Monday, June 29, 2015

Ikea's Marketing Research Leads to Wireless Recharging Products

Sweden's Ikea is known for marketing research, studying thousands of consumers in each target country so it can design stylish, affordable, assemble-at-home furniture to meet their needs (stated and unstated).

The company recognizes that people want to be able to conveniently recharge all kinds of digital devices without tangled wires snaking around furniture. So now it's launched a line of wireless charging furniture, including the lamp shown above. Here's Ikea's description of this new product line:

Charge where you are

With our range of wireless chargers, keeping your phone charged has never been easier. They blend in beautifully with your home, and can easily be placed where you need them the most. All without having to chase after outlets or hide messy cables.

So far, product reviews are mostly positive. The iPhone doesn't fit the Qi recharging standard that Ikea's using, but the retailer sells some iPhone cases that are workarounds.

And given the DIY nature of Ikea's assemble-at-home products, it's not surprising that customers can also buy the recharging "spots" and a tool for drilling just the right hole to install a "spot" in existing furniture.

Thursday, June 25, 2015

Product Life Cycle of Fitness Bands

Fitbit Flex
Fitness bands that track the wearer's physical activities (like Fitbit) burst onto the scene less than a decade ago, with the marketing power of brands like Nike behind them.

Now the product category is entering the maturity stage of the product life cycle, as competition intensifies, prices drop, brands consolidate, and some brands (like Nike) drop out while others rush in to take advantage of customer interest.

Fitbit, which went public just recently, holds nearly 70% of the US market for activity-tracking wristbands. Meanwhile, some early adopters are reportedly switching to newer brands/bands to take advantage of new features and new fashion . . . even as companies think about ways to keep customers using the bands once the initial rush of interest wears off. One major avenue to revenue growth is targeting employers that want to keep employees fit.

Yet convergence and tech evolution is also taking its toll. Will the Apple Watch's tracking capabilities speed the movement of fitness bands into late maturity? How quickly will fitness bands enter the decline stage of the product life cycle? Given the rapid life cycles of tech products, fitness bands will probably have a relatively condensed life cycle.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Fortune 500 Issue Shows Economy Higher Again

It's time for the annual Fortune 500 magazine issue page count, which I use as an informal measure of economic strength in the business environment. This year, the page count is again higher than the previous year--in fact, it's the best page count in a decade for this important annual issue of the magazine. So more advertisers are buying pages to reach business readers, a good sign. 

2015: 392
2014: 390
2013: 352
2012: 312
2011: 316
2010: 308
2009: 276
2008: 356
2007: 386
2006: 384
2005: 410
2004: 478
2003: 410
2002: 402
2001: 474
2000: 630 - Peak of dot-com boom!
1999: 510
1998: 506

The top 5 largest U.S. corporations, according to Fortune's list, are:

5. Apple (electronics)
4. Berkshire Hathaway (conglomerate)
3. Chevron (energy)
2. Exxon Mobil (energy)
1. Walmart (retailing) - nearly half a trillion dollars in annual revenues!

Friday, June 12, 2015

Dino-Sized Marketing Deals for Jurassic World

Jurassic World, the latest summer blockbuster movie sequel to Michael Crichton's Jurassic Park novel, has some dino-sized marketing deals with brand partners. Just click to the store on the Jurassic World site, for instance, and you'll see Hasbro's tie-in toys, LEGO's new tie-in sets, and a closet-full of T-shirts for sale.

Critics aren't just talking about the plot--they're also talking about the product placement. For instance, the movie's website displays authorized Mike and Ike candies, Jimmy Buffett's Margaritaville restaurant on the island, and of course a 5-star Hilton hotel plug. Triumph motorcycles are prominently featured in the movie, as are Mercedes cars. Oh, and in-park shopping shown on the big screen? Lots of familiar logos there (Columbia Sportswear, Brookstone, and Oakley, to name just a few).

By the way, the official FB page has, on the movie's opening day, more than 400,000 likes (it's classified as "travel/leisure") and some fun comments that are very much in keeping with the idea of the sudden disaster that befalls the park. The Jurassic World Twitter account was opened 3 years before the movie's debut. The Instagram page has 90,000+ followers.

Whether or not movie critics love it, this movie sounds like a dino-sized marketing bonanza for all the brands involved.

UPDATE: Jurassic World broke box-office records, becoming the first movie to exceed $500 million in opening weekend receipts!

Thursday, June 11, 2015

Brands Step Up for MiLB Sponsorship and Merchandise

Dunkin' Donuts is the latest big-league sponsor to step up to a marketing deal with a Minor League Baseball (MiLB) team. This week, it agreed to buy naming rights to a new 9,000-seat MiLB stadium being built in Hartford, CT for the Hartford Yard Goats. 

The VP of field marketing for Dunkin' Donuts says: "We didn't need sabermetrics to evaluate this opportunity. Simply put, baseball is known as America's greatest pastime ... now we're ready to say, 'Play ball, Hartford.'"

