart Hughes to showcase a giant black diamond that had been in the customer's family for many years.

Add in the price of the extra diamonds surrounding the case, and the final cost was reportedly about $15 million (not including voice or data usage). 

Other top-of-the-line mobiles are made by Sony-Ericsson, Christian Dior, and Continental Mobiles. Ring-tones are extra, but so what?

Friday, April 19, 2013

Earth Day 2013

Companies, communities, and individuals are working to save the planet by promoting recycling, preventing deforestation, or finding other ways to conserve natural resources on April 22, Earth Day--and beyond.
  • The Earth Day Network is hosting "A billion acts of green" to encourage involvement in earth-saving activities. More than 1 billion "acts of green" have already been registered, so the goal is now 2 billion acts. Earth Day Network has 114,000+ Facebook likes.
  • Austin, TX is putting the spotlight on sustainability, with the theme "Earth Consciousness Raising." The centerpiece is a family festival this Saturday, featuring earth-friendly exhibits, music, local food, edutainment for kids, and an invitation to bring electronics for responsible recycling.
  • The Baltimore Ravens football team is putting into action its "sacks for seeds" campaign, in which the team received a donation of a tree for each sack it made on an opposing team's quarterback during the 2012 season. The trees will be planted on Earth Day.
  • Disney World is marking Earth Day by celebrating the 15th anniversary of the opening of its Animal Kingdom. Animals and nature will be the focus of these Earth Day activities.
  • NASA is posting awe-inspiring photo essays showing our planet from the air, featuring everything from glaciers to storm clouds. The unusual vantage point on Planet Earth reminds us of the importance of working together to keep our home planet safe. 
  • The EPA is inviting submissions of photos for its Environment Photo Project, hosted on Flickr. The goal is to get many views of the state of the environment, showing how specific places have changed over time, culminating in a "time capsule" collection of photos.
All weekend and into next week, expect to see all kinds of Earth Day events and information. As the Environmental Protection Agency urges: "Make every day Earth Day."

Monday, April 15, 2013

Tax Day's Marketing Allure

April 15th means tax day to Americans . . . but to many food marketers, it's also a good hook for marketing. Here are a few of the fun food promotions linked to today's deadline for filing U.S. tax returns:
  • Cinnabon (with nearly 1 million Facebook likes) is making the day sweeter with two free bun bites.
  • Bruegger's has a $10.40 special on a baker's dozen of bagels, with a coupon downloaded from its Facebook page. In 2012, the bagel chain sold 10,000 of these special deals--quite a good response.
  • Arby's has a giveaway of free curly fries (with downloadable coupon) plus a cash prize drawing to take the sting out of tax day.
  • Boston Market's "We Love the IRS" campaign includes cash giveaways until April 30th. Plus today only, it's offering a $10.40 special on two rib meals.
Meanwhile, Massachusetts residents are celebrating Patriots' Day with a parade, the Boston Marathon, and more.

One week from today is Earth Day, an entirely different kind of marketing occasion!

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

JC Penney's Search for a New Strategy

Ron Johnson was named CEO of JC Penney late in 2011, fresh from high-profile marketing triumphs at the Apple Store and Target. Just days ago, he was removed and succeeded by the CEO he had replaced.

What happened? Johnson's bold idea, implemented early in 2012, was to restore trust by relying on a pricing strategy that's become tarnished in recent years--EDLP, short for everyday low prices. Penney's prices were shown in full dollars, not the usual odd-ending figures like $12.99, to subtly signal an upscale move away from discount perceptions.

And, instead of running sale after sale and printing coupon after coupon, Johnson wanted Penney's to offer the same "fair and square" prices every day. This, he hoped, would reassure shoppers that they could buy at any time without fear that they were missing some fantastic deal. The new strategy was so risky that Penney's listed it as a risk factor in its regulatory filings, noting that shoppers might not respond for many months.

In fact, after years of recession and budget-conscious shopping, many customers have become conditioned to waiting for sales and hunting for bargains. Regular prices just aren't as appealing, in this economic environment, as the thrill or satisfaction of finding something at a big discount. Johnson has been criticized for not taking this type of customer behavior into account.

Yet Johnson did a great job of updating the stores, trimming and updating merchandise lines, and establishing price points that were surprisingly reasonable--very close to the lowest effective price a customer might pay on sale or with a coupon. Walking into JC Penney stores during the past year, I was impressed by the more modern look and the slow but deliberate evolution from a "me too" store to something a little more distinctive.

Johnson was also responsible for new "store within a store" boutiques featuring hipper brands like Joe Fresh, with the goal of attracting younger customers (think: Target-type customers). These boutiques are so new that they haven't had time to show what they can do for Penney's revenues, which continue to be well below expectations.

Meanwhile, the retailer has returned to trumpeting sales to drum up shopper traffic and excitement. The new CEO will be evaluating the situation and searching for a new strategy to jump-start JC Penney in the coming months. He's already hinting at coupons and discounts to bring shoppers back into the store by changing the way they view the value offered by JC Penney.

Looking at the retailing industry overall, is EDLP a viable pricing strategy for any major store? 

Monday, April 8, 2013

Brand Fans: Paid or Organic?

This week's Time has an intriguing article titled "The Human Billboard." No, it's not about the branded clothing we wear to show our good taste or our status or our allegiance to a certain designer or movement. It's about online personalities who are "walking product placements," in the words of the article.

