Thursday, December 29, 2016

Marketing Exploding Kittens and Bears vs Babies

Quick, do you know what product category these belong to?
If you shouted out games, you win!

At left, Exploding Kittens, a card game that takes about 10 minutes to play. And that's due to the consumer behavior of the target market, players who don't want to spend hours on something like the traditional Monopoly board game or even days playing the even more complex Axis & Allies games. 

Notice the wry humor in the game description: "A card game for people who are into kittens and explosions and laser beams and sometimes goats." Hint, hint, about the target market.

Exploding Kittens wasn't the original was tentatively titled "Bomb Squad" but then the developers were told to make it funny. And they did!

A Kickstarter campaign got the game off the ground with money and, just as important, word of mouth. To date, several million of these games have been sold. The goal is entertainment and interaction between players, not solitaire. Family and friends tell family and friends, and the next thing you know, the game has spread to more neighborhoods. (Sounds like the way Angry Birds got its start, right?)

As another clue to the target market: there's an Apple app version and an Android app version of Exploding Kittens. But the card version is reportedly outselling the app versions. It's a social thing.

Now, from the people behind Exploding Kittens, there's Bears vs. Babies, with more wry humor and the same target market. Target date for introduction is June, 2017, but of course the online fundraising and marketing have been in place for weeks now.

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Stores That Thrive on Surprise

Not everyone is clicking or swiping to buy this year. Some shoppers are actually walking into bricks-and-mortar stores to see what's new and buy before someone else snaps up that unexpected treasure.

T.J. Maxx has a winning off-price formula: Put new merchandise out every day or two, offer name brands at low prices, and staff the cash registers to speed shoppers on their way. The stores have focused inventories that change all the time. So when shoppers walk in, they never know what they'll find. Yes, the retailer has an e-commerce operation, but the real appeal is the thrill of the hunt. Consumer behavior in action!

Same at Marshall's, where the slogan is "Your surprise is waiting." Also owned by TJX, Marshall's has a slightly wider variety of merchandise in each store, but the same merchandising philosophy--ship new merchandise regularly to bring shoppers back again and again. While T.J. Maxx does a bit of e-commerce, Marshall's only sells gift cards online. If you want to buy, you have to go to a store. The retailer's hashtag #MarshallsSurprise reinforces the treasure hunt aspect of the shopping experience.

Marshall's has 300,000 Twitter followers; T.J. Maxx has 385,000 Twitter followers. So the retail brands are social, adding word of mouth to the mix.

Sure, e-commerce is growing every a boost to the USPS, FedEx, UPS, and other carriers. But for some shoppers, the element of surprise is a real lure to real stores.

Monday, December 12, 2016

Dozens of Marketing Links to Click

My list of marketing links, newly updated, is a great starting point for anyone writing a marketing plan. It's in the header above, just click to check it out.

Whether you're researching the marketing environment, looking for the latest ideas in mobile and digital marketing, researching competitive trends, or analyzing the global marketing situation, you'll find authoritative sources in this list.

One of the most recently-listed links is to Issuu, a site where you can browse magazines according to topic. My link here is to business magazines.

Also, at the top of the list are three links that are the most popular, year in and year out:

Saturday, December 10, 2016

Marketing the Ugly Christmas Sweater Craze

The Ugly Christmas Sweater craze is far from over. It's gone from a grassroots movement to mainstream marketing, as shown above in an Instagram post by Madame Tussauds. Here, the aim was to promote a fundraiser, Save the Children's Christmas Jumper Day (the British "jumper" translates as "sweater" for Americans). Note the over-the-top couples sweater worn by the wax versions of Prince William and his beautiful bride Kate.

Now a holiday tradition, ugly Christmas sweaters are everywhere. Making waves in Vermont, serving as the theme for pub crawls and beer tastings in Chicago, making fundraising fun through celeb-designed sweaters (see sweater at right, by Shaquille O'Neal). 

One enterprising company invites customers to "design your own" ugly sweater. Click to Ugly Christmas Sweater and see for yourself.

There are a LOT of really interesting, really ugly sweaters out there. Pop culture influences customer behavior and gets woven into the fabric of marketing! Pun intended.

Monday, December 5, 2016

Shoppers Shopped on Cyber Weekend

From Slice Intelligence,
Mobile was all-important as consumers used smartphones and tablets to browse and, often, buy during the shopping frenzy that takes over the long weekend after Thanksgiving. Consumer behavior has evolved, with a growing number of shoppers at least browsing online retail sites to check for bargains--and many buying online rather than in a store.

From Black Friday to Cyber Monday, shoppers shopped. And shopped. Consumers in many nations clicked or swiped to buy over the weekend--not just in US markets.

Amazon, once again, was a major destination on Cyber Weekend, accounting for an estimated 30% of cyber-shopping. An incredible statistic, to be sure. For an inside look at an Amazon fulfillment center during the holiday rush, click here.

On Cyber Weekend, Best Buy reportedly did very well as an online shopping destination, as did the cyber-shops of Target, Walmart, and Macy's (as Slice Intelligence's chart above shows). Not surprisingly, Cyber Monday was a top trending topic in social media that day.

Thursday, December 1, 2016

Sounds like Sonic Branding

Sound can be an integral element in a brand's identity. Think about the chord you hear when you start up your Mac computer (or the sound of a computer booting up with "Intel inside"). Or what you hear before an HBO feature.

Sound creates an emotional connection between the brand and the audience, amping up the experience. Some branded sounds have become part of pop culture, like Nokia's original ringtone. In fact, sonic branding is nothing new--long-established brands like NBC have been using sounds as brand identity for decades.