Sponsorships with MiLB can build brand awareness and image, strengthen associations with sports and family activities, enhance community relations, and open new cross-promotion opportunities. All kinds of businesses are doing business with MiLB, from banks and stores to toy companies and--yes, wine.

MiLB doesn't just attract big brands. Local businesses are also involved, for the exposure, the build-up of trust, and the positive associations. The Reading (PA) Fightin Phils have a hot dog vendor who's so popular that he gets his own bobblehead. When a Phil is walked, the scoreboard calls it a WaWa Walk (WaWa is a sponsor, get it?). The Indianapolis Indians have set out to consciously develop such a close integration with the game, to attract and retain solid sponsorships.

Anyone who has attended a MiLB game knows that the sale of hats and other merchandise is part of the experience, as well. Annual sales of MiLB merchandise throughout the US and Canada hit a new record high of $60.3 million in 2014. And the Indianapolis Indians are among the teams hitting a home run in merchandise sales.

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

Consumer Brands Ramp Up Shopper Marketing

Shopper marketing is an increasingly critical element in the marketing plans of consumer products such as foods and household cleaners. And that's why so many brands are ponying up for point-of-purchase displays, signs, and other marketing in the aisles and at the checkout--not just in stores but for e-commerce as well.

Above, an example of Unilever's summer promotion with IGA in Canada. Quebec-based celebrity chef Mélanie Marchand offers cooking tips for seasonal recipes featuring Unilever food brands Hellman's, Becel, and Knorr.

The marketing agency Bob cooked up the promotion, explaining that Unilever is targeting mothers between the ages of 35 and 55, with children living at home: "With a busy schedule, she prefers to cook simple, easy-to-prepare dinners… but she enjoys putting her own twist on everyday meals." Notice that the market is being segmented according to behavior, lifestyle, and attitude, not just demographics.

Yet shopper marketing must also be updated for the digital age. With so many consumers shopping online or by smartphone, Mondelez International is seeking out new ideas from entrepreneurial firms who can help raise brand visibility and encourage purchasing. "The biggest battle we are fighting right now is one for attention," says a Mondelez exec.

The chosen startups will work with Mondelez and its retail partners to get programs up and running within 90 days--the speed of digital marketing being a key priority. Some of the brands to be highlighted in this shopper-marketing effort are Trident, Dentyne, Oreo, Halls, Ritz, and Cadbury.

As the Mondelez exec points out: "The majority of our sales are impulse-driven, so we really need to understand how to fit the right time with the right message. Mobile is one of the only mediums that follows people from the couch to the shelf, so to speak."

Sunday, June 7, 2015

New Multichannel Synergy for Think Geek?

Think Geek--the online retailer of nerd pop-culture stuff--has an interesting backstory and, I hope, a bright future.

It's always on my radar on April Fool's Day. But it returned to my radar late in May, when the teen clothing retailer Hot Topic announced it was acquiring Think Geek's parent, Geeknet. The idea was for Hot Topic to leverage Think Geek's e-commerce experience and become more adept at multichannel marketing. FYI, Hot Topic's motto is "the loudest store in the mall." True.

That was actually the beginning, not the end, of a speedy turn of events as shown above, from Geeknet's investor relations page. Turns out Hot Topic was outbid by a "strategic acquiror" that, we learned a few days later, was GameStop. So Hot Topic found Geeknet snatched from it by GameStop's higher bid within days of announcing the acquisition. End of story (pending antitrust review).

Not everyone thinks GameStop is the best parent for Think Geek. On the other hand, others (including me) see multichannel synergy in combining two businesses that cater to target markets that have considerable overlap.

Wednesday, June 3, 2015

The Food Industry's "Dynamic, Disruptive, and Transformative Time"

Stephen Hughes, CEO of the natural foods firm Boulder Brands, tells Fortune the industry is going through "the most dynamic, disruptive, and transformational time" he's seen during 37 years in the food business.

Boulder owns brands like Smart Balance, Earth Balance, and Glutino. His brands are part of the disruption. Increasingly, consumers are reading food labels with great care and concluding that less is more--less processing, more nutritional value.

Brand trust is vital in this brave new world of fresher, healthier packaged foods. No wonder Heinz is fighting mad over Boulder Brands' plan to put its Smart Balance name on frozen foods. Heinz owns the Smart Ones brand of frozen foods and objects to what it sees as a close similarity of brands that might confuse consumers.

A few months ago, the CEO of Campbell Soup commented on "the mounting distrust of so-called Big Food, the large food companies and legacy brands on which millions of consumers have relied on for so long." Alas for Campbell Soup, sales of its core product are stagnant to slowly dropping. But happily, the company's acquisition of Bolthouse Farms fresh produce and Plum Organics is evidence of its growing experience with trusted natural foods brands.

Interestingly, mainstream supermarket chain Kroger owns what appears to be the largest natural-food brand in the country: Simple Truth, barely 2 years old and already ringing up more than $1.2 billion in annual sales. That's a lot of sales and a lot of brand trust--and a lot of disruption caused by a major retailer that distributes major packaged-foods products.