Monday, April 28, 2014

Product Life Cycle: Fitness Tracking Bands

The concept of product life cycle suggests that after a product or category is developed and introduced, it typically passes through a series of stages in the marketplace: growth, maturity, and decline. Revenue and profit increase during introduction and maturity, then peak and decline as sales slow. Competition is extremely fierce in the maturity stage, as marketers battle for sales in an increasingly saturated market.

This holds true in the traditional product life cycle of television sets, for instance: They were commercialized in the 1940s and by the 1990s, nearly every household in America possessed one or more TVs. To slow decline and attract buyers, TV marketers improve picture clarity, reduce footprint, and make other changes that encourage current TV owners to replace their current models. Of course, today's mobile devices are also cannibalizing TV sales, because on-the-go viewers often watch programming anywhere but in their living rooms. As a result, competition in the maturity stage comes from TVs as well as from other digital devices that were once outside the TV category.

Tech products tend to have increasingly compressed life cycles: the product (or category) moves through these stages very quickly, mainly because new innovations make older products obsolete or redundant. This was the case with the personal digital assistant (PDA), which came and went in fairly short order. The Palm--the prototypical handheld digital organizer--was introduced in 1996. Fifteen years later, the brand was gone, as was the product category, replaced by multifunction cell phones.

What about fitness tracking bands? Nike, one of the pioneers with its 2012 launch of the FuelBand, just announced it will refocus on the software side of fitness tracking, leaving the hardware of tracking bands to other competitors.

With so many bands available--and smartwatches and other devices trying to siphon off sales--Nike seems to have concluded that the category lacked sufficient long-term profit opportunity. The market isn't yet saturated, and new bands attract celebrity and media attention, but the category may have peaked anyway, if Nike's decisions are any indication.

Are fitness tracking bands in the maturity stage of the product life cycle barely two years after entering the marketplace?

Friday, April 25, 2014

Do You Know Your SWOT?

SWOT analysis is one of the most basic--and useful--evaluations you can undertake in preparing and implementing a marketing plan. The basic SWOT grid looks like this:

Strengths and weaknesses generally vary from company to company. For instance, Ford's improved financial situation proved to be a strength during the recent recession, when many competitors were weakened and some needed bailouts. Today, the U.S. car companies are using their strengths to address opportunities such as improving fuel efficiency and selling into global markets.

As another example, Apple's expertise in product design and innovation is a definite strength in the tech world, where me-too products are all too common. Now Samsung, long known for its efficiencies and quality, is looking to make product innovation into a competitive strength.

What about opportunities and threats, both current and projected? Analyze opportunities in terms of how you can apply your strengths and exploit rivals' weaknesses to achieve goals such as growth or market share. And defend against threats by addressing your weaknesses, using your strengths, and building on your rivals' weaknesses.

Another important point: strengths and weaknesses are dynamic, not static--so you must update your analysis of your own capabilities and those of your competitors. Same with opportunities and threats, which may emerge and evolve at any time.

One of my 2013 posts identifies four ways you can learn from your competitors:
  1. Understanding what makes your rivals so successful.
  2. Identifying their weaknesses and their strengths.
  3. Finding out how and why their resources and strategies give them momentum.
  4. Adapt or fine-tune your strategies and tactics based on a deeper understanding of your competitors.
To see a brief SWOT analysis in context, take a look at the sample marketing plan from my latest Marketing Plan Handbook, available online here.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Happy 44th Earth Day!

April 22 is Earth Day, and the US Environmental Protection Agency is encouraging social media interaction with an #actonclimate hashtag to identify what people are doing to address sustainability.

Google has a series of animated Doodles for Earth Day, showing a hummingbird and two flowers (or other animals). It's also promoting the hashtag #MyBeautifulEarth for sharing photos of our planet.

National Geographic recounts the history of Earth Day here, noting that an estimated one billion people worldwide will mark the day today. In 1970, Earth Day began as a "teach in" protest, and by the end of that year, the EPA had been established to work toward environmental protection.

