Mar 20, 2013

Nostalgia Powers Brand

Hostess brands has been rescued from bankruptcy by various investors, to the tune of $800m+.  Now I'm sure a portion of that amount values the fixed assets such as the bakery equipment or premises, but most would be in the IP of the recipes for the products and in the value of the brands themselves.  The buyers of these intangible assets no doubt believe that resurrecting Twinkies will yield profits.  They probably can also point to steps to better manage costs, improve distribution, etc.  And they may believe they can do a better job of marketing this collection of snack brands and bakery products to the American consumer.  They may look at the consumer outcry when Hostess stopped production and Twinkies left the grocery shelves as a sign of pent up demand - 'thars gold in them thar hills'.

And here lies the danger.  In the current environment of concerns over escalating youth obesity, are parents likely to flock back to a brand which, until the demise, many had eschewed from their kids lunchboxes anyway?  Will a 'low fat, low carb, low cal' Twinkie appear on the horizon, attempting to get in step with trends towards healthier eating?  Or will the new owners say 'sod it', and like Hardees and other brands stick to their core business plan by producing a high caloric product to sell to the largely health ignorant masses?

Whatever the case, it's interesting when looking at this mix of brands the role of nostalgia in the valuation of the brand.  And how when something is taken away, the nostalgia rises to the surface.  No doubt the re-introduction of Twinkies to the grocery shelf will spark another sales rush as consumers gobble those missing calories in a carb eating frenzy reminiscent of a failed Atkins dieter.  And we'll probably have tweets about how Twinkies taste different, taste better, taste the same.  Yet once the flurry subsides, will these same consumers come flooding back to the brand, on a regular basis, once the product reestablishes itself on the shelves?

I think nostalgia can only carry you so far in the world of branding.  Although venerable brands like Harley or Cheerwine have leveraged the nostalgia card to the hilt, they also recognize that you need to keep in step with consumer demands.  Harley may still have the trademarked 'growl' of the engine as a hallmark to the past, but the models reflect current market desires in performance and styling.  Cheerwine harkens to it's roots in 1917 as the 'Nectar of North Carolina' but also produces a diet version and a caffeine free version which would have never been imagined in the 1920s and 1930s when the brand was gaining traction in the South.

So to the new owners of the Twinkie, Ho Ho, Ding Dong, and Wonder Bread, I wish you well.  Leverage the power of your brand to those who remember it, but look at how it needs added dimensions to appeal to the next generation of consumers.

Feb 5, 2013

Lies, Damned Lies, and Big Data

Is Big Data potentially the end of strategy for marketers? I don’t think so yet, but let’s take a look at the argument.

 Let’s start by defining what is a marketing strategy. Here’s how Wikipedia describes marketing strategy:

 Marketing strategy is a process that can allow an organization to concentrate its resources on the optimal opportunities with the goals of increasing sales and achieving a sustainable competitive advantage. Marketing strategy includes all basic and long-term activities in the field of marketing that deal with the analysis of the strategic initial situation of a company and the formulation, evaluation and selection of market-oriented strategies and therefore contribute to the goals of the company and its marketing objectives.

 We can distil this definition down to a series of functions which make up the marketing strategy process: allocation of resources, optimization of opportunities, analysis of the company or brand’s situation, formulation of sub-strategies (e.g. media, message, etc.) to achieve the objectives, and prioritization of those sub-strategies towards accomplishing the mission and goals of the company/brand. The notion that Big Data might make these functions automated, a ‘M2M created marketing strategy’ with limited need for human involvement, is based on the premise that for each of these processes, Big Data takes the guesswork and inference away from the marketer.

Take allocation of resources, for example. The old adage by Lord Leverhulme (and also credited to John Wanamaker) of ‘"half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half” is rapidly disappearing due to sophisticated analytics, measurable media channels, intelligent testing, and statistical modeling applied to virtually all marketing techniques. Data is at the heart of this change – where marketers used to simply blast messages out and credit/blame the creative or media for success or failure, today’s marketer knows who to send what message to, at the right time, through the right channel and can readily predict success. Or at least, in the case of GoDaddy’s latest Super Bowl ad , who will go ‘eugh’.

