Friday, January 31, 2014

LEGO Movie: Instant Brand Recognition

Everybody knows LEGO, right? The plastic bricks are ubiquitous, and have high brand recognition by parents, children, and geeks who replicate famous landmarks in LEGOs.

LEGO is seemingly everywhere. Millions of visitors go to LEGOLand theme parks every year. In major malls, consumers can visit LEGOLand Discovery Centers (big retail stores) to meet Master Model Builders, gawk at the latest fantastic creations, and buy LEGO products.

Despite some serious financial difficulties in 2004, LEGO is stronger than ever, thanks in large part to its ties with brand franchises like Star Wars, Harry Potter, and Indiana Jones. Another key ingredient is innovation. Even during the recession, parents bought LEGOs.

These days, nearly 5 million people are members of the official LEGO club, receiving magazines, notices of new products, and more. Although LEGO has traditionally targeted boys, it is now targeting girls with LEGOs Friends.

On February 7, LEGO's first-ever Hollywood movie will be released. You can see the animated movie's official trailer here, right on the LEGO website. LEGO had to be persuaded to jump on the movie bandwagon, but it will not only put its marketing might behind the movie, it will also share in the profits.

The new movie has lots of promotional initiatives supporting it, including a Google Chrome release of a virtual brick-building activity co-branded with LEGO. Visit the movie's Facebook page (334,000 likes) and see posts leading up to the premiere.

With the instant brand recognition of LEGO, and a cast of vocal talents like Will Ferrell, Morgan Freeman, Elizabeth Banks, and Will Arnett, the movie is very likely to enjoy a big opening weekend and a solid run in theaters.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Calling All Novelty-Seekers: Crest Wants You to Be Adventurous

At the dawn of the Millennial Age, a marketing and retailing expert at NYU, Elizabeth Hirschman, wrote a paper called Innovativeness, Novelty Seeking, and Consumer Creativity. One element connecting all three behaviors is how quickly and enthusiastically consumers embrace new products. Entire markets have been segmented using the variable of novelty-seeking--tourism, for example.
Now Procter & Gamble is targeting novelty-seekers--consumers who want to experience the new new thing--with its line of dessert-flavored toothpastes. P&G calls this target market "experiential consumers."

Above, Crest's photo of the three new flavors, including Be Adventurous: Mint Chocolate Trek, Be Inspired: Vanilla Mint Spark, and Be Dynamic: Lime Spearmint Zest. You can follow the adventure at Crest's "Be" site here.

No "plain vanilla" flavors in this line: The names are bold, playful, evocative of a flavor adventure (or inspiration or dynamic experience) every time users brush their teeth. And after years of using mint, bubble gum, or cinnamon toothpaste, maybe Millennials, in particular, are ready for some novelty and adventure.

Business Week wonders whether this is innovation or desperation. The Wall Street Journal notes that the chocolate flavor is an attention-getter, especially for consumers with a sweet tooth. And judging by the widespread media attention to these new flavors, the Journal is probably right. Check out Crest's Facebook page, which is already set up to support the new product introduction (with coupons and more).

Consumers will vote with their wallets. I'm guessing that novelty-seekers will try their favorite flavor once. After that? Well, they're novelty-seekers for a reason.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

"The Everything Store" Builds on Metrics

Amazon has famously focused on customers throughout its meteoric rise. How much do they buy? How much does it cost to acquire one? How much more do Prime customers buy? Above, founder Jeff Bezos shows this customer focus and bias for long-term strategy in his 1997 letter to shareholders.

Metrics help Amazon measure short-term progress toward long-term success. Writer Brad Stone traces the pioneering company's path from startup to today in his excellent book, The Everything Store: Jeff Bezos and the Age of Amazon. In one section, he discusses how Amazon used metrics to clean up the chaos in its warehouses (aka distribution centers).

In a nutshell, Stone says that Amazon growing at an incredible, unprecedented rate as the millennium came to an end. Its warehouses could barely keep up with the diversity and volume of orders. Just in time, an Amazon exec supervised the development of new systems to tame the chaos that threatened to derail Amazon's ability to ship the right products to the right customers, on time. Among the metrics he and his managers used to manage and monitor performance in fulfillment centers were:
  • Number of shipments of merchandise received
  • Number of customer orders shipped
  • Per-unit cost of packing and shipping each item
  • How many shipments were backlogged
  • How many trucks were outside each center, ready to ferry shipments to carriers
These metrics helped Amazon bring its fulfillment centers under control and prepare for intense competition and future growth. Even today, with announcements such as the possibility of delivery by drone and new technology for "anticipatory shipping," Amazon is innovating at a rate that nimble startups would envy.

