Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Most and Least Popular US Companies, 2014

First, the bad news: The most unpopular U.S. company, according to recent research by the American Customer Satisfaction Index, is . . .

. . . can you guess?


Time-Warner Cable. In this survey, Time-Warner Cable scored a measly 54 out of 100.

Now for the good news: The most popular company, according to the same index, is . . .

Yes, it's Amazon, the ubiquitous e-tailer, which scored 88 out of 100 on the survey.

This has been a good holiday season for Amazin' -- oops, Amazon -- because it's improved its delivery speed, for one thing. Also, 10 million consumers tried out the Prime offering (you know, free 2-day shipping for a $99/yr fee). And thanks to that, Amazon says consumers saved a whopping $2 billion in shipping fees they might otherwise have paid.

Plus mobile shopping on Amazon is way up, certainly due to showrooming and also due to a general increase in shopping on-the-go with tablet computers and smartphones.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Ugly Christmas Sweaters for a Cause

Save the Children has been running a fun fundraiser this holiday season: Make the World Better with a Sweater (the uglier, the better).

We've all seen those hilariously over-the-top sweaters for boys and girls, men and women, even cats (see this cute video) and dogs (see, for example, PetSmart's selection, which includes the fun sweater at right).

This is a trend tailor-made (pun intended) for Pinterest, Instagram, and other social media. Just search and you'll see. Ugly sweaters are the revenue backbone of several businesses, including Forever Collectibles and Tipsy Elves.

Even though Ugly Sweater Day was earlier in the month, the Save the Children fundraiser continues throughout December--so go ahead, wear yours and make Santa smile.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

For Your Marketing Plan: Check Demographic, Social, and Cultural Trends

Research projects at http://www.pewresearch.org
Researching demographic, social, and cultural trends for your marketing plan? Be sure to check out the research at the Pew Research Center site.

As shown above, Pew researches a number of topics that can help marketers understand the perceptions, attitudes, beliefs, and behavior of consumers.

For instance, the Internet & American Life Project covers Internet usage, mobile usage, and social media. One analysis looks at how political campaigns in 2014 made use of mobile marketing and social media. Another examines Twitter topic networks. Others look ahead to the Internet of things and other future developments--important background for preparing long-term marketing plans.

Don't miss the Social and Demographic Trends research on such topics as family formation (marriage and remarriage and gay marriage), household composition (multigenerational HHs are on the rise, thanks to boomerang Millennials), college attendance and debt, economic distribution, and much more.

The Hispanic Trends Project follows issues in North and South America such as demographic shifts, political impact, immigration, religion, and cultural identity. Again, for marketers in the Americas, such information can be extremely helpful.

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

The Year's Most-Watched Viral Ads on YouTube

The end of the year is fast approaching...and that means lots of lists like "the year's most watched ads on YouTube."

Adweek teamed with Google to post a most-watched list of ads for 2014, headed by:
  • Nike World Cup Soccer ("Winner Stays" and "The Last Game") which were viewed on YouTube an amazing 171.7 million times
  • Budweiser ("Puppy Love") attracted 53.4 million views
In Canada, the top ad on YouTube was from TD Bank ("Sometimes you just want to say thank you").

What makes these lists interesting is that people actually clicked, voluntarily, to watch advertising messages. Yes, the ads are quite entertaining and even inspirational or at least emotional.

But in the end, they're paid messages on behalf of a corporate sponsor. The very kind of marketing material that consumers often skip past when watching recorded TV programming.

Yet through word of mouth, these YouTube-leading ads went viral and attracted much higher viewership than could have been achieved via regular advertising channels. Food for thought at a time when marketers are trying to cut through clutter and engage customers and prospects digitally.

Sunday, December 14, 2014

What about Tablets in 2015?

Growth in tablet sales (like the iPad and Samsung Galaxy) is slowing--even as competition is increasing and technology is evolving. Intel (of "Intel Inside" ingredient branding fame) is pushing makers of mobile devices to move to wireless charging, a convenience that many users will find valuable--to enhance replacement/upgrade purchases, especially.

Tablets are still expected to be the computing device of choice for the next few years. By more than one estimate, 2015 will be the year when tablet sales exceed PC/laptop sales for the first time. PCs have been in the maturity stage of the product life cycle for some time. Yet with the release of Windows 10, for example, PC purchases are likely to get some boost in 2015.

Given the rate of technological change, it's likely that tablet computers will be in maturity very, very soon. Yes, there will be incremental innovation in tablets, but as Apple (which pioneered the product category) has discovered, consumers appear to hold onto tablets a little longer than they hold onto iPhones. Sales of iPads have slowed and Apple is rumored to be working on the introduction of a hybrid iPhone/iPad-sized device. The much-anticipated Apple Watch is also set for introduction in 2015.

Speaking of iPhones, viewed from the perspective of diffusion of innovation, smart phones are in the "late adopter" stage within the markets of developed countries, according to Gartner Group. If that's the case, only the "laggards" (16% of the market) remain to be convinced to adopt smart-phone technology. So watch for lots more features and functionality to extend the product life cycle and convince early majority and late majority to trade up again and again.

Thursday, December 11, 2014

Vinyl's Amazing Comeback

Over the years, technological advances in music recording almost made vinyl LPs disappear. Yet vinyl has made an amazing comeback, despite the ubiquitous availability of downloadable music.

By the time 2014 is over, 8 million LPs will have been sold--making this the best year for vinyl sales in quite a while. Black Friday was a banner day for vinyl, second only to Record Store Day in LP purchasing.

Nostalgia is one reason for the comeback. Another is tangibility: LPs come with jackets and liner notes, artwork and written material. Yet another reason is sound quality.

Independent stores are profiting from the comeback, as well. Much of the inventory they carry is used (pre-owned, vintage, etc). Yet big-box stores are also riding this wave, selling new vinyl issues of old LP content. And bands that have loyal fan followings are reissuing LPs in special collections to satisfy demand--and extend the product life cycle.

Will vinyl's comeback continue in 2015?

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Virgin Sets Sail with a Cruise Line Marketing Plan

Virgin Group--the UK-based company which has its brand on all kinds of products, from airlines to trains to financial services and more--has a long-term strategic plan for entering the cruise industry.

Virgin's brand is internationally recognized for its youthful energy, value, entertainment, and (watch out, competitors) industry disruption.

Because of the lead time in planning and building cruise ships to meet Virgin's specifications, the new venture won't be introduced until the end of this decade. The new line will be headquartered in Florida.