Nestea uses four notes in its sonic branding. Coca-Cola has used sonic branding (OK, jingles) for certain campaigns. P&G is reviving and updating some of its classic brand jingles for a new generation. Are jingles going to be the remixed sonic branding for the 21st century?

Monday, November 21, 2016

Shoppers Boost the Local Economy on Small Business Saturday


American Express launched Small Business Saturday in 2010 to encourage holiday shoppers to patronize local/small businesses on the Saturday after Thanksgiving.

This is the seventh year and every year, merchant participation and public response have been bigger and better than the previous year. In 2015, 95 million US consumers purchased something as part of Small Business Saturday, for a total estimated financial impact of $16 billion.

This year, the official FB page has 3.5 million likes...the Twitter account has 56.5k followers...the Instagram account has 22.5k followers.

Not only does Amex provide downloadable marketing materials for small businesses, it also has a lookup function to find participating businesses in the local area, wherever you are.

A Google search for "Small Business Saturday" returned 45 million+ results today. The majority are local media outlets publicizing participants (this year and previous years). So if you have gifts to buy or want to enjoy a meal out, Small Business Saturday is a good opportunity to vote with your wallet and make a difference to the local economy.

Friday, November 18, 2016

SUV Sales Are Revving Up

Now that gas prices have been low for a long time, and consumers feel confident enough to buy new cars, more are choosing SUVs. In fact, nearly three-quarters of owners who traded in an SUV bought another SUV (compared with the 62% of people who trade in a regular car and buy yet another regular car rather than switching to an SUV or other vehicle type).

Yet a significant number of owners who trade in green vehicles (hybrids and electrics) are switching back to gas-powered SUVs because gas is so affordable these days.

Meanwhile, automakers are continuing to try to entice buyers with green SUVs. Hyundai has an all-electric SUV with a range of about 200 miles per charge, for example.

Luxury automakers are also eyeing the intersection of green and SUV. Mercedes is working on an SUV under the EQ brand, for introduction around 2020.

Jaguar has a new concept SUV that could challenge Tesla as the deluxe crossover vehicle of choice for high-income buyers, with 400 hp and an all-electric range of more than 200 miles per charge. Production is expected in 2018.

And more women are buying SUVs, a recent trend that's fueled [pun intended] by the need for more cargo space and better mileage being offered by newer models.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Plan Holiday Marketing with Consumer Behavior in Mind

Here are three tips from experts about how to shape a holiday marketing plan with contemporary consumer behavior in mind:
  • Consumers can and do change their decisions after an online search prior to making a purchase. This makes online ads/content marketing/testimonials/product reviews especially important during the holiday season, when many customers are buying, buying, buying. 
  • Personalize your marketing to engage customers and prompt viral sharing. The popular "elf yourself" campaign for Office Max/Office Depot (shown above) is entertaining app users once again this holiday season, encouraging positive brand attitudes.
  • Promote promotions early to gain awareness and an edge over competitors. Remember when Black Friday was just a single day? Now it's virtually taken over the month of November. Retailers and brand marketers alike are counting down with daily deals and early buying opportunities.
What do you know about your customers that will help you plan for engaging, effective holiday marketing?

Monday, November 14, 2016

Shinola as Brand Umbrella

How many product categories can fit under the Shinola brand umbrella? The Detroit-based company that owns Shinola, which has been marketing products for 5 years, continues expanding into new categories as it taps into demand for made-in-America products*. (Above, one of the facilities in Detroit where Shinola products are made.)

Shinola's website currently features:
  • Watches 
  • Pocket knives
  • Turntables (for vinyl fans)
  • Leather goods (for men and women)
  • Journals (for writing)
  • Bicycles (of course)
  • Ping-pong paddles and other assorted "supply" items
  • Coming soon: A Shinola-branded hotel in Detroit (2018)
Chief marketing officer Bridget Russo explains the appeal of Shinola: "Provenance is important to the consumer, not just where a product is coming from, but the story behind it."

Shinola has a lot of brand fans and is all over social media. Its Facebook page has nearly 100k likes, and it has a very active Pinterest account, plus nearly 140k Instagram followers and nearly 41k Twitter followers.

The brand is well known and has a positive image. But how many different categories can fit under its brand umbrella? Is a hotel, for example, a category too far?

*FTC concern about the requirements for a "made in America" designation has caused Shinola to change its marketing and clarify more explicitly that products like its watches are "built in Detroit" from "Swiss and imported parts."

Wednesday, November 9, 2016

Post-Election: Update That Marketing Plan

Political, legal, and regulatory forces are major influences in the marketing environment. Just ask U.K. marketers, who have been rethinking their strategies after the Brexit vote, which is expected to result in a split with the European Union. For some brands, the updated plan is to emphasize their British roots. For others, the updated plan is to carefully research and respond to customers' demand for more control. For all brands, Brexit's uncertainty will mean continually tweaking their marketing until the timetable for E.U. exit (if it happens) is more definite.

Major U.S. marketers probably had a contingency plan for determining how to tweak their activities, regardless of who won the U.S. election. Given how wrong most polls were about the presidency, the top priority for every marketer targeting U.S. consumers is to dig deeper and really understand what customers want, especially their unstated needs and desires. This goes for U.S.-based and internationally-based marketers alike.

Just as important, the election outcome will surely have an effect on U.S. laws and regulations, as well as on the Supreme Court (not to mention individual states and municipalities). Therefore, it's time to develop detailed scenarios for operating under this new normal.