Similar arguments can be made for the other functions which make up the marketing strategy process. Increases in the volume and quality of data and data mining tools have changed how marketers prioritize opportunities, analyze their situation, and deploy sub-strategies. For example, where media presentations used to be at the end of the agency agenda well after the creative ‘drama’, it’s now towards the front and far beyond the ‘reach and frequency’ metrics of the last century. Much to the chagrin of the Creative Director, no doubt.

So if Big Data holds all the answers for marketers, surely we need only hire statisticians and techno-geeks as our CMOs? I tend to disagree, and align my views with those of Gord Hotchkiss. In a recent article, Gord made an interesting argument against the notion that Big Data may make strategy obsolete. He uses the analogy of driving a car to an unknown destination. In the pre-GPS days, you’d work out a strategy on how to get there – what major roads to take, the general direction, and how long it should take. Your strategy may involve planning the route, and estimating when you’re likely to arrive. It might have contingencies built in- e.g. suppose the Eisenhower Expressway still has that construction near Wolf Road? – and would rely on adjusting the strategy as you went to ensure you made it to the destination safely. With GPS providing data like turn by turn directions and upcoming road conditions, your need for a driving strategy has diminished – you simply execute the ‘tactic’ without need for a strategy. The role of a strategy is seen as filling in the data gaps for a marketer, where inference is needed. With fewer data gaps, the thinking goes, the less need for strategy. In short, Big Data conquers all. Arguing against this notion, Hotchkiss postulates that strategy is more than simply inference, but also synthesis and interpretation. It is these latter two characteristics that require the human element and experience. Big Data can provide the insights and fill in the gaps, but someone has to decide which of the mountain of insights are most important for the future strategic direction for the company or brand, as well as the impacts of external forces (government, competitors, culture) on that direction. Or to use the driving analogy, while the GPS may provide the optimal route and fastest time to our destination, sometimes the kids need the bathroom and the optimum is unattainable.

A modern strategist needs to rely on the insights from Big Data and deploy some artistic license and creativity in developing a strategy. Just as Apple famously never commissioned focus groups to launch the iPod, partly on the premise that no sane person would have ever wanted or needed 10,000 songs in their pocket, so must modern marketers rely on their experience, intuition, and imagination in developing compelling strategies.

For more compelling insights and thinking on marketing topics, please visit Robinson & Maites at

Oct 26, 2012

Here we go again?

Last year, a few weeks after moving into our new home, we were greeted with an unwanted visitor:  Hurricane Irene, who managed to drop a tree across the driveway and another on the house.  Welcome to the neighborhood, Paul.

Now, forecasts have Hurricane Sandy turning into 'Frankenstorm' in time to mess up Halloween, so having learned my lesson I'm planning in advance.  Well, a couple days in advance.  Which is clearly not enough, if you want to buy a portable generator.  Which leads me to a comment:  why, when an e-commerce site is out of stock, do we need to find the product, read the reviews, decide we want it, and THEN discover that it's nowhere to be found in a 12 state vicinity?

After Irene, sensible bricks and mortar retailers posted hand written signs saying 'No Ice' so that customers didn't need to stop and bother the clerk for the 300th time.  During the petrol tanker strike in the UK, stations posted signs saying 'No Petrol', again to dissuade motorists from queuing for hours for nothing.

Somehow, this notion of retail sensibility for out of stock situations during times of peak demand does not spread to e-tailers like, who merrily let me waste time only to find that the closest my local Lowes has to a generator is a few candles.  A simple interstitial either confirming out of stocks, or directing to an availability page, would have been welcomed.  The lack of communication is another example of how some retailers just don't get it where their e-commerce sites are concerned.  What the ideal e-commerce site provides is the ease of at home shopping, and a virtual replication of, or even enhancement to, the in-store experience.  Surely out of stock situations - and it's not just hurricane prep items but hot Christmas toys or fashion 'must haves' - warrant a well thought out contact plan and strategy to save customers time and ensure the experience is less negative.