But as always, Virgin's marketing plan calls for disruption. Sir Richard Branson, founder, says:
"We plan to shake up the cruise industry and deliver a holiday that customers will absolutely love. They’ll be sailing on the latest ships offering a great quality, a real sense of fun and many exciting activities all delivered with the famed Virgin service."
Given widespread consumer perceptions of cruising as a vacation for older people, and perhaps a passive holiday at that, Virgin's marketing plan is likely to focus on younger target markets, highlighting the "sense of fun" for which Virgin is well known. 

Meanwhile, the three major cruise companies--Carnival Corp., Royal Caribbean, and Norwegian Cruise Line--are prepping their own marketing plans to attract Millennials and defend market share. In 5 or 6 years, the cruise industry will be making marketing waves with many more choices and price points for consumers of all ages and interests.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Hello Kitty's $7 Billion Brand

Happy 40th birthday, Hello Kitty. The iconic Japanese character, owned by Sanrio, has been making fans smile since 1974. Sanrio created her after consumer surveys revealed the perennial popularity of cats and dogs (and bears). The company already had a bear character and was licensing Snoopy, so it developed Hello Kitty and a star was born.

Hello Kitty is licensed for a wide variety of products worldwide. She's also the feature attraction in a new Hello Kitty theme park, soon to open in Zhejiang province, China. Hello Kitty has other theme parks in other places (including in her home country of Japan and in Malaysia), to entertain fans of all ages.

By one estimate, the Hello Kitty brand is worth a staggering $7 billion. Her appeal is so broad that Japan now uses her as its ambassador of tourism to China and Hong Kong. Judging by her enduring appeal and profitability, Hello Kitty will be smiling on goods and services worldwide for another four decades--and possibly longer.

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

McDonald's: Is a Bigger Menu Better?

McDonald's has yet another menu option for Happy Meals: fresh, whole Clementines (Cutie brand) ready for national rollout.

Nutritionally, this is a good idea, and it's also good for encouraging associations of healthy eating with the McD's brand. Happy Meals already have apple slices and Go-Gurt as possible sides, so Clementines are another healthy alternative.

But adding more menu options and localizing some menu items adds complexity and potentially slows service. According to one source, McDonald's had 85 menu items in 2007--and today, it carries 121. Not only are the menu boards jammed, the kitchen gets bogged down at times and the front-end and drive-through lanes get clogged with customers waiting for their orders. Not to mention that customers may feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of choices for breakfast, lunch, dinner, snacks, kids, coffee, and so on.

Drive-through service is slowing at many fast-food chains, including McD's. However, McDonald's doesn't want to slow down the drive-through because that's where so many customers order and pay--and some franchisees are competing on the basis of speedy service. According to Fast Company, an increase in waiting time of a few minutes might discourage enough customers to lop tens of millions of dollars off sales.

On the other hand, McDonald's wants to shape its image to better compete with casual-eating chains that encourage customers to individualize their orders. “Today’s consumers increasingly prefer customizable food options, dining in a contemporary, inviting atmosphere and using more convenient ways to order and pay for their meals,” according to the CEO. So will an expanded menu with more choices and customizable options be a plus or a minus for McDonald's?

Monday, December 1, 2014

Black Friday, Small Biz Saturday, Cyber Monday, Giving Tuesday . . .

The week of and after Thanksgiving is filled with "holidays" designed to shape attitudes and behavior with the holidays in mind.
  • Black Friday. In the UK, Amazon introduced Black Friday in 2010. This year Amazon UK had its busiest day ever on Black Friday, far surpassing expectations. In the US, however, the number of store shoppers was either modestly higher or modestly lower (depending on the source you cite), partly because people clicked to buy. Barnes & Noble fought back against the online buying trend by having big-selling authors sign books for sale in its bricks-and-mortar stores.
  • Small Business Saturday. This was a big day for small and local businesses, by all accounts. Local bookstores took part, and many small business promoted local products and artisans.
  • Cyber Monday is today, a day for shopping online with an eye toward big bargains. Electronics may have been the hot products on Black Friday--it's not just electronics today. So many e-tailers have been promoting "Black Friday week" and "Cyber Monday week" that the deals are stretching over days, or just lasting for an hour or two.
  • Giving Tuesday (logo above right) is a two-year-old "holiday" that's devoted to charitable donations (money, time, goods). National and local charities are hooking their promotions to this day and asking donors to use social media to encourage participation. Last year, giving spiked on Giving Tuesday. Hopefully that pattern will repeat this year.
Consumer behavior is definitely changing as a result of these "holidays:" Consumers are buzzing about them, acting on them, and voting with their wallets. Look at the buzz about Thanksgiving-day store closings, for instance: Many shoppers cheered when stores promoted NO shopping hours on Thanksgiving.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Small Business Saturday 2014

Four years ago, American Express jumpstarted the very first Small Business Saturday--the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend, directly after Black Friday, a day on which customers consciously buy from small and local businesses wherever possible.

Fast-forward to 2014: Small Business Saturday's Facebook page has 3.3 million likes, 38,000 Twitter followers, and its own hashtag (#ShopSmall). American Express continues to offer cardholders financial incentives to buy local on Saturday, November 29th. Word of mouth is strong and positive, and social media marketing is creating a buzz.

Thousands of small businesses across America are gearing up to participate with special promotions and merchandising support. I've seen signage and ads in my local area, and have set aside time for buying from small businesses this Saturday. With the economy improving, 2014 promises to be the best year ever for Small Business Saturday.

Big marketing for shop small!

Friday, November 21, 2014

Intel + Big Bang Star = Smart Brand Marketing

Intel is about to launch a clever campaign featuring Jim Parsons, known for playing the part of super-nerd Sheldon Cooper on The Big Bang Theory since the TV show's debut

Parsons is a well-liked, high-profile sit-com star with Broadway chops. This is congruence of the highest order--pairing a smart guy who plays a smart character with a brand that has a cutting-edge image. Since Parsons has no other big-brand endorsement deals, his involvement with Intel will have more resonance.

Intel's RealSense Technology is part of the company's drive to power the future of computing and mobile devices. Rather than bore audiences with technical stuff, Intel wisely decided to let likeable Jim Parsons be impressed by the amazing things the technology can help users accomplish.