What about products? The White House Gift Shop will undoubtedly be stocking new presidential mugs within weeks. Does your product mix need updating now that the election results are in?

Thursday, November 3, 2016

Mobile Advertising Skyrockets

in first half of 2016
New research from the Internet Advertising Bureau and PriceWaterhouseCoopers shows digital ad revenue way up from this time last year. In the lead: mobile, which reportedly accounts for nearly half of all Internet ad revenue.

Mobile video and mobile search have seen dramatic increases. In another report, Zenith says mobile will be 75% of US Internet use by end of 2017. Not surprisingly, media buying firm Zenith projects that mobile advertising will capture 60% of Internet ad dollars worldwide by the end of 2018. To put that into hard numbers: In 2018, mobile advertising spend alone will reach $134 billion worldwide, "more than will be spent on newspaper, magazine, cinema and outdoor advertising put together," says Zenith.

Facebook captures a lot of that digital ad revenue, even as it plans to cut back on some ads on news feeds. In fact, Facebook figured out a way around AdBlocker Plus software, reasoning that ads allow FB content to remain free and therefore users should have to see ads (as long as the ads aren't terribly intrusive). Google and YouTube are also strong in digital ad revenue as parent company Alphabet continues moving deeper into mobile marketing.

What are the implications for traditional media? For newspapers in particular, the trend is not good. Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Girl Scout Cookies for Breakfast

Who doesn't love Girl Scout cookies? Now General Mills is building on the brand equity and product preferences of Girl Scout cookie lovers as it introduces two new breakfast cereals, shown above.

The new cereals will be launched in January, 2017, as limited-edition products. Not surprising, given that Girl Scout cookies are also sold during limited periods. Thin Mints are the top-selling cookies, one reason why it's one of the two initial cereal flavors.

Another advantage is the association with the well-known Girl Scouts organization, which will get some money every time the cereals sell. That has to count for something when parents pass the cereal aisle in search of a breakfast cereal for the whole family.

Will the cereals become popular enough to be relaunched every year?

Friday, October 21, 2016

Regaining the Customer's Trust

Imagine being a marketer for Wells Fargo Bank right now, following high-profile revelations that for some time, employees opened accounts to achieve internal goals for cross-selling, not because customers wanted them.

The scandal has had a real impact on the bank's reputation and its business: It recently announced that new checking account openings are down by 25% compared with last year and new credit card applications are down by 20%, all since the news broke.

During mid-October, Wells Fargo placed full-page ads in the New York Times and other newspapers, and posted on part of its website with the headline: "Moving forward to make things right." The message ends with these words:
The trust you place in us means everything and we will work hard every day to earn it back.
Trust can take a long time to earn and be lost in a moment. Before this, Wells Fargo's scores among banks in the American Customer Satisfaction Index had been on the upswing, far better than the scores it had in the ACSI surveys of 1996 and 1997.

Now Wells Fargo faces the challenge of earning back customers' trust and convincing them that it will, as its ads say, put their interests first. How will customers respond?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Marketing the Mystique of Cuba

Coffee lovers can now try "the first Cuban coffee in the U.S. in over 50 years" (quoting a Nespresso ad). In limited supply at Nespresso stores, and priced higher than other Nespresso capsules, Cafecito de Cuba offers a "taste" of the island nation, given very recent changes in trade relations.

Cuba has a mystique: It captivated the American imagination during the mid-20th century--the vibrant night life, the music, the celebrities, the food, the heritage. By now, Cuba has been off limits for so many years that it is somewhat mysterious, and its island location has considerable vacation appeal.

Currently, trade restrictions are slowly being eased (significant barriers remain), and Cuban rum and cigars are being allowed into the US.

More and more businesses are using the mystique of Cuba to market goods and services.
  • American Airlines has an ambitious schedule of flights to various cities in Cuba, seeing future profit potential as tourism expands little by little. Jet Blue and Silver are also flying to Cuba.
  • Starwood has three hotels under its umbrella, again awaiting the influx of tourists.
  • Chanel brought a fashion show to Cuba, taking advantage of the mystique and novelty.
  • Carnival has cruises to Cuba and New Orleans is trying to establish its port as another point of departure for Cuban tourism.

Friday, October 7, 2016

Retailers Choose: Open or Closed on Thanksgiving?

Retailers are again navigating the pros and cons of whether to open or close on Thanksgiving. From a consumer behavior standpoint, some shoppers like to get an early jump on holiday shopping and Black Friday bargains. Others want an activity in addition to or instead of a big Thanksgiving meal. That's why the Los Angeles Auto Show is open on Thanksgiving, and it usually draws a good crowd.

Mall of America has already announced it will be closed on Thanksgiving, although individual stores may choose to open for all or part of the day. Costco is traditionally closed on Thanksgiving, Nordstrom will be closed, and Staples has announced it will be closed. Some major retailers will reportedly be open, as the list here shows.

On Thanksgiving Thursday and Black Friday 2015, the outdoor retailer REI famously chose to be closed and urged everybody to enjoy the outdoors instead of shopping. Its marketing campaign #OptOutside won awards and lots of publicity. Will REI repeat its decision in 2016? Expect an announcement soon.

Tuesday, October 4, 2016

Target Opens Targeted Stores

Target has long targeted college students and their parents with special events, social media content and products specifically for dorm life. Above, the retailer invited YouTube personalities to live in custom-designed dorm rooms featuring Target's home goods. Target has also sponsored buses to bring students to Target stores for shopping and social events. This year, it tested a chat-bot initiative with Kik, the messaging app.