These human billboards are, in effect, paid brand fans, compensated in some way for their comments, whether through payment or through free products. An entire industry is springing up around the idea of sponsored tweets. The Associated Press is selling sponsored tweet space in its main Twitter feed to advertisers such as Samsung.

In contrast, people who tweet or blog about their experiences with a brand are organic brand fans if they're not paid for these comments.

Why does this matter? Because organic endorsements (unpaid) are generally seen as more credible. The marketer didn't solicit them or pay for them, they're not controlled by the marketer.

It's the same in the world of search results, where organic results (meaning non-paid, non-sponsored results) are overwhelmingly what people click on when they search for information.

Transparency is key here. One lifestyle blogger is quoted by Time as saying she doesn't always label her sponsored posts as such because she wants to maintain an "irreverent style and tone," although some of her posts do mention partnering with brands. Under newly revised FTC guidelines, the rule is that if you're getting paid to say something about a product in social media, say so. Even if you only have 140 characters for your content, a brief tag like #spon or #paid can get the point across.

Thursday, April 4, 2013

Survey Says: Listen to Your Customers!

Today's Wall Street Journal has a long story headlined, 'Dear Airline, Here's the Problem...'

The point of the article is that "some carriers actually pay attention to the results" of their customer surveys.

Imagine: American, Delta, United, JetBlue, or some other carrier asks you to fill out a questionnaire about the flight you just took, seeking your opinion about the service or the meals or the baggage handling, and so on. You, the customer, are happy to give the airline an earful about some glitch, or maybe you have a compliment for a staff member. You submit the survey and you feel good that you've added your voice to the mix. And that's one very good reason to request feedback, says Delta's director of customer experience: to "give people a chance to vent so anger doesn't build up and turn into something more."

American Airlines Is "Listening to Our Customers"
Airlines ask for feedback in a variety of ways. For example, American Airlines has a web page explaining that it surveys 250,000 customers online each month, now in Spanish as well as in English, to find out what passengers like and don't like and to gauge response to new service initiatives. The page also mentions American's social media feedback programs, how it reads customers' letters and e-mails, and its use of focus groups and employee comments to analyze customer satisfaction and needs. 

Outside surveys indicate that in general, the airline industry has a long way to go in improving service and satisfaction.
  • One recent survey found that the airline industry ranks #15 out of 19 industries in customer satisfaction, on average. This Temkin survey says that Alaska Airlines and Southwest Air are tied for best customer satisfaction experience among US airlines.
  • In last year's American Customer Satisfaction Index, United ranked at the bottom of airlines (Southwest and JetBlue were at the top of the list for customer satisfaction, but Southwest's score in 2012 was slightly lower than in 2011.)
  • In last year's J.D. Power survey, results showed that "traditional carriers still struggle to meet travelers' expectations." As of June 2012, the carriers at the top of this satisfaction survey were Alaska Airlines and JetBlue.
  • Deloitte & Touche's recent survey found relatively low levels of customer loyalty among airline and hotel customers, especially problematic because of the money being spent on frequent flier/travel rewards programs.
Given the intense competition among carriers, doesn't it make sense to listen to your customers?

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Kodak's Instamatic, the Original Pocket Camera

Kodak revolutionized the camera industry when it introduced the Instamatic 50 years ago. Not only was this a light and portable camera for everyday use, the film came in a sealed cartridge so users didn't have to hunt for a dark place to drop in the film and thread the leader.

Although Kodak offered the Instamatic in a wide range of sizes and technical capabilities over the years, with various price points to match, the entry-level point and shoot variety (with or without flash) was especially popular with teens and young families.

In the Instamatic's first 7 years on the market, Kodak sold 50 million units. These days, Kodak is busy getting its finances in order to exit from bankruptcy. The new Kodak will focus on commercial printing equipment and services, not cameras and film.

Now compare the Instamatic's sales history with Instagram's free photo-sharing app, available first for iPhones and then for Android phones.

Launched in 2010, Instagram now has more than 100 million users. Of course, the price (zero) has a lot to do with Instagram's success, as does the almost universal desire to instantly share photos with friends and relatives. Another key element is the incredibly speedy adoption of smartphones worldwide.

Instagram is part of the Facebook family of apps these days. What new innovations will it launch next?

Monday, April 1, 2013

April Fool's Day - Marketing Style

It's that time of year again--April 1st, the day when marketers go all out to be as silly as they can be, to build buzz and connect with customers in a fun way.

Here's a rundown on some silly one-day gags:
    • Google announces the beta version of Google Nose, which generates aromas to match what you're searching for. "Don't ask, don't smell" is its motto. 
    • Google also tells users that its YouTube site was running the world's longest-running video contest--and today is the final day. As of tomorrow, all videos will be erased.  Yikes.
    • ThinkGeek, the overlords of ironic gifts and gadgets, is offering a new line of almost believable products like the Death Star Trench Toss (above) and PlayDoh 3D Printer (duh).

    • Twitter has a new optional service, Twttr, which saves even more space and time by eliminating vowels. Sorry, Vanna.

    • Sir Richard Branson announced, via blog, the intro of his new glass-bottomed jetliner for sightseeing at 40,000 feet. Just the thing for his Little Red airline.

    • Bing, the Microsoft-backed search engine, is having some fun of its own by giving you a little smile if you type "Google" into its search space. Try it and see! But don't wait until April 2d.