Intel has a lot of experience with "ingredient branding," from its many years of "Intel Inside" marketing to get consumers to ask for PCs with Intel microprocessors. This newest campaign will have all the usual social media components, YouTube and Twitter and beyond. Can't wait to see what else Intel has up its sleeve for Jim Parsons!

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Macy's Woos In-Person and Digital Shoppers

With 20 million visitors every year, Macy's sprawling Herald Square flagship store is a massive (2 million + square feet) retail location. Fifty years ago, this venerable store carried anything and everything a growing New York City family might need. Today, US department stores no longer stock fabric by the yard, needlepoint supplies, or paint-by-number hobby sets, but back then, Macy's had it all and a lot of choices--at a variety of price points from bargain-basement to couture-level!

Now this 34th Street flagship has emerged from a multiyear makeover, shined up, modernized, and remerchandised with an eye toward local/tourist shoppers. This is worth blogging about, because it represents the way merchandising was accomplished before computers.

Decades ago, buyers had offices in the main store and roamed the aisles to observe shopper behavior and ask questions about preferences. With input from department managers, merchandise managers, and store managers, the buyers would then tailor each branch's inventory allotment to the needs and buying patterns of shoppers in the local area. In this case, Macy's flagship is a tourist magnet, attracting shoppers from all over the planet. Therefore, Macy's must consider local shoppers (mid-career men and women, Millennials, families, etc) and the tastes of tourists from Europe, the Americas, Asia, and beyond. In fact, Macy's welcomes international shoppers by hosting a tourist bureau on its mezzanine level and offering a discount to shoppers who show a foreign passport.

Given the sheer size of the Macy's retail empire (nearly $28 billion in annual revenue derived from Macy's and Bloomingdale's stores), localizing merchandising is no small feat. This competitive effort has been going on since 2008, a way to distinguish Macy's from rivals and make the Macy's name represent a meaningful advantage in each local market. But the benefits outweigh the challenges, as the company understands. Having the appropriate mix of brands and products, in sizes and styles that fit local or tourist shoppers, will satisfy shoppers from near and far--and help Macy's top line and bottom line. Not to mention all the digital marketing initiatives undertaken by Macy's in recent years.

Thursday, November 13, 2014

P&G Cuts Brands to Focus on Four Categories

Procter & Gamble's long-term marketing strategy is to focus on its core brands, and divest as many as 100 others that aren't as profitable or don't fit with the categories it wants to dominate: (1) global beauty, (2) global baby, feminine, and family care, (3) global fabric and home care, (4) global health and grooming. Currently, P&G has 25 brands that each ring up more than $1 billion in annual sales worldwide.

Today P&G sold Duracell to Berkshire Hathaway in a complex financial deal. Earlier, it had divested 2 dozen other brands, including fragrances (Naomi Campbell, Iman, Avril Lavigne) and laundry products available in limited geographic markets (Lavasan, Essex, Magia Blanca, Rol, Perla, Neoblanc).

You can follow P&G's strategy announcements here and see P&G's comments on its core strengths (consumer understanding, brand-building, go-to-market capabilities, and innovation) here. What other brands will P&G divest? Stay tuned.

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Crowdsourced Product Ideas = Engaged Customers

Sarah Barmak, writing in Canadian Business posted on Marketing, makes a very important point about crowdsourced product ideas.

You know, like PepsiCo's Frito-Lay "Do Us A Flavor" contest (2014 winner: Kettle Cooked Wasabi Ginger flavor) and Tim Hortons' "Duelling Donuts" vote (2014 winner: Love Reese's to Pieces, shown at right).

The contests draw lots and lots of ideas: Hortons received more than 76,000 entries.

Will these crowdsourced flavors become perennials on grocery shelves? Unlikely. They're new and they're different, which is much of the appeal.

For variety-seeing consumers, they'll be fun to try and talk about. For stores, they'll build traffic and attention. For a limited time.

The real value is in engaging customers, generating excitement, and revealing how and where customers prefer to interact and communicate with brands.

The head of PepsiCo Food Canada explains: "As we evaluated last year’s [Do Us a Flavor] program, we found that consumers want to engage on other channels as well." As a result, PepsiCo expanded voting platforms beyond Facebook to include Instagram, Twitter, even text messaging.

The more platforms, the merrier--more ways to reach out to consumers, more ways to hear from consumers, more brand awareness, more excitement.

Monday, November 10, 2014

Costco's Value Equation and Metrics

The December Consumer Reports has a one-page interview with W. Craig Jelinek, CEO of Costco. With 664+ warehouse stores worldwide, and annual revenues of $110 billion, Costco has earned high marks for providing good quality at great prices (not to mention paying its employees a living wage and providing benefits). The newest Costco will open near South Bend, Indiana, this week--just in time for the holiday shopping season.

The CEO interview confirmed details that Costco has released over the years. First, it limits its merchandise markups. The average is "in the 11% range," Jelinek told Consumer Reports. I've seen estimates of the markup as high as an average of 15% but that's still quite reasonable. Costco understands that members who pay for the privilege of shopping expect tangible value--meaning real cost savings reflected in the price tag. So one of the metrics it holds dear is markup, aiming for an average that fits with the target market's value equation.

Another part of the value equation is quality. Jelinek explained that its leading private label, Kirkland Signature, must have quality equal to or better than a comparable manufacturer's brand--at a price that's 20% or more below the competing item--more metrics. Today, roughly one-fifth of the products sold at Costco are Kirkland Signature. So while customers are happy to find top global brands like Sharp and Michelin, they're also pleased by the value equation of Kirkland Signature.

One more point Jelinek makes in his interview: New products get about 9 to 12 months to prove themselves. If they don't attract a solid following in the product adoption phase--if after introduction, weekly metrics show they don't meet sales projections set in the marketing plan--they're gone.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

What's the Role of Stamp Marketing?

The U.S. Postal Service is working hard to come up to marketing speed. It needs revenue, and it provides direct-to-door delivery at a competitive price. In fact, given the price of postage around the world, U.S. first-class stamps are a relative bargain.

Now the USPS is being criticized for, well, marketing. Specifically, for issuing stamps with particular commercial value, rather than mere commemorative value. In part, the point is to encourage purchasing and in part, to encourage a revival in stamp collecting among a new generation.

In the bottom row left, the Batman stamp that has been a lightning rod for criticism because it represents an ongoing partnership with Warner Bros. and DC Entertainment. In limited edition, it was released at New York Comic Con. Commercial? Definitely, as was a Harry Potter stamp series and other pop-culture stamps.