Now the retailer has begun opening smaller Target stores near college campuses, stocked with the goods that students need and buy. It opened one such store two years ago near the University of Minnesota campus at Dinkytown, an experiment that has encouraged the retailer to open more units like it.

'A lot of college campuses have underdeveloped retail, so the students as well as the people who live around campus don’t have a lot of options to shop for a quick trip', explains a Target exec. Target's marketing strategy envisions hundreds of these small-format stores near campuses, a way to appeal to younger buyers and encourage brand loyalty after they graduate. Will these college-targeted Targets hit the bulls' eye?

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

McDonald's and Content Marketing

In 2016, McDonald's is serving up a lot of marketing content worldwide--at least 5,000 items of content, as estimated by the company. It's active in all the usual media (broadcast, print, etc.) and across the range of social media (FB, Twitter, Snapchat, Pinterest, etc).

McD's chief marketing officer observes: "Defining marketing by these channel-based labels is actually absurd in today's world." Having a consistent voice and message is challenging but critical in this marketing environment.

So is speed, which is why McDonald's has cut the number of meetings with its agencies and streamlined the process to, well, bring content to market faster. In the words of another McD's exec, "it’s no longer the big that eat the small, it is the fast that eat the slow."

Above, an example of how McDonald's Canada is using online content to support the launch of a new McWrap product. If you want to watch the video, be prepared for four hours of food preparation, a bit like watching a McWrap food channel. Actually, the video includes images captured for other content (such as commercials) and it became newsworthy because of its unusual length.

Friday, September 23, 2016

In the Autumn Marketing Plan: Pumpkin Everything

Marketers are implementing the autumn schedule of their marketing plans, which means it's time for pumpkin everything.

Starbucks has a lot to do with the pumpkin takeover every autumn: It introduced a seasonal Pumpkin Spice Latte back in 2003, kicking off a mainstream marketing tidal wave that has been felt around the world. It even has its own Twitter feed (114k followers)!

Other marketers incorporated pumpkin flavors earlier (such as Pumpkinhead Ale from Maine's Shipyard Brewing Company), but given the pop-culture status of Starbucks, its marketing is most likely what gave pumpkin spice a high profile in autumn.

Here's the thinking: Seasonal/limited time variations of products generate excitement and bring customers back for a taste and then for repeat purchases. Plus pumpkin builds buzz.

Of course food and beverage marketers have embraced pumpkin flavors, but so have hair salons.
When is pumpkin everything enough? Or too much?

Tuesday, September 20, 2016

Fast-Food Products Build Buzz and Brands

The big fast-food chains are busy testing new menu items, to sharpen brand differentiation, keep loyal customers returning to try new choices, build buzz, and possibly find the next new food trend.

  • Burger King is introducing a buzzy new item named Cheetos Chicken Fries which--as the name suggests--are "fries" made from chicken and coated in Cheeto-flavored breading. Co-branding adds a marketing hook too.
  • McDonald's recently tested a mozzarella - pesto melt sandwich in California. It's also fine-tuning its popular All-Day Breakfast menu, which is helping to boost revenues.
  • Chick-fil-A is testing healthy menu items featuring grains that aren't yet mainstream among fast-food rivals, such as quinoa and chia seeds, which will differentiate the brand.
  • Carl's Jr and Hardy's are adding steak to the breakfast menu, part of a trend toward beefing up (pun intended) the morning meal offerings to grab a larger share of breakfast revenues.

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Airbus's Strategic Vision

Ten years ago, I began this blog by contrasting the long-term projections of Airbus and Boeing, and the effect on their strategic decisions. Airbus saw great potential in building a huge jet to fly 500+ passengers between hubs...Boeing saw more potential in not-so-huge jets for point-to-point flights.

On its corporate website, Airbus says this about the A380:
Designed for air transport needs in the 21st century, its unique size allows airlines to maximize their revenue potential through an optimized, segmented cabin. 
Now Airbus has learned that Singapore Airlines will not renew its ten-year lease for the gigantic A380 passenger jet. Other carriers are thinking about smaller Airbus jets instead. Filling so many seats on the A380 is one element of how airlines consider what planes to lease or buy. Fuel economy is another element. Each airline also has its own strategy for satisfying customers' needs and making a profit.

Emirates Airlines has successfully built high volume on the basis of its A380 jets. The President of Emirates tells Business Insider: "Airport congestion around the world is getting worse. And up-gauging aircraft is a solution for this." Meaning: Emirates uses A380s to fly a lot of passengers from one huge hub to another.

The double-decker configuration requires a special airport gate, which means airlines must schedule carefully. In fact, although Chicago's O'Hare has had runway capacity to fit the A380 for a few years, it has only one gate for the jumbo jet (more are in future plans).

So Airbus's strategic vision has faced turbulence in part because of infrastructure issues and in part because of how its customers plan for their customers.

Monday, September 12, 2016

Next Distribution Frontier: Drones

The idea of delivering orders via drone is catching on. Why? Because marketers see a lot of opportunity in same-day delivery, and drones can take a load off traditional mechanisms like trucks/vans/cars/motorcycles. The cost per package delivered is still being assessed, but likely it would be greener, cheaper, and much faster than delivery by traditional methods.

Domino's is already testing drone delivery of pizza in Auckland, New Zealand. 7-Eleven is also testing drone delivery, having successfully delivered Slurpees and food to a family in Reno this year.

