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.