In the top row right, the Rudolph stamp for 2014. Issued 50 years after the animated Rudolph special hit TV screens, the stamp evokes nostalgia with a commercial angle--and has provoked comments like this one from a former Postmaster General, quoted in Bloomberg Businessweek: "They have really ruined the stamp program. They have prostituted it in an effort to make money."

What is the role of stamp marketing? One former member of the committee that sifts stamp ideas and recommends subjects says the USPS should avoid issuing stamps "with the same profit motives as Big Macs, Slurpees, jeans or neighborhood tattoo parlors."

Given the financial situation of the USPS, stamp marketing must take profitability into account. Yet tradition has a definite place: Last year, the USPS issued a new version of the "Inverted Jenny," a stamp famous for the airplane (the Jenny) being mistakenly printed upside down. The originals are rare and celebrated.

Issuing a new version was more than a way to stimulate purchasing: It also put a smile on the faces of ordinary buyers and collectors alike, because of the back story and the decades of history involved in the Jenny mistake. Reinforcing a positive attitude is certainly a valuable role for stamp marketing.

Saturday, November 1, 2014

Skechers Races toward Higher-Profile Marketing

Skechers, the shoe company, is racing toward higher-profile marketing. It just signed rock star Ringo Starr (the Beatles' drummer, remember?!) to appear in an ad campaign for its Relaxed Fit line of footwear. Other ongoing endorsement deals are with veteran football quarterbacks Joe Montana and Joe Namath and other athletes.  

Earlier this year, Skechers got a huge recognition boost among serious runners when Meb Keflezighi won the Boston Marathon--wearing Skechers shoes, which he endorses. Tomorrow's New York City Marathon may give Skechers the same kind of boost if the social media-savvy Meb Keflezighi races over the finish line first.

In fact, Skechers is going for even more publicity with a limited-edition running shoe released especially to coincide with the NYC Marathon. The supporting campaign includes the #haveafastday hashtag to tie in with the Marathon. Skechers' Twitter account today, on the eve of the race, shows its two elite running endorsers: Meb Keflezighi and Kara Goucher. Same for its YouTube channel.

All this publicity and social media mania can only help Skechers in the heated race for market share, competing against Nike, Adidas, and other big-name performance shoe marketers with mega-buck marketing budgets.

UPDATE: Meb finished fourth in the NYC Marathon, Kara finished fourth among US women (14th overall).

Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Newly Updated List of Marketing Links

Given the huge growth in online retailing, mobile commerce, and related marketing activities, I've added a new section to my List of Marketing Links. You can always find the list by looking for the tab on this blog (see screen shot above).

Currently, the list includes more than 70 links to sources of marketing information, statistics, business trends, and other vital data for marketing planning. Be sure to scroll down to the bottom to see everything.

In addition, the list includes a link to an online Sample Marketing Plan I created and an online glossary of contemporary marketing terms.

Thursday, October 23, 2014

Airline Safety Videos Reinforce Brand Personality

Airlines have distinct brand personalities, and more carriers are reinforcing those images with unique and entertaining on-board safety videos.

The latest is by Air New Zealand, the "Official Airline of Middle-Earth." Here's a link to what the airline calls "the most epic safety video ever." The airline posted it on Youtube yesterday and in 24 hours, the video has attracted 616,000 views. And no wonder: It stars some of the Hobbit stars, including Elijah Wood, and takes the viewer on a journey that crosses New Zealand and enters the realm of elves and other Middle-Earth inhabitants.

Other airlines are using safety videos to reflect and reinforce brand personality--and to put a smile on passengers' faces while providing serious safety information. Virgin America has attracted millions of views for its animated safety video, for instance. 

Considering the intense competition among today's airlines, making safety videos entertaining and brand-related is a good way to give passengers a positive experience while getting ready for takeoff.

Tuesday, October 21, 2014

Hot Holiday Toys 2014

Those "hot holiday toy" lists have been out for weeks. There are some obvious selections (Frozen merchandise) and some not so obvious, ready for gift-givers to browse and buy. Promotions and publicity now--the bigger, the better--will build brand awareness and recognition, even preference and early purchasing, in advance of the holiday shopping season that accelerates in late November.

Toy review site TTPM says: Disney Frozen dolls, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles figures, and Doc McStuffins (at left) will be hot this year, among others.

Walmart says Frozen plus: Air Hogs RC Zero Gravity Laser Racer, Airstorm Firetech Bow (think Hunger Games), Barbie, Hot Wheels, and others, including the Vtech smartwatch (at right) for kids.

Toys 'R' Us toy list includes Legos, Little Live Pets Bird Cage with "live" birds, FurReal Friends toy pets, and Transformers, among others.

And if you're shopping in the UK, Hamleys has the My Friend Cayla doll (which looks things up on Google for your children), Doh Vinci modeling set (a la 3D printing), and the Xeno the Cheeky Interactive Baby Monster (at left).

Amazon categorizes its top holiday picks, including "retro," "Mom picks," "classic brands," and "in the movies." 

Get 'em while they're hot! Or at least while they're in stock.

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Black, white, and green all over: newspaper merchandise

If you've opened the New York Times lately, you know that the "grey lady" has its own merchandise for sale. You can't miss the full-page ads on Sunday, marketing everything from its own photographs to front page reprints to logo-emblazoned T-shirts, caps, and keychains. Other merchandise includes vintage typewriters, baseball memorabilia, and personalized gifts for all ages and special occasions (see wedding gift, above). The Times also markets "journeys" such as small group tours of historic places or areas with special political significance.

With print advertising revenues down and fewer US consumers getting their news primarily from newspapers, merchandise marketing has two benefits for papers: it boosts revenues and it appeals to loyal media brand fans who want to be identified with that paper. NY baseball fans might wear a Yankees or Mets cap, while NY news fans might wear a NY Times cap.

Reader profiles differ from paper to paper, so the merchandise being marketed differs, as well. Here are a few other examples of newspapers marketing merchandise, a trend not limited to US markets:
  • The Denver Post sells photos from its newspaper.
  • The Los Angeles Times markets T-shirts, photos, back issues, and LA-related merchandise like mugs.
  • The Chicago Tribune shop features back issues, photos, T-shirts, and made-in-Chicago merchandise.
  • The UK Guardian newspaper has an online store featuring T-shirts, wallets, and more--including satirical figurines based on political figures.
  • The Sydney Morning Herald offers Australian products like books, art prints, wristwatches, and more.