Amazon has been championing this possibility for a while and conducting tests. It says: "Amazon Prime Air is a future service that will deliver packages up to five pounds in 30 minutes or less using small drones. Flying under 400 feet and weighing less than 55 pounds, Prime Air vehicles will take advantage of sophisticated “sense and avoid” technology, as well as a high degree of automation, to safely operate beyond the line of sight to distances of 10 miles or more."

Now Alphabet, Google's parent company, has been approved to test its drone delivery in selected areas. Project Wing, Alphabet's drone unit, is partnering with Chipotle to test delivery of burritos to customers on the Virginia Tech campus. The head of Project Wing observes: "It's the first time that we're actually out there delivering stuff to people who want that stuff." The test will determine how well packaging protects the "stuff" and whether the "stuff" arrives warm.

Tuesday, September 6, 2016

Transparency in Tweets

Advertising Standards Canada (ASC) is formalizing guidelines for advertising use of Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, and other social media. "Endorsement or testimonials must disclose any material connection between the endorser, reviewer or influencer and the entity that makes a product or service available," explains an ASC exec.

Canada wants to ensure that social media users can tell the difference between non-sponsored and sponsored tweets (or other posts that have been paid for).

The US Federal Trade Commission has already solidified guidelines for disclosure, but Canada's rules don't go into effect until early in 2017.

Meanwhile, the US FTC is pushing celebrity endorsers to be more transparent about being paid to promote products. It recently complained about Warner Bros using influencer-campaigns (paying social media celebrities to say something positive about a game, for example) that lacked "clear and conspicuous" disclosures.

Given the viral nature of celebrity opinions, this is an area where more transparency is needed to ensure that consumers get the full picture of who's behind that tweet or YouTube video or any other message promoting a product. As a result, marketers must stay updated on the regulatory environment to be in full compliance (and keep their endorsers updated on compliance standards, too).

Tuesday, August 30, 2016

Samsung 837 as Brand Experience

Samsung 837 opened in a hip area of New York City six months ago. Here's how the company describes this retail space on its website:
"This is Samsung 837, where technology and culture collide.
Located in the heart of the Meatpacking district in NYC, Samsung 837 combines art, fashion, technology, and sport in unprecedented ways. It’s not a store, but a new kind of place filled with ideas, experiences, and Samsung’s cutting edge devices."
Not a store. Samsung isn't selling any products at the 837 location. It's selling the Samsung brand experience--come in and experience its electronics and concepts, up close and personal. New product introductions? Yes, available to opinion leaders, influential early adopters, and potential customers who want to see and try the latest in personal or wearable tech.

Especially virtual reality. For the Olympics, Samsung 837 offered a special virtual reality feed of highlights in Rio, free to visitors. Also on the calendar are lots of events to attract visitors and keep Samsung 837 in the public eye.

Meanwhile, Samsung is fine-tuning its in-store strategies for selling through Best Buy and other retailers, to differentiate its brand and its products. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2016

Marketing Private Brands

Private brands--also known as private-label--are created or owned by retailers and other channel intermediaries.

Supermarkets are heavily into private brands, as are many general merchandise retailers like JC Penney (which owns Arizona, shown at right). Why? Because these are exclusive to the store and, just as important, they have higher profit margins.

Twenty years ago, an article in the Harvard Business Review said:
... private-label strength generally varies with economic conditions. That is, private-label market share generally goes up when the economy is suffering and down in stronger economic periods.
Today, however, the economy is strengthening and so are private brands. For example:
  • Kohl's is seeking a turnaround based on private brands such as Sonoma, Croft & Barrow, and others that are or have been mainstays of its revenue base. However, how will this resonate with shoppers seeking well-known national brands?
  • JC Penney is also putting more emphasis on private brands such as St. John's Bay and Arizona as it seeks a turnaround. In 2015, private brands accounted for 52% of Penney's sales--but by 2019, the marketing goal is to have private brands contribute 70% of Penney's sales.
  • Target wants shoppers to prefer its private-label food products, marketed under brands such as Market Pantry and Simply Balanced.
Private brands are here to stay. The question is, how much emphasis is too much emphasis?

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Apple Pay Competes in Contactless Payments

Apple Pay continues to expand its reach in the US and abroad. Above, Apple Pay is accepted in a New York vending machine, as contactless payments gain ground little by little.

According to Apple's CEO, Apple Pay accounts for 3 out of every 4 contactless pay transactions in the US. By the end of 2017, Apple Pay will be honored by an estimated 76% of US retailers.

The mobile payments world is not only highly competitive, it's still fluid as the technology evolves and consumer behavior evolves. Some consumers are trying Apple Pay but not adopting it as a payment habit.

So Apple Pay and its competitors continue to try to influence consumers' payment choices and brand preferences. Stay tuned.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Brands Pin, Pin, Pin on Pinterest

A growing number of brands are doing more on Pinterest to promote new products, cast a wider net, strengthen relationships with brand fans, and reinforce brand associations.

Pinterest, and its Promoted Pins, have attracted interest from L'Oreal, Burberry, La Mer, and other established brands.
  • L'Oreal studied one of its Pinterest campaigns and find gains in new product awareness, message associations, and purchase intention. 
  • Burberry is partnering with Pinterest for a personalized campaign starring its new Cat Lashes mascara.
  • La Mer is seeking to stimulate Pinterest word-of-mouth for its skincare products.
Oh, and that old "Buy It" button? Goodbye--now Pinterest users can simply click to "add to bag" and shop their way across boards and platforms.