Unlike my posting last time prior to Irene, I'm not going to say anything tempting fate.  Stay safe, anyone in Frankenstorm's path!

Oct 18, 2012

Farewell Newsweek as we knew it

Time for a touch of nostalgia, folks, as Newsweek just announced it is going purely digital, and dropping the print version of their magazine.  Of course, I saw this on-line, so the irony is clear, but it reminded me of some of the old Newsweek magazines which my father had saved ... presumably for days like this.  One in particular is the July 28, 1969 edition.

Here's the cover shot, so you can guess the main story:

An unearthly shot if ever there was one.  And at the time, although I was too young to realize, a monumental moment in mankind's mission for mastering the majestic moon and outer space.  Okay, I got a little carried away with the alliteration, but the point is that Newsweek, along with the daily newspapers and other magazines like Time, were THE source of information, and used some extraordinary journalism to capture the essence of this event.

Other little tidbits from this edition:

  • Teddy Kennedy was in a bit of hot water, as this edition spotlit the infamous Chappaquiddick tragedy in the National Affairs section that dogged him for decades after the incident.
  • The Vietnam War had an update page called 'Steady on Course', showing a photo of Admiral John S McCain Jr. walking with others to plot the course of the war.  No, that's not the Republican nominee for President from 2008, but his father.
  • The international section headline was "India:  Gunning for Mrs. Gandhi".  25 years later, that is exactly what happened, as the Indian PM was assassinated by her bodyguards.
  • The Spotlight on Business section highlighted 'Bernie and His Billions'.  No, not Madoff, but another Bernie, Benard Cornfeld, who was described as a "self-made emperor of international finance".  The article included color photos of him cavorting with women as the 'Hugh Hefner of Western Europe', and riding horses at one of his grand estates.  He was ultimately tried and acquitted for running one of the biggest confidence games of his era.  Must be something about being called 'Bernie' that leads people down a crooked path.
  • The Dow closed the week before at 845.92.  Total.  As in down 6.33 to close at 845.92.  Contrast that with what happened on October 13th, 2008 when the increase was +936.42 or September 29th of the same year when the Dow declined -777.68, and you get the point.  A lot of shares have changed hands since that magazine has published.
  • Blind Faith made their first appearance in the US, jamming 20,000 into Madison Square Garden.  If you've never heard of Blind Faith, you might know the band members.  Ginger Baker on drums, Eric Clapton on guitar, and 21 year old upstart Steve Winwood.  

Oct 15, 2012

Green Eggs and Ham anyone?

Like many parents, I occasionally go through old toys and children's books which have fallen into disuse or are outgrown.  Usually it involves making comments like 'ah, remember when' and 'not sure I can get rid of this', especially if both you and your spouse are attempting the clearing out task.  With a 10 year old, sadly many of the Dr. Seuss books have given way to more challenging material involving fewer pictures, more words, and no rhymes.  One such book, 'Green Eggs and Ham', was one of my personal favorites and on re-reading it last weekend, it became clear that there's a few lessons we marketers could benefit from courtesy of Dr. Seuss.

I won't repeat the entirety of the tale in this posting but suffice to say it is about an effort by one character, 'Sam I Am', to get another unnamed character to taste something new, and the often absurd extremes Sam goes to in order to entice a tasting.

If we think about conventional marketing of a product or service, the approach is often similar to that taken by Sam I Am.  We describe the product and ask the customer to try it.  If that doesn't work, we try different circumstances to drive the initial trial.  Maybe we don't opt to put the product on a boat or with a mouse, but we still try to find alternative ways to influence perceptions through changing the positioning, conjuring up new campaigns, endorsements or sponsorships, or various other initiatives aimed at inducing trial.  And marketers sometimes spend vast fortunes bludgeoning customers into surrender - especially political candidate marketers, if my experience in the swing state of Virginia is anything to go by.