Monday, October 13, 2014

Vertu's Strategy Tweak: "Understated Luxury"

Remember the original Vertu cell phones, dripping in diamonds and looking like the status symbols that they're meant to be? Vertu has been sold (it used to belong to Nokia) and the new owners have tweaked its strategy and switched technology.

Now that smartphones have taken over, old-style "brick" handsets are out. Vertu's phones have to not just look smart, they have to be smart. The new Vertu wants to be known for "understated luxury" with a high price that puts an exclamation point in exclusivity.

Above, the Vertu Aster, which features a leather case on the outside and inside, Android KitKat OS. Details like Dolby digital sound and three different network connectivity methods (GSM, 3G, 4G) add to the functionality. In ostrich leather, handcrafted by an artisan, the Aster is priced about $9,500. Precious stones are extra.

The CEO says Vertu is "taking a more understated luxury approach to match what the consumer is today...The world has changed in terms of phones and in terms of customers."

Women's Wear Daily observes that Vertu is targeting a younger customer (particularly in emerging markets) with high-end fashion touches. It operates 70 Vertu-only stores worldwide to control the ambiance and service in which its top-end phones are sold.

Thursday, October 9, 2014

Why Retailers Go Bankrupt

CNBC has a slide show with store logos of retailers that have disappeared in the recent past. On the list: Borders, Tower Records, KB Toys, Circuit City, CompUSA, Blockbuster, Woolworth, Mervyn's, Linens 'n Things, Bombay, and Coldwater Creek. The Boston Glove has its own slide show of defunct retailers.

Not on most of these recent lists because they're LONG gone: Kresge, Higbee's, Halle's, Peck & Peck, Gimbels, B. Altman, Loehmann's...the list really does go on and on. Just do an online search and you'll find Wikipedia pages devoted to defunct retailers.

Also see the retailer graveyard at Retailer Graveyard, maintained by Green Light Retail Real Estate Services. Here's a link to the dead department stores, for instance.

Why do retailers go bankrupt? A variety of forces in the marketing environment are at play:
  • The economy
  • Changing consumer tastes
  • Changing shopper behavior
  • Population shifts 
  • Industry consolidation
  • Management issues
  • Financial woes 
  • Technology 
Ecko expanded rapidly and filed for bankruptcy only 21 years after its founding. Coldwater Creek faced changing fashion tastes. Circuit City expanded at too fast a pace and faced intense competitive challenges. Even during the current economic recovery, some retailers may not make it.

Monday, October 6, 2014

Greek Yogurt Marketers Compete in the Streets

Chobani--the entrepreneurial company that almost singlehandedly made Greek yogurt into the most popular yogurt in America--wants to know what consumers like and dislike and how tastes are changing. So it opened a cafe in the trendy SoHo section of Manhattan and now tests new flavors and products there.

The cafe sells food but it also doubles as brand promotion: “Everybody who leaves the cafe says they are more likely to buy our product at the grocery store,” says the head of Chobani's marketing and branding. Chobani is high social: With nearly 1 million Facebook likes and 83,000 Twitter followers, Chobani is staying in touch with consumers for a two-way conversation.

Competitors Yoplait (owned by General Mills) and Dannon (Danone) are countering the Chobani cafe with their own pop-up shops and food trucks in SoHo. Yoplait declared a "taste-off" with its pop-up shop, inviting consumers to come in and taste flavors and compare for three days early this year.

Dannon has put Oikos yogurt food trucks on the road to bring a taste of its Greek yogurt to the streets. Naturally, the Oikos trucks prowled SoHo during the same time as Yoplait's pop-up shop was open and the Chobani cafe was serving.

Look at supermarket shelves, and it's clear Greek yogurt has virtually taken over, a huge change from just a few years ago, when it was a niche business. What's next for yogurt marketing?

Friday, October 3, 2014

Major League Soccer's New Brand Logo

It's a new branding era for Major League Soccer. As the 20th season of the league approaches, it wants to signal the next stage in its North American growth. So the boot and ball are gone, replaced by this striking new brand logo that lends itself to team-by-team adaptation. Here's what the MLS's CMO told Sports Illustrated about this latest version of the brand logo:
The more modern brands of the world don’t need to telegraph a specific category or line of business they’re in. In many cases, they stand for something much bigger. A great example of that is Apple.
Not everyone is enamored of the new logo. A Boston Globe writer says: "... while I don’t have a great sense for design, I’m not sure I even like the new logo. But I do find the switch itself interesting. It conveys that MLS, which is calling the rebranding effort ‘MLS NEXT,’ thinks it’s entering a new era."

I definitely agree--MLS is using this modern brand element to reflect its emergence as an established sports league. No longer a startup that has to explain itself over and over, the MLS of today has big-league players, major media coverage, good audience numbers, and marketing confidence.

In fact, MLS has become so good at marketing the game experience that college football is using it as a model.

Saturday, September 27, 2014

Campbell's Soup Revamps Marketing Recipe

These are difficult times for Campbell's, which is struggling through lower consumption of canned soups and changes in consumer lifestyles and tastes. The company's traditional condensed soups in red-and-white cans may be iconic, but they also may seem old-fashioned to Millennial buyers who seek spicier flavors and either speedier preparation or fresh, home-made meals.

Those accustomed to microwave meals or add-boiling-water noodle soup may not necessarily be interested in other types of soups. And the growing interest in home-made meals--fueled, in part, by the foodie culture, including food and cooking programs, web sites, blogs, and more--is also eroding sales of canned foods. Yet convenience is an important factor: canned soup is shelf-stable, quick and easy to make on the stove or in the microwave.

The Chunky line of soups target men, in particular, which is why Campbell's has a sponsorship relationship with the NFL. Above, a photo of Richard Sherman of the Seattle Seahawks and his mother, who appear in "Mama's Boy" TV commercials for Chunky soup; among other NFL players and their moms who appear in Chunky commercials are Demarcus Ware of the Dallas Cowboys and Todd Heap of the Baltimore Ravens.

Campbell is introducing hundreds of new products each year to find the most appealing and enduring. It's also diversifying its product portfolio through acquisitions, as part of its marketing plan to reverse weak results.

Meanwhile, Campbell of Canada is updating the look of its heat-and-eat soup labels to stand out on the shelf and communicate contents to busy shoppers. The label redesign was based on eye-tracking research and is intended to "sell from the shelf" as part of the marketing plan.