Monday, August 8, 2016

Marketing Nordstrom in Canada: Customers First

Based in Seattle, the upscale fashion specialty store Nordstrom sums up its marketing purpose this way:
Since 1901, we've been committed to providing our customers with the best possible service—and to improving it every day. 
Nordstrom has three full-service locations in Canada and three more on the way. First to open will be the new store at Toronto Eaton Centre in September, followed by the new store in Yorkdale Shopping Centre.

At left, one of the ads paving the way for these full-service store openings. You First is the message, reinforcing Nordstrom's marketing positioning and a key point of differentiation.

Nordstrom has a well-deserved reputation for service--which will help it compete in the increasingly crowded Canadian retail market. The company is also opening additional Nordstrom Rack stores with off-price/discount merchandise, adding to its strength in relatively affordable fashion.

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

U.S. Companies Feel Impact of Brexit

Five weeks ago, a U.K. referendum resulted in the forthcoming exit of the country from the European Union. The timetable isn't yet known, but the country is preparing plans for an orderly exit and the simultaneous negotiation of new trade pacts with European trading partners.

Across the pond, U.S. companies are feeling the impact of Brexit. First, the currency issue is changing profit and cost projections--because of the see-saw value of the pound sterling versus the U.S. dollar. When the value of the pound drops, the dollar is stronger, a concern for U.S. companies (like Carnival cruise lines) doing business in U.K. markets. Currency fluctuations change the cost of supplies purchased by U.S. firms from U.K. sources--uncertainty that affects not just the bottom line but the marketing plans for the remainder of 2016.

Multinational banks based in the U.S. are watching to see whether London will remain a financial center and gateway to Europe. All have contingency plans for dealing with the challenges if they decide to relocate for better access to European customers (commercial customers as well as consumers). Some mergers and acquisitions between U.K. firms and others outside the country are being postponed or taken off the table due to the uncertainties and the financial repercussions of Brexit. Airlines are reevaluating routes to and from (and within) U.K. destinations.

A lot of U.S. companies buy and sell in the U.K., and Brexit appears to be dampening the economic climate in Great Britain and beyond as firms try to determine a way forward during this transition period. Consumer confidence is down in the U.K. and the result is likely to be slower spending, which will hurt marketers that target consumers.

How will U.K. and international holiday spending be affected? What about "affordable luxuries" that tend to do well despite economic ups and downs? And global travel?

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Hotel Chocolat's Very British Brand

Now that the UK-based Hotel Chocolat has gone public, it has additional resources to support an expansion strategy. The company began as an online retailer of luxury chocolate gifts, targeting UK consumers and businesses.

A decade after establishing itself on the web, it opened a physical store. Now the company has more than 80 shops across the UK plus an actual hotel adjacent to a cocoa plantation on Saint Lucia.

At one time, Hotel Chocolat had a handful of US stores but closed them a couple of years ago. It retains its online presence selling to US customers, however.

Eyeing another round of international retail expansion, Hotel Chocolat has a franchise presence on Gibraltar and is also opening company-owned chocolate boutiques in Copenhagen to assess the opportunities for this very British brand.

Hotel Chocolat has more than 100k likes on Facebook, 52k followers on Twitter, and more than 3k followers on Pinterest, among other social media activities.

Tuesday, July 19, 2016

Background on Brands

 B R A N D  R E S E A R C H

Researching a brand for your marketing plan? Search the Web for research about that brand and its main competitors.

As you click through the results of your search, pay attention to where/when/how each research study was conducted. Also look at research results over time--how has the brand's ranking changed? What issues affect the brand's standing year by year? These clues can help you better analyze the brand as you continue your marketing planning.

Here are just a few resources focusing on brands, branding, and public perceptions:
  • YouGov BrandIndex. "Tracking public perceptions of thousands of brands across the world every day." That's how YouGov describes this site, which covers many brands in many markets through ongoing interviews with millions of consumers.
  • InterBrand Best Brands. Interbrand ranks brands within and across countries, with both global and national lists of the best brands.
  • Fortune's rankings. In addition to the Fortune 500, the magazine presents rankings of "most admired" companies, fastest-growing companies, and other key lists to consult.
  • Gallup research on brand engagement. Research examines multiple aspects of brands and customer involvement, including reactions of Millennials.

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Marketing With Pokemon Go

The Pokemon Go phenomenon might be a summertime spike or something more lasting, but while it's popular, marketers are jumping on the bandwagon.

Pokemon Go is a new smartphone game based on the old Pokemon characters, with the special twist that players wander in the real world looking to "capture" characters in various locations. Here's what the Pokemon website says about the game:
Get on your feet and step outside to find and catch wild Pokémon. Explore cities and towns around where you live and even around the globe to capture as many Pokémon as you can. As you move around, your smartphone will vibrate to let you know you're near a Pokémon. Once you've encountered a Pokémon, take aim on your smartphone's touch screen and throw a Poké Ball to catch it. Be careful when you try to catch it, or it might run away! Also look for PokéStops located at interesting places, such as public art installations, historical markers, and monuments, where you can collect more Poké Balls and other items.
Local businesses are excited about the number of potential customers coming to their premises in search of wild Pokemon characters. Several restaurants and bars reported super increases in sales after investing about $10 for "lure" packages. Businesses can become "poke stops" to boost the user's stock of balls, attracting foot traffic in the process. It's a matter of harnessing high interest and engagement to shape customer behavior, at least increasing awareness of the brand or location and at best, gaining trial and purchasing.