Stone also lists "Jeff's reading list," books that Bezos and his team read as they manage the sprawling Amazon business. One is Data-Driven Marketing: The 15 Metrics Everyone in Marketing Should Know. Written by Mark Jeffery, on the faculty of the Kellogg School of Management, this book covers essential metrics such as:
  • Brand awareness
  • Customer churn
  • Internal rate of return
  • Customer lifetime value
  • "Bounce rate" 
  • Word-of-mouth social media reach
What new metrics will Amazon use as it pursues relentless growth and innovation in the coming years?

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Super Bowl Ad Preview 2014

Bruce Horowitz at USA Today observes that nostalgia is a theme of many Super Bowl ads this year. He's right--but it's nothing new. Remember the little kid in a Darth Vader costume in that popular VW ad two years ago? How about those sentimental favorites, the Clydesdales, frequent Bowl visitors? Nostalgia rules, especially when advertisers are targeting an audience of 100 million viewers.

Sentimental ads rule as well: The Budweiser "Puppy Love" commercial has attracted more than 23 million views with three days to go until it officially airs on Super Bowl Sunday.

Before the Seahawks meet the Broncos in New Jersey (weather will be as big a news item as the pregame media blitz, IMHO), here are a few of the Super Bowl advertisers for 2014. Many teasers and ads are already on YouTube and on media outlets, building buzz so viewers will be excited to watch during the Big Game.
  • Volkswagen is nostalgic for Baywatch and more.
  • Chobani is thinking "bears," but not teddy bears.
  • Axe says: "Make love, not war."
  • Jaguar is making its Bowl debut with some dapper villains.
  • Heinz, now under new ownership, is splashing out with its second Bowl ad ever.
And don't forget Skittles, the confetti of choice for rewarding the Seahawk's Marshawn Lynch. No Bowl ads for Skittles needed: It will receive lots of free publicity on Super Bowl Sunday, courtesy of Lynch's well-known Skittles sweet tooth.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Marketing 21st Century Coloring Books

Really Big Coloring Books has hit upon a formula for marketing (and financial) success in the 21st century world of printed coloring books. Founder Wayne Bell tells Business Week: "It's about America. It's not about us."

In other words: Pick up on cultural themes or trends that affect or interest the target market, and design products around those themes.

In the case of Really Big Coloring Books, this meant jumping on a new opportunity that presented itself in 2008. During the presidential race between Barack Obama and John McCain, the publisher noticed that parents and teachers were searching its website for Obama coloring books.

This gave Bell a new product idea. He responded with his first book based on this cultural trend, printed in time for the inauguration: President Obama 2008, A Coloring & Activity Book.

The Obama coloring book sold so well that Bell has added more than a dozen books since, spanning the political and cultural spectrum. The latest is the Amazon best-seller Ted Cruz to the Future, a coloring book that depicts Senator Cruz's stands on Constitutional issues. The product description explains: RBCB created this comic coloring and activity book not as an endorsement of Sen. Ted Cruz but rather as an educational tool to be used in schools and perhaps as a handout for groups, clubs and organizations.

The company has released a number of coloring books to teach children about government, the Constitution, and major issues facing America today, including the U.S. Constitution Book shown above. It has also published Being Gay Is Okay, We Shall Never Forget 9/11, The Libertarian Party, and The Democratic Party. Whether adults buy these coloring books for educational purposes or as ironic gag gifts, Really Big Coloring Books is profiting from its savvy marketing. This "cultural" product line is growing and so are revenues.

Monday, January 13, 2014

What's New in New Product Development

It's a new year, which means new products. A 1986 Harvard Business Review article talked about the "New New Product Development Game"--referring to the evolution from a sequential, linear product development process to a series of broadly overlapping steps that speed up the process and avoid bottlenecks.

Nearly 30 years later, many marketers have moved away from deliberately linear processes to more flexible, frequent iterations that allow for innovation ASAP. The graphic at left, for instance, shows agile development, which keeps the innovations coming in almost continuous iterations. Cycle time matters.

For products that are delivered in the cloud, this is especially important. No customer wants to wait for the latest and greatest, especially in the world of technology, where product life cycles may be measured in months rather than years.

Of course, if you're buying tax preparation software, you'll look carefully at the release date of the products under consideration. But if you're buying laundry detergent, does it really matter whether you've got the latest version or last year's formulation?

Now car and truck manufacturers are moving to staggered introductions rather than the rigid model-year launches that were standard just a few years ago. Not all fleet operators are pleased, however, because this complicates their purchase planning process.