“The number one objective is breaking through and being very distinct at shelf-level and having the consumer be able to either very quickly find the variety they’re looking for, or discover a new variety,” explains the senior director of marketing.

Monday, September 22, 2014

New Product Success: 10 Million Sold in 3 Days

The headline says it all: Apple's new iPhone 6 and 6+ are big, big hits. Although analysts expected high demand, an opening weekend figure of 10 million indicates that Apple has once again correctly identified the sweet spot of consumer interest. This time, the larger screens are a major attraction for iPhone fans--not to mention the status of being among the earliest adopters of this new product.

Although Android is the big market share winner worldwide, Apple's iOS dominates the US market, with a nearly 42% share. New iPhones have caused a frenzy in the past, but this latest product launch eclipses Apple's previous records.

Apple has traditionally shown initiative and power in product launches. Its ability to orchestrate and implement all the details of product development, production, and introduction--including the all-important intro marketing campaign--is a major strength. That doesn't stop rivals from sniping, of course, as Samsung did one day after Apple's highly publicized launch of the iPhones and Apple Watch.

With customers deciding between tablets and phones--and sometimes buying both--the industry is seeing even more innovation and crowding than ever. This final quarter of 2014 will feature a number of competitive smartphone launches, including:
  • Samsung Galaxy Note 4 and Samsung Z
  • Sony Xperia Z3
  • Nexus 6
  • Moto X + 1

Friday, September 19, 2014

Derek Jeter, Legendary Brand Ambassador

Derek Jeter's retirement from the NY Yankees is unlikely to halt his success as a brand ambassador. Jeter has maintained the respect of peers, sponsors, and the public, even as some other star athletes have been embroiled in controversy and scandals. His involvement with brands adds that "halo" of legend, a plus in sports marketing.

One of several tributes to Jeter in his final Major League Baseball season is this stylish commercial from Gatorade. Jeter himself suggested the action and the Frank Sinatra musical accompaniment. There's a print tribute as well.

Nike, another brand endorsed by Jeter, has its own plans for tributes

Whether the Yanks get to the 2014 playoffs or not, Jeter has had a terrific baseball career--and his successful marketing career still has a lot of momentum.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Ranking the Top Hotel Brands

No two brand rankings are exactly alike--as these rankings of top hotel brands clearly show.

This week's Fortune magazine lists the top 5 hotel brands as ranked by a survey conducted among business travelers who are readers of Fortune and Travel + Leisure. Their picks:
  1. Ritz-Carlton
  2. Luxury Collection
  3. Kimpton
  4. Waldorf Astoria Collection
  5. Fairmont 
Travel + Leisure separately ranked the world's top hotel brands earlier in the year this way:
  1. Amanresorts
  2. Oberoi Hotels
  3. One & Only
  4. Four Seasons
  5. Mandarin Oriental
U.S. News & World Report ranked North American hotel brands this way in January:
  1. Park Hyatt, Chicago
  2. Ritz-Carlton, Montreal
  3. Rosewood Hotel Georgia (Vancouver)
  4. Waldorf-Astoria, Chicago
  5. St. Regis Punta Mita (Mexico)
The American Customer Satisfaction Index ranks hotel brands this way as of April:
  1. Ritz-Carlton
  2. J.W. Marriott
  3. Hyatt
  4. Hyatt Place
  5. Westin

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

L'Oreal's Makeup App Offers Virtual Product Trial

There's no end to the number of apps out there and yet L'Oreal recently released Makeup Genius, a free app that helps women try on new beauty looks in private and without paying. 

This solves a big problem for buyers: How to know what makeup will look like without actually buying and trying. This is akin to the sales promotion technique of sampling, except no actual L'Oreal products change hands. 

The app is iPad and iPhone ready, downloadable from the iTunes store, starts with a selfie that you can then use as your base when you apply your choice of L'Oreal makeup products virtually. Another option is to have the app show what you would look like in a preset beauty style (such as "smoky eyes"). 

It has been described as a little like looking into the mirror of your smartphone and seeing yourself with different beauty looks--in effect, a mobile-based "virtual fitting room" for cosmetics. If you like what you see, you can buy through the app or go to a local retailer to pick out products in person. 

The concept is clever and appealing to tech-savvy mobile users. Will L'Oreal's slick app give it a marketing edge in the competitive beauty industry?

Friday, September 12, 2014

Goodbye Traditional iPod, 2001-2014

The product life cycle is very accelerated for tech products, but still it's a surprise and a disappointment that Apple is pulling the plug on its iconic traditional iPod.

My household has purchased 5 in the past 13 years, rejoicing as the profile became slimmer and lighter while storage expanded over the years. At home, at the gym, in the car, out walking, the iPod has been a companion and a convenient way to listen to music, audio books, and podcasts. No subscription fees, just a one-time purchase price and all the audio files I could fit (plus photos and other files). What could be easier?

As so many others have noted, the iPod wasn't the first digital music player. But the click wheel and easy connection to iTunes started a design revolution that had a ripple effect on tech products in many categories.

In the pantheon of must-have trendy gadgets, the white ear buds of the iPod stood out and made a design statement. The TV commercials and print ads were striking and stylish, not to mention entertaining. Often imitated, never duplicated.

No matter what happens with the Apple Watch product launch, the iPod will be missed. Its legacy will live on in the elegance of advertising and design of gadgets, including the Watch, and in the way new product launches are orchestrated throughout the industry.

Sunday, September 7, 2014

Uniqlo's Logo Makes the Front Page

Kei Nishikori is playing in the U.S. Open tennis tournament finals--and that's front page news for his sponsor Uniqlo, the Japan-based clothing retailer that's been expanding worldwide. With the goal of becoming the biggest clothing company on the planet by 2020, Uniqlo's marketing plan includes opening dozens of stores in America and other areas outside its Asian home region.

Uniqlo also sponsors Novak Djokovic--so when they played each other in the semi-final match yesterday, spectators saw Uniqlo's brand logo on the clothing worn by both of these top-notch tennis players. Uniqlo's chairman characterized the contest this way: "It's a dream match."

Above, today's cover photo of Uniqlo's US Facebook page (770,000+ likes). Both of these outstanding athletes are shown in photos all over the newspapers and magazines today, not to mention Web news pages and TV sports news. Uniqlo is reinforcing those images and the positive associations with its very visible red-and-white brand logo.

