Thursday, April 26, 2018

Ford Steers Toward SUVs, Crossovers, and Trucks

Now that oil prices have been well below $100/barrel for an extended period, Ford Motor Co. says it's cutting back on its line of passenger cars because of much higher demand for larger vehicles--which deliver higher profits.

As the tweet above indicates, Ford is "transforming our North American lineup by 2020..." The transformation means that U.S. dealers will soon sell only two passenger-type vehicles: the Mustang and the Focus Active (a forthcoming crossover).

The rest of the vehicles in Ford showrooms will be SUVs, trucks, and crossovers. So is Ford speeding away from passenger cars? Not really. The head of global markets says: "We will have a very diverse passenger car business. It just won’t be traditional silhouetted sedans that tend to be commoditized."

In other words, Ford is busy reinventing vehicles with a remix of benefits and design for the next generation of car buyers, resulting in distinctive products that are differentiated from competitive vehicles. The company is also slashing costs to improve profitability. Because the smaller cars don't deliver as much profitability as the larger vehicles, they're being dropped from the product mix.

By 2022, Ford's dealerships in North America will stock none of these models: Fiesta, Focus, and Taurus. The phaseouts will follow the company's product lifecycle schedule. Remember that Ford's marketing in the rest of the world will continue to feature passenger cars that are fuel efficient and fit the driving preferences of local buyers.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Heinz Gets Social Media Talking

Heinz recently asked on Twitter for a "vote" on whether the company should launch an official version of mayonnaise-ketchup, or "Mayochup." Of course, consumers have been mixing mayo and ketchup at home to create their own condiment for years. In Utah, it's simply "Fry Sauce."

But now Heinz wanted to know whether demand was high enough for a branded product. And, probably not coincidentally, the social-media "vote" was also a way to get attention for Heinz's branded mayo, which is competing with long-established Hellman's mayo (owned by Unilever).

If Heinz received half a million "yes" votes, it said it would introduce the new product. In the end, Heinz received 511,000+ "yes" votes and announced it would launch the new product later in 2018. Lots of comments, too, and coverage by news outlets.

Next social media question: What should the new product be named, if not Mayochup? No matter the result, Heinz understands that involving the public via crowdsourcing and voting attracts media attention, too.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Marketing Earth Day

The first Earth Day was celebrated on April 22, 1970, and within months, the US Environmental Protection Agency had been created to protect our precious environment.

Earth Day 2018 will be on Sunday, April 22. This year, the focus will be on plastics--specifically, removing plastics from our waterways and preventing plastics from harming the natural environment.

Of course, Earth Day has its own Twitter account (with 48k followers), its own FB account (with nearly 400k likes), a YouTube channel, Instagram account, and a blog housed on its website.

Businesses, educational groups, and other organizations are going green every day and using Earth Day to put the focus on education and action for ecological health. A few examples: Dow has teamed up with Erb Institute (U of Michigan) for a new sustainability education project. Apple announced, in time for Earth Day, that all its facilities run on 100% green energy. Indiana State University has a bike-share program as part of its Earth Day events, which also include bringing vendors on campus to provide info to students and faculty. Major League Soccer is working toward greener goals on Earth Day. The United Nations has declared the day International Mother Earth Day.

Watch for more environmental activities that encourage consumer and business involvement, along with nonprofits providing education and guidance, leading up to Earth Day and beyond.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Are Competitors Really Stakeholders? Yes!

By far the most popular posts on my marketing blog are those about competitors as stakeholders. Definition of stakeholders: "People or organizations that are affected by or that can affect an organization's performance."

So for the record, let's say it again: Competitors are definitely stakeholders. One academic paper gave six good reasons why this is so--starting with the fact that competitors' interests are not in direct opposition to the interests of a particular marketing organization. In many instances, a rival's goals and situation will be so close to yours that you absolutely must take its actions into consideration. Not to copy that rival but to anticipate and defend against competitive challenges--that's the real reason to look at competitors as stakeholders.

When a competitor introduces a new product that directly competes with your existing product, it's going to have some influence on what happens to your product. When a competitor changes a price (either up or down), that will likely change industry demand and therefore have an impact on your organization. When a competitor trumpets its sustainability initiatives, it could very well have some impact on how customers and other stakeholders compare what you're doing to what that rival is doing. More than ever, consumers care about the ethics and social responsibility of the brands they see. They also have changing preferences that competitors may detect or influence, adding to pressure on you and your industry.

A great example is Amazon vs. Walmart. Each watches the other closely, you can be sure. Walmart is playing catchup in e-commerce but doing a very credible job, even as Amazon encroaches on traditional retailing. Don't forget that this rivalry is having an impact on the rest of the retail industry, as well. The giants make moves, and even other giants must be ready to defend or deflect or initiate something new and different to influence consumer behavior.

As you scan the marketing environment, be sure that rivals are on your stakeholder list. NOT because you want to coordinate price changes--collusion is illegal in most countries--but because your strategy is necessarily influenced by the strategy and tactics of competitors. Be ready.

Monday, April 2, 2018

The Changing Face of Brand Typefaces

Southwest Airlines changed its brand's typeface a few years ago. The intent was to give the brand a more friendly, caring look. Instead of all caps, the new brand is written in upper and lower case (better readability, more accessible). And the addition of a heart (shown here in the Twitter account profile) puts "caring" into the spotlight in a very visible way.

I used the Wayback Machine to look at the Southwest brand in 2013. Above, the logo from the airline's website in that year. Notice the all-caps name. Color scheme is same as today, but no heart.

Compare with the Southwest brand in 1999, again from the Wayback Machine's captures of the company's website. All-caps name, no blue, no heart.

With airline industry consolidation a long-term trend, Southwest is no longer the scrappy startup it once was, but a strong, established carrier with a proud history and loyal customer base. The company's forecasts are closely watched for clues to industry trends. And like all airlines, Southwest watches out for price wars that can affect consumer behavior, market share, and profitability.

Therefore, when Southwest changed its brand typeface, the airline wanted to convey a certain attitude toward its customers, giving it a way to stand out in the crowded skies. It even created a separate website, "Southwest Heart," to explain the heart element in its logo.

"Now we have a unique font that really embodies our personality as a brand," explains Southwest's director of brand communications, adding that this helps differentiate the airline from competitors.