Today's school children have grown up with the idea of social responsibility through environmental protection. Let's think green every day, not just on April 22.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Happy 50th Birthday to the Mustang

Fifty years ago, Ford celebrated the debut of its sporty, soon-to-be iconic "pony" car with a publicity stunt that's being replicated for the Mustang's 50th birthday: It disassembled a Mustang and reassembled it on top of the Empire State Building in midtown Manhattan. This year's limited-edition 2015 Mustang will be on view for one week only.

The Mustang's birthday is being celebrated coast to coast in automotive circles and in pop culture. Lee Iacocca originally championed the Mustang at Ford and the car became an instant hit, far outstripping sales forecasts. It inspired pop songs and car envy among young and old.

It also touched off a wave of pony car introductions and more publicity gimmicks tied to the New York's World's Fair of 1964-5. As recapped in a recent New York Times story, the big car companies used the World's Fair as a launching pad, trying to attract attention and stand out among the pavilions and crowds. 

Now Ford is harnessing the power of social media and word of mouth to give Mustang a big birthday boost, with a virtual birthday card, Facebook posts (nearly 6.5 million likes), Twitter posts (177,000 followers), a blog, and more. Happy birthday, Mustang!

Thursday, April 17, 2014

The New Era of Catalog Marketing

Think printed catalogs are so last century? Not so! It's not just catalog-driven companies like IKEA and L.L. Bean that stubbornly refuse to drop print--many marketers rely on the multichannel, complementary nature of printed catalogs and online shopping to involve customers and encourage browsing and buying. In fact, when L.L. Bean cut back on mailing catalogs, sales suffered.

A recent Wall Street Journal article points out that some online marketers have expanded into catalogs to take advantage of this complementary effect. Bonobos, once an online-only marketer of mens wear, tested catalogs last year. The VP-marketing explains that "we're constantly testing new channels—even ones that may be old to others."

Originally a web-only business, Bonobos branched out into retail stores with personalized sales attention but no inventory--customers try on clothing and order directly at the store. Then it added Nordstrom as a distribution partner, putting Bonobos products into dozens of the upscale retailer's units from coast to coast.

The catalog strategy enhances the multichannel effect and adds to Bonobos' results by allowing customers to choose their shopping method. New Bonobos customers spend one and a half times as much when they receive a catalog first, compared with consumers who don't receive a catalog before clicking on the website. Naturally, Bonobos is highly social, with 355,000+ Facebook followers, plus active Tumblr posts and other social media involvement. The company even has specialists known as Bonobos Ninjas to expedite customer service via Twitter.

What happens to catalogs as postage rates rise? Some are trimming size, but remaining active in catalog marketing because of the benefits of putting full-color photos and detailed product descriptions in front of customers via mail.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Google Think Insights for Marketing

Big Thinkers. Compelling Data. Creative Juice. Put Google research and insight behind your thinking. 
Above, the intro to the "About" page on Google Think Insights. This interesting Google site posts analyses and infographics explaining data trends of interest for marketing purposes. Just 13 months old, Google Think Insights was created with advertisers and ad agencies in mind.

The site even has a separate page with ideas for four key marketing objectives: (1) build awareness, (2) drive sales, (3) grow loyalty and retention, and (4) influence consideration. Another useful feature is the industry-specific listing of creative insights for 13 different industries, including automotive, B2B, and of course, tech.

One recent post caught my eye--a report on what March Madness 2014 means for marketers. (Go Huskies and Lady Huskies!) The infographic compares online search patterns from March, 2013 and March, 2014, including searches for basketball teams and brackets, mobile search activity, and Youtube views of basketball content. For more data and insights, check Think Insights.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Starting a Buzz about Tokyo Bento

Toridoll, a Japanese restaurant company based in Kobe, has just opened its first Tokyo Bento restaurant in Gardena, California, via its U.S. subsidiary, Dream Dining. The menu features bento-style teriyaki dishes updated with contemporary touches like international dipping sauces (Peruvian Salsa, for one). The idea is to offer a quick, complete meal in one container (a takeout version of the traditional lacquered bento box). The bento concept also differentiates Tokyo Bento from competitors in the ethnic and casual dining markets.