As of today, Uniqlo lists four names on its list of "Uniqlo Sponsored Athletes" page: golfer Adam Scott, tennis stars Nishikori and Djokovic, and wheelchair tennis star Shingo Kunieda. Watch for more sightings of Uniqlo logos as the brand continues to implement its marketing plan for growth.

Friday, September 5, 2014

Fast and Hot: Marketing Drive-Through Coffee

It's not your imagination: There really are more drive-through coffee places these days.

Not everyone has the time or the lifestyle for the full cafe experience. Just as drive-through purchasing is essential for the fast-food industry, it's increasingly a key element in the world of coffee. Taste is very important, but so is convenience and the ability to get a good cup o'joe when you're in too much of a hurry to unsnap your seat belt.

Seattle's Best has been implementing drive-through-only coffee locations since 2012. Independents are also marketing drive-through coffee, with various points of differentiation, ranging from bikini-clad baristas to stand-alone kiosks featuring--of all things--a goat. (That's Crazy Mocha in the photo above, opening its newest drive-through in the Pittsburgh area.) 

Starbucks has noticed the preference for speed and convenience, and many of its stores already have drive-through lanes. Now the chain is about to open smaller, limited-menu Starbucks Express stores, catering to commuters and anyone else who wants a latte or espresso hot and in a hurry.

Panera Bread is also adding drive-throughs for coffee and more, which should allow it to attract customers at all hours, not just the main meal periods. 

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

CVS's Marketing Plan for Branding and Positioning

The drug-store chain CVS announced seven months ago that it would ban cigarette sales in its 7,600+ stores as of October. The goal is to strengthen the brand's positioning on the core benefit of helping consumers be healthy. 

As part of its marketing plan for branding and positioning, CVS began removing tobacco products from its stores today, a month ahead of schedule. This attracted a lot of media attention because the retailer also changed its company name to CVS Health and initiated a smoking cessation campaign. According to the CEO, "The contradiction of selling tobacco was becoming a growing obstacle to playing a bigger role in health care delivery."

The company is promoting the results of a new CVS study showing that removing tobacco products from its stores leads some percentage of shoppers to kick the smoking habit altogether.

Its marketing plan calls for opening hundreds of new MinuteClinic in-store health facilities within three years, bringing shoppers in when a child has an earache or for other minor medical needs. Positioning CVS as the go-to brand for health could also further enhance its ability to expand private-label products, which typically yield higher margins than non-store brands.

The CVS move to drop tobacco this week comes as the media world is gearing up for Stand Up to Cancer on Friday night, a nationwide entertainment industry initiative to raise money for cancer research.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Remember Store Credit Cards and Cash?

Credit cards remain a highly popular payment method in America. Thirty years ago, nearly every major retailer in America had its own proprietary charge card, usually self-funded but sometimes backed by a third party such as General Electric or Citicorp. Many consumers had wallets filled with cards from Sears and other mainstream retailers, happy to be billed once a month for purchases made all month--and happy to get catalogs and special offers only for cardholders.
About that time, MasterCard (originally Master Charge) and Visa began charging into the department store industry, seeking to be accepted at the point of sale. Looking at an old issue of Mart magazine, as of mid-1977, 32 out of the top 100 U.S. department stores honored MasterCard and Visa, compared with only nine of the top 100 department stores honoring the bank cards in 1974.

Fast-forward to the 21st century. Very few department and specialty stores operate their own credit programs these days. Most have sold their receivables to a third party, and accept all kinds of plastic at the point of sale. For example, Synchrony (formerly part of General Electric) provides private-label credit services to Walmart, JC Penney, and other retailers. Citi Retail Services provides private-label credit services to Staples, Office Max, Best Buy, and other stores.

Cash is still around, but some consumers prefer plastic or mobile payments. According to a new survey, Millennials are more inclined toward digital payments for small purchases, while Boomers will use old-fashioned cash for payments under $5. Gadgets like Square and Amazon's new Local Register make it easy for small businesses to quickly authorize card payments via mobile, so why carry cash?

Consumers know about digital wallets (Google Wallet, PayPal, Apple Passbook) but actual usage is still relatively low, according to research. Apps are helping to fuel mobile payments. Will your wallet have any credit cards by 2020? Will you even be carrying a wallet with dollar bills and coins?

Friday, August 22, 2014

Instant Cameras in the Digital Age?

A few years ago, a South Korean soap opera ignited a fad for cute, compact instant-photo cameras made by FujiFilm. The Cheki has been on the market since 1998, and after a strong start, sales plateaued as smart phones and tablets took center stage.

Then the soap opera featured characters using the handheld camera, which prints business-card-size photos in moments, and celebrity-watching teens took notice and began buying. And yes, the camera requires film--a novelty in itself (and another way to gain revenue month after month once consumers buy the camera).

The Cheki (and its later sibling, the Instax Mini) have been marketed through Walmart, Amazon, and other US retail outlets. Cute, stylish, unusual, and attention-getting. FujiFilm itself has been savvy in transitioning strategy for the digital age, diversifying beyond film products and getting experience in electronic technologies.

Polaroid pioneered the instant camera market...then suffered a series of financial setbacks as the photo industry evolved and digital alternatives became affordable and popular. The Polaroid brand lives on, with a range of imaging products that includes instant cameras and, brand-new, a lightweight Cube video cam made specifically for sports activities. So a brand that made its name in film cameras has wound up with film and digital imaging equipment.

Sunday, August 17, 2014

New Life for Lassie the Iconic Brand

Lassie became part of mainstream pop culture in the early 1940s, when the movie Lassie, Come Home was a big box-office hit, based on the popular Saturday Evening Post story.

After a profitable film career, Lassie arrived on the little screen as a 1950s TV series that lasted for nearly 20 years--and episodes may still be playing in reruns somewhere on the planet. Descendants of the original "Lassie" (real name: Pal) have portrayed the character for decades. Because Lassie is trademarked, any dog in the role must, legally, have four white paws and a sable-brown body, a white blaze atop the nose, and a lush collar of white fur.

These days, Lassie the iconic brand is looking for new life. Owned since 2012 by DreamWorks Animation, Lassie has been making the rounds of media outlets to attract attention and keep the brand in the public eye, even if this is "the world's most famous dog."

According to research commissioned by DreamWorks, Lassie has very high brand recognition among US consumers and is associated with attributes like loyalty. Nielsen's research shows that 70% of the respondents to a survey in China recognized the Lassie brand (iconic, indeed).