New products continue to be released at a fast and furious rate. Even with the changes in PCs, tablets, and smartphones, new electronics gadgets are flooding the market, vying to be the new new thing and perhaps the next standard. Fitness bands. Smartwatches (remember calculator watches?) New food products are crowding grocery shelves, as usual. Television shows are introduced yearround, not only in the fall, which was the traditional time for new shows.

Which new products will succeed? Which will fail? Which will be presold with buzz before they even hit the market?

Monday, January 6, 2014

Reputation and the Bottom Line

Reputation can make a BIG difference to a marketer's bottom line. What makes or breaks a retailer's reputation? Employee attitude...customer satisfaction...price and product for local communities...sustainability...and delivering on promises.

Costco is a great example:
  • "Costco CEO Leads the Happiest, Cheapest Company in the World," was Bloomberg Businessweek's cover story in June, 2013. Its employees are well paid, they have good benefits, and they're highly motivated to help shoppers. Markups are reasonable, so customers feel prices are fair. And of course, the "treasure hunt" aspect of Costco's merchandise assortment adds to the retailer's appeal.
  • "Thinking Outside the (Big) Box," a New York Times article, quoted Professor Zeynep Ton saying that employees "are not merely a cost; they can be a source of profit--a major one." Better-paid, well-trained employees don't just help customers, they're committed to supporting their retailer employers' goals, which is what happens at Costco.
  • "Costco Rides into Town on Reputation," said a headline from the Sioux Falls Business Journal in the fall. The article explained that Costco focuses on positive relationships with members (shoppers) and employees. Local residents eagerly awaited this new store opening.
Employees are a major stakeholder group, and if they're satisfied and dedicated, they are in a much better position to satisfy customers. For Costco, this has translated into higher sales and profits, year after year. Reputation has definitely added to Costco's bottom line!

Friday, January 3, 2014

Businesses That View Competitors as Stakeholders

Are competitors also stakeholders? In my previous posts, I've answered yes, because competitors both influence and are influenced by the organization's actions and decisions.

Now, here's why four big global businesses view competitors as stakeholders--in their own words.
Pirelli's stakeholders and dimensions of value
  • Petrobras, a major Brazilian-based energy company, definitely counts competitors among its stakeholders. Its reasoning: "Competitors are considered stakeholders because of the mutual influences among the parties, a flow that is critical to business, to the economy, and to society. In a few scenarios, competitors can even be business partners.
  • Pirelli, the tire company, also views competitors as stakeholders, "because improved customer service and market position depend on fair competition." In other words, consumers interact with Pirelli in the context of other industry players. Above is Pirelli's graphic depiction of the dimensions of value, including the influence of competitors.
  • Walmart, Earth's biggest retailer, sees competitors as stakeholders, at least as far as sustainability initiatives are concerned: "We actively support industry efforts to drive sustainability in consumer goods supply chains. These efforts, like The Sustainability Consortium, Retail Industry Leaders Association and Consumer Goods Forum, allow us to collaborate with and engage our suppliers and competitors in industry-wide sustainability initiatives."
  • Telecom Italia has an entire web page devoted to explaining its relations with competitors. The corporation's business entities "promote and participate in initiatives and projects with competitors, as well as in technical round tables and activities organized by trade associations," in the interest of fair business dealings, consumers, and everyone involved.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Social Media's 2,000 Year History: "Writing on the Wall"

After listening to an interview with Tom Standage on a podcast of To the Best of Our Knowledge, I quickly picked up his book, Writing on the Wall.

Standage makes the important but often overlooked point that social media is nothing new: "Our brains were literally made for social networking," he writes.

Thousands of years ago, storytelling and oral tradition allowed information to pass from person to person and generation to generation. More recently, written language brought the rise of letters (on stone, in wax, on papyrus, as graffiti) and "news letters," voluminous letters summarizing local news and gossip for readers far and wide.

Then came the game-changing development of the printing press, which Standage notes became the catalyst for viral sharing of controversial or inspiring messages among even larger audiences. Martin Luther's list of 95 theses, tacked to the church door, was copied and printed and copied and printed throughout the town, the country, and beyond. Within four weeks, Luther's theses were being read all over Europe--a viral message with unexpectedly dramatic consequences.

Another great example of non-electronic social networking is Tom Paine's Common Sense, which went viral through repeated reprinting within the 13 colonies and fired up the colonists and the troops for the American Revolution.

Over the years, mass media like newspapers, radio, and television have also played influential roles as social media. Once ARPANET was created, however, electronic networks became the focal point of social media as we know it.

My only gripe about the book is the tiny font. Otherwise, Writing on the Wall is a fascinating read and provides insightful perspective on the ever-evolving continuum of social media.