Nonprofits are also part of this craze. From nature preserves to museums and beyond, organizations are taking the opportunity to invite visitors to catch Pokemon characters with them. Although not all places are happy about being involved without first being asked, some nonprofits are suggesting that advocates organize Pokemon Go walking tours to raise money for charity.

Go Pokemon Go!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Today Is the Second Annual Amazon Prime Day

Partial screen shot of Amazon Prime Day home page
Today is Amazon's second annual Prime Day--a shopping day designed to rival Black Friday with low prices and speedy shipping exclusively for members of the retailer's Prime program.

One goal is to attract new Prime members, who pay an annual fee for benefits such as free two-day shipping, access to audio and video entertainment, early notification of bargains, and more. As always, consumers are invited to enroll in Prime for free to try it for 30 days. The more people who try, the more who are likely to remain members after the free trial.

Another goal is to increase interest in and usage of other Amazon offerings such as Alexa, the virtual shopping assistant who's the voice of the Echo speaker. This year, the retailer is offering a number of Alexa-related specials.

Of course, Walmart is taking aim at Amazon by offering its own special deals today. Actually, some of the deals began yesterday and will continue for the week, with free shipping thrown in to combat Amazon's shipping deals for Prime members. Like Amazon, Walmart is relying on sale-priced electronics to catch the eye of shoppers, mixed in with other low-priced products.

How will Walmart do? Will Amazon Prime Day surpass the 2015 sales record? How many new Prime members will sign up--and how many will stay after the free period is over?

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Millennials and Marketing

An online search for "Millennials and marketing" shows more than 22 million results. (If we could have searched online for "Boomers and marketing" 30+ years ago, there would have been a similar result.)

Millennials are the target market for many goods and services, with distinct needs, wants, preferences, attitudes, and behaviors. Stereotyping won't work--research is key. Brands that do their homework and get it right can win loyal customers. Brands that don't listen or respond will fall out of favor and have to run hard to catch up (if they can).

Here are some recent articles and analyses about marketing to Millennials:

Friday, July 1, 2016

Brands Ride Along with Disney's Theme Park Expansion Plans

Walt Disney has a new theme park, Shanghai Disneyland. PepsiCo was at the opening, with a limited-edition.

PepsiCo also partnered on a branded stage inside the Shanghai park. Four years ago, Pepsi opened a special R&D center to develop products that fit the taste buds of customers in China. Working with Disney furthers PepsiCo's expansion in China.

Starbucks is another brand that sees opportunity in working with Disney. In Shanghai at the Disney Resort, Starbucks just opened what will be its busiest coffee shop in the world, with 110 baristas to serve 25 million customers yearly. Starbucks already had a presence in each of the Disney parks in Orlando, and in Disneyland California.

These are only two of the global brands that are riding along with Disney's marketing magic in its global expansion. One more brand enjoying the ride is Hasbro, which won the lucrative doll license from Mattel and now produces princess dolls and other toys based on strong Disney brand franchises like Frozen.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Subscription Boxes of Everything

In 2010, Birchbox touched off the craze for marketing of subscriptions to monthly deliveries of . . . well, almost everything, at least these days. Birchbox began by offering boxes of sample-sized cosmetics so women can try new blush, eye makeup, skin cream, and so on.

Samples are provided by the manufacturers, and subscriptions are reasonably priced to encourage people to remain customers for many months. Birchbox now offers monthly boxes of samples for women and men, curated with a theme and personalized to fit subscribers' needs.

Many consumers like the idea of trying new products with minimal financial risk. Variety-seekers are another targeted segment. Like something? Order from Birchbox or buy locally--ideally, from one of the new Birchbox retail stores. UPDATE: Birchbox is scaling back its expansion amid competitive pressures.

Meal ingredients by mail are another focus of marketing attention, with firms like Blue Apron and Hello Fresh targeting Millennials and others who want to pull ingredients out of a box, pick up the supplied recipe, and have a home-cooked meal that's tasty and elegant. Ingredients are premeasured so there's no waste, which enhances the value.

Today, subscription-based curated boxes are available in a wide variety of categories, from international snack foods and men's clothing to travel items and fly-fishing items.

What's the product life cycle of subscription boxes? Hard to say, although it's probably much shorter than the life cycle of catalog marketing (more than a century old and still viable).

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Mission Statements and Marketing

Writing a marketing plan? Don't skip the mission statement. A carefully-crafted mission can highlight the company or brand's purpose, identify who is being targeted, explain what the value is, and inspire by looking ahead. The mission should guide marketing, both external and internal, just as it is meant to guide management.

Some mission statements are specific, some are more general, but all should be forward-looking and encourage aiming high for a corporate purpose. Inc. has a good article about inspirational mission statements here.