The previous owner of the Lassie brand had recent licensing deals with pet-food manufacturers and dog accessory marketers. But is Lassie the 21st-century brand relevant in a digital world where LOL Cats take center stage? Can Lassie bring home the big bucks for DreamWorks in the form of merchandising and licensing? Stay tuned.

Thursday, August 14, 2014

Entrepreneurs Run with Sneakerization

Entrepreneurial marketers like Bucketfeet and Lechal are taking advantage of the ongoing trend toward sneakerization, the development of hundreds of niche markets within a particular product category. The obvious example is sneakers, which used to be canvas shoes with rubber soles, usually equipped with laces. If you were lucky, you had a (limited) choice of colors.

Today, of course, there's no such thing as a prototypical sneaker. Thanks to sneakerization, there are shoes for every sport, activity, season, age, personality, lifestyle, climate, you name it.

Bucketfeet shows sneakerization in action for the niche of people who want to wear art on their feet. The company recruits artists from around the world and pays them royalties based on sales of sneakers bearing their art.

Bucketfeet shoes are now in Nordstrom as well as being sold directly to customers online from the Bucketfeet site.

Buzz is important for young brands, and Bucketfeet is active on Pinterest, among other social media networks. The brand's slogan is "We believe art is for everyone." But the shoes also have functional benefits that appeal to buyers, as shown at left.

Lechal is taking a different approach. It's segmenting the market by technology involvement. Lechal sneakers are designed with Bluetooth built in so wearers can track their activity and be guided on foot to walking destinations via data from Google Maps.

Originally designed for visually-impaired wearers, Lechal shoes (the brand means "let's go") appeal to the wearer's sense of design and personality as much as to his or her preference for cutting-edge tech gadgetry. Navigation, fitness tracking, fashion--all in one shoe.

Sunday, August 10, 2014

Boeing vs. Airbus: Whose Strategic Vision Is Becoming Reality?


Eight years ago, I wrote my first-ever blog post, "The Future, According to Boeing and Airbus." My point was that the two competing jet manufacturers had entirely different views of what air travel would become in the future, and those visions fueled their product planning and marketing strategy. At the time, I believed Boeing's prediction that passengers would prefer to fly regional jets, point-to-point, rather than Airbus's vision of jumbo jets flying hub-to-hub.

Today's New York Times has a long article about just this topic. The marketing chief for Airbus's jumbo A380 is quoted as saying: “The A380 is not made for every route, but it is ideal for high-traffic routes, high-volume routes that are congested, or where there are flying constraints.” Airbus designed its jumbo jet specifically for a vision of the future in which airlines would fly large groups of passengers from one hub city to another, and then the passengers would fly on smaller planes to their final destinations.

Unfortunately for Airbus, that future has not become a reality. The company's biggest A380 airline customer, Emirates, has invested heavily in these jumbo jets for hub-to-hub flights. Its 380s have luxury touches that appeal to affluent business and first-class passengers. Very few other airlines have followed the Emirates model, however, in part because their customer base is different and in part because airports must make some modifications to welcome the A380.

Meanwhile, Boeing's vision of point-to-point flights has become the reality for many airlines and in many parts of the world, and that's the vision it followed when originally designing the 787 and tweaking the 777. The 777 has attracted 245 orders already in 2014.

Still, the 787 Dreamliner has had a bumpy launch, with high-profile battery problems and  reliability reportedly at only about 98%, compared with more than 99% for the well-established 777.

What next for the Airbus A380 and Boeing 787?

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

What's Next for Off-Price Retailing?

Loehmann's, one of the original off-price retailers, went bankrupt last year and its logo has disappeared from shopping centers everywhere. In its heyday, New York-based Loehmann's was the go-to store for high fashion at low prices, and an early proponent of bullpen dressing rooms, which keep costs low so prices can be low. Syms, another New York area off-price retailer, is also gone. Hit or Miss, an early Massachusetts-based off-pricer, is long gone.

But T.J. Maxx is not only alive, it's thriving. It's survived tough economic times and tough competition. Beth Kowitt, writing in Fortune's latest issue, asks the question: Is T.J. Maxx the best retail store in the land?

Kowitt makes a very convincing case, and I agree with the 7 key points she lists:
  1. Shoppers are looking for "new" merchandise, not "sale" merchandise. Yes. This is a major reason for the success of Costco, Zara, and other strong retailers, not just T.J. Maxx. Store traffic is vital, and shoppers enjoy the hunt, so new inventory has to be added every few days to keep the hunt going.
  2. Give shoppers treasure to hunt for. Costco is famous for this. T.J. Maxx also stocks some special products, but not in the same product category as Costco.
  3. Know what to buy and buy advantageously. This is what made Loehmann's reputation in decades past: Its buyers knew what to offer and when to make an offer to acquire special merchandise for the treasure hunt. Fast-forward to the 21st century: T.J. Maxx has its buyers constantly searching the marketplace for the next opportune buy.
  4. Get close to suppliers and order merchandise for yourself. No, there's not enough off-price merchandise to go around. That's what the other off-price retailers discovered as they tried to expand to keep up with shopper demand. T.J. Maxx wisely makes buys for inventory purposes, not just during mid-season or off-season opportunities.
  5. Make big buys. Today's apparel manufacturers appreciate the financial possibilities of purchases made by off-price retailers. Money talks, and T.J. Maxx has the money to make important buys (see #3 and #4).
  6. Build supplier relationships. Knowing that shoppers covet brands (see #2), T.J. Maxx will work with suppliers. Of course price is carefully negotiated, but without good supplier relationships, no retailer can accomplish key points #2 and #4.
  7. Give the leadership reins to a real retailer. T.J. Maxx's CEO, Carol Meyrowitz, is a seasoned retailer with the know-how and the experience to keep the company moving forward day after day, no matter what happens to the economy and the competition.
My big question: What will T.J. Maxx do as more shoppers move to mobile and digital shopping? Part of the buzz of an off-price chain depends on bringing shoppers back to the stores week after week in the hunt for "new" things at low prices (see key point #1) and treasures (point #2). Off-price does not operate using the same retail model as Gilt Groupe, for instance. Sometimes shoppers just have to go to the store and walk the aisles in search of that special bargain.

T.J. Maxx is definitely social: It has more than 2.2 million FB likes and 28,000 Pinterest followers. And the parent company has begun addressing online retailing in some divisions. What's next?