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.