Of course social media such as Facebook are key elements in Tokyo Bento's marketing, presumably for budget reasons and to enhance that sense of discovery when early adopters try something new and novel. Positive word of mouth is a very powerful marketing tool for a new venture, particularly in the restaurant business, because consumers generally put a lot of weight on recommendations by friends and colleagues. And social media can accelerate the buzz, with posts about Tokyo Bento's opening and the comments of consumers who've tasted its food.

Late in February, the company posted its first Facebook message and kept up a steady stream of photos, news, and coupons to build anticipation ahead of the official opening. Similarly, its Instagram feed showed photos of the restaurant in various stages of completion and then photos of customers enjoying their bento meals. The Twitter feed is still reminding followers of special promotions that take the financial risk out of trying a new restaurant.

Toridoll has ambitious plans for Tokyo Bento, projecting 100 additional U.S. locations within three years and 300 within five years, thanks to franchising. Meanwhile, the restaurant's U.S. website invites consumers to join the mailing list and be informed about new locations and promotions. Can Tokyo Bento successfully translate a differentiated restaurant experience and social media buzz into long-term California success?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Tim Hortons Brews Big Marketing Plans

A coffee-and-donut legend across Canada, Tim Hortons has been working hard since 1985 to gain a loyal following in US markets. As of mid-2013, it had more than 800 franchised outlets in America, compared with 3,600 franchised outlets in Canada.

Now that the restaurant company is about to turn 50 in May, it's brewing up bigger marketing plans for large-scale expansion on both sides of the border. By 2018, Tim Horton franchisees will open 100 stores in Youngstown, Ohio, Fort Wayne, Ind., Fargo and Minot, N.D., and St. Louis, part of the company's goal of having 300 new American stores and ringing up $50 million in profit from US operations within five years.

In Canada, Tim's franchisees will open 500 new stores by 2018, including many that are not traditional retail establishments. “We’ve come to the end of building new restaurants as we’ve known it in the past,” the CEO recently told the Globe and Mail. Instead, the marketing plan calls for more kiosks and small outlets inside other businesses or institutions like hospitals.

To support the marketing plan, CMO Bill Moir brews up a variety of marketing campaigns and messages geared to specific target audiences. He tells Marketing Magazine in Canada: "There are five different ways we actually speak about coffee. So it gets to people who want to hear not necessarily all those messages, perhaps, but it’s important that they get them all."

Tim's US division is using social media to build momentum across America, including Twitter (nearly 9,500 followers), Facebook (nearly 120,000 likes), and Youtube. (Above, Tim's "Harlem Shake" video.)

In Canada, Tim's social media initiatives are engaging brand fans through activities such as contests and Facebook votes on reintroducing beloved menu items.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Fool Marketing: Learn Klingon, Spray Yourself with Cheeteau

It's time for a new crop of viral-ready "April Fool's Day" marketing tricks to make us smile and share with friends.
  • ThinkGeek wants you to buy its new exclusive Rosetta Stone software to learn Klingon (see right). Click to buy and you can earn 8,210.3 Geek points. Who needs this product? ThinkGeek helpfully notes: "Klingon may be a difficult language for humans to wrap their smooth heads around, but it's made even more complicated by the constant threat that saying the wrong thing might accidentally land you in a battle to the death."
  • Google Maps invites you to become a Pokemon Master and help round up the hundreds of wild Pokemon out there in the wild. "We value employees who are risk-taking and detail-oriented, have deep technical knowledge, and can navigate through tall grass to capture wild creatures. It turns out that these skills have a lot in common with another profession—that of the Pok√©mon Master."
  • Google+ is offering "Auto Awesome Photobombs" that may, if you're lucky, insert David Hasselhoff into your uploaded photos. Check out the hashtag #Hoffsome.
  • UK grocery chain Tesco is marketing the Cudl, the world's first couples tablets. You and a loved one are never far from each other with tethered Cudl tabs. But Tesco also offers the Hudl tablet for real.
  • Frito-Lay wants you to spritz yourself with a little Cheeteau "prestige fragrance" to carry the aroma of freshly-baked Cheetos wherever you go. See below. "Unexpected...Undeniable." Well, cheesy, anyway!