Below is a sample of mission statements from leading companies, along with a bit of my own commentary:
  • PepsiCo: "to provide consumers around the world with delicious, affordable, convenient and complementary foods and beverages from wholesome breakfasts to healthy and fun daytime snacks and beverages to evening treats." [My take: Nicely specific, identifies the customer base and the product categories, includes benefits and attributes for brand image.]
  • Coca-Cola: "to refresh the world...inspire moments of optimism and happiness...create value and make a difference." [My take: Relates to the product mix, has a very upbeat tone and appeals to stakeholder audiences, but could be more specific.]
  • Nike: "bring inspiration and innovation to every athlete in the world." [My take: Direct, indicates customers, highlights core competencies, and positive.]
  • Microsoft: "to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more." [My take: Rather broad, doesn't identify any particular customer group or product category, but aspirational wording is a plus.]
  • Samsung: "In everything we do, we strive to help people live better lives." [My take: Too broad, despite positive and aspirational tone, and can be applied to nearly any customer group and any product category.]
  • Sony: "to be a company that inspires and fulfills your curiosity." [My take: Another positive statement, but lacks specifics and has no obvious connection with the brand and its heritage and products] 
  • tronc (the "new" company brand for what was Tribune): to be a "content curation and monetization company" to "leverage innovative technology to deliver personalized and interactive experiences." [My take: vague, no indication of what "content" is--news? entertainment?--and seems more focused on technology and monetization than indicating the customer base]

Wednesday, June 15, 2016

Fortune 500 Issue Has Fewer Pages Than in Past 3 Years

This is the time of year when Fortune publishes its door-stop-sized issue listing America's 500 largest corporations. Since 1998, I've tracked the number of pages per issue, which is suggestive of the economic situation because of the number of ads and, therefore, the size of the issue. 

The 2016 issue, alas, is not as fat as 2015, 2014, or 2013, going by the numbered pages. It's only 10 pages bigger than the 2008 issue, which came out in the year of the financial crisis. But then again, this is an election year, which may affect advertising decisions and budgets. 

Another major factor is the increase in digital advertising, which is partly responsible for the plateau (at best) or decline in print advertising overall.
2016: 346
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

Monday, June 13, 2016

A Closer Look at LEGO Serious Play

From LEGO Serious Play
LEGO Serious Play is a division of LEGO devoted to helping businesses and organizations build teamwork. The program "taps into your team's creativity to boost strategic problem-solving and enhance how it handles change."

LEGO isn't the only big name in children's entertainment to offer corporate programs. Walt Disney has a separate division to teach customer service skills and support service teambuilding. It also offers unique team-building opportunities for groups that meet at its hotels and resorts.

LEGO's division is marketing teambuilding activities built around using LEGO blocks to create structures - and, in the process, inject more creativity into working together.

Quoting from the LEGO Serious Play site: The metaphors in the models serve as the basis for group discussion, knowledge sharing and problem solving and help foster creative thinking and finding unique solutions. The idea originated in 1996 and LEGO Serious Play has now certified facilitators all over the world.

There's a book about this teamwork/creativity approach, in case your management wants to try this at home. The Chicago Tribune wrote about LEGO Serious Play in 2015, interviewing one of the book's authors. Others are using LEGO toys to unlock creative potential, as shown on this page about LEGO and Art Lab. And some companies ask job candidates to build LEGO structures during the recruitment process--so be prepared. These ubiquitous plastic bricks have value to people of all ages and at all levels!

Monday, June 6, 2016

Joe Fresh Leaves America

When the Canadian-based clothing brand Joe Fresh first came to America in 2011, it introduced itself with a hip, fashion-oriented ad campaign. By 2014, the nationwide distribution deal through JC Penney--which gave Joe Fresh prominent positioning in stores from coast to coast--was a challenge because of Penney's troubles, but Joe Fresh was still pursuing international marketing.

By 2015, Joe Fresh was in only 200 Penney stores but pushing multichannel marketing for US customers. Now Joe Fresh is closing its flagship US stores and its US deal with JC Penney is over.

Will the brand try America again? US customers can still shop online or cross the border to a freestanding Joe Fresh store or a store inside/next to a Loblaw's across Canada. 

The brand, owned by Loblaw's, uses social and digital media to reach fans of cheap chic fashion. Its FB page has 266,000 likes, its Twitter feed has 94,000 followers, its Snapchat account is @JoeFreshSnaps, and its Pinterest boards have 14,000 followers. It has an app with special deals and a blog for content marketing.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Are Department Stores Dinosaurs?

The uncertain future of department stores has been discussed for more than 30 years, with the rise of specialty stores, consumer preference for lifestyle shopping centers instead of enclosed malls, and--of course--online shopping.

During the 1980s and 1990s, department stores and mass merchandisers were making significant changes behind the scenes. Point-of-sale terminals replaced cash registers, and personal computers brought data analysis to management's fingertips. Managers could see hourly sales trends instead of waiting for end-of-month numbers.

In those days, department stores like Saks and Sears still offered private-label credit cards, which in turn allowed them to see who bought what and how often. Credit was frequently a source of profits, not just an engine for supporting sales increases. (Today, nearly all store cards are operated by non-retailers). Remember, Sears founded the Discover card, using its expertise in the credit industry. Here's a case study about Sears that offers clues to some of the retail challenges of the time. And here's a quick look at how Sears evolved over the years.

The question of whether department stores are dinosaurs bound for extinction is still being asked. A real estate analysis firm recently estimated that department stores would need to shutter hundreds of branches to return to the sales-per-square-foot productivity levels of 2006. That translates into a sea of empty anchor stores all over the country. Malls are trying to update the shopping experience to bring consumers back, to go to the movies or for specialty stores that are especially in demand.

In a world where promotional pricing attracts shopper attention, department stores are joining in, and that's making waves for high-end brands. Michael Kors is going to limit the number of products it sells to department stores to avoid having its lux image affected by promo pricing.

Department stores are also making some other adjustments. Macy's is closing a few dozen stores, and Sears/Kmart is closing some stores as well. Macy's has begun rolling out "Backstage" off-price stores within stores to utilize space and attract price-conscious shoppers who might otherwise go elsewhere. Sears is leasing some of its space to other stores, such as Primark.

It's still too early to deem department stores dinosaurs.