For many products or services, once the initial trial is obtained, the customer is sold.  Hence the efforts auto manufacturers and dealers go to to gain the crucial test drive of a new vehicle, or the millions spent on sampling at grocery.  Yet is the 'Sam I Am' approach to marketing the best way?  Does constant repetition and adaptation of a core product/service message really the best way to gain trial?

In the social world that we inhabit, I'd argue that while components of the 'old way' of positioning and gaining trial still work, it would behoove Sam I Am to undertake a few other tactics in his effort to secure trial of the green eggs and ham, namely:

1.  Basic data interrogation -  Of course, learning primary data, ie the character's name, is vital to ever gaining an element of trust, so clearly Sam I Am had some data interrogation to do with his prospect green eggs and ham list before approaching with the offer of trial.  He might have also checked his records regarding previous egg and ham campaigns, to see if his unnamed prospect had been approached, how many times, with what message combination or offer, etc.  And if the prospect had indeed been a customer who had lapsed, maybe check with his customer service data to see any complaints raised about the eggs or ham - perhaps the previous color for the eggs was red, so green might be a product innovation that could re-gain a lapsed customer?  Using a decent CRM system linked to a customer service platform, Sam I Am might have armed himself better for his initial foray.
2.  Social listening - Sam I Am could have determined the unnamed characters preferences or  what has been termed 'secondary data'  - ie interests, goals and motivations - through social listening using tools like Radian6.  This might have helped him refine the selection of use occasions or participants to offer - instead of on a boat, maybe a kayak if the unnamed character was a regular REI fan and blogged about his kayaking?  It may have uncovered a vast group of prospective green egg and ham users, who perhaps had preferences that could have honed down the rather haphazard food and location pairings Sam I Am attempted.
3.  Influencer marketing - Sam I Am could have sought expert recommendations on the quality of his green eggs and ham from noted experts or foodie bloggers, and ensured the unnamed character saw said recommendations prior to initiating trial efforts.  This may have softened resistance to the notion, although the unnamed character does go to great lengths to say he does not like green eggs and ham, suggesting an unsatisfactory prior experience with the 'brand' that an influencer may not overcome.
4.  WOM - There's little doubt that if Sam I Am had trust to begin with, he would not have needed such extreme lengths and effectively gain 'surrender' for the trial.  Yet many customers do not trust the brand owner, and are more likely to believe a friend.  So perhaps Sam I Am could have cultivated some known advocates with a word of mouth marketing program to encourage sampling and trial by their friends, in the hopes that trusted friends may have induced the trial.


In the end, of course, the green eggs and ham is liked, no matter the physical circumstances or who the meal is presented with.  The unnamed character becomes a joyous advocate for green eggs and ham.  And Sam I Am tried to win an Addy for his "out of the box, hit them with rocks, put on white socks" thinking.

Oct 4, 2012

Dog days

Our dog is a 12 year old Scottie named Murphy.  Unfortunately, Murphy had a tussle with our significantly younger and bigger King Shepherd, resulting in poor Murph spending most of the weekend and this week in the vet emergency clinic.  Good news is he survived the scuffle (barely ... a case of attempted dogslaughter by the Shepherd?) and is recovering nicely.  But he is definitely off his food.  After numerous discussions with the vet, the recommended solution?  Baby food, non-chunky, off of a spoon.

Hence my trip to the grocery store to buy 10 jars of pureed turkey, chicken, and beef for the dog.  First time visiting this aisle in 9 years.  And it was an interesting excursion from a couple perspectives.

First, that an aisle which is normally nothing more than a cut through to the dairy department is a lot busier brand-wise than I recall from the days when baby food was bought for a baby, namely mine.  The variety of foods and food combinations is quite remarkable, with clear delineation of more expensive varieties from the value options.  Yet what is even more remarkable is the lack of standout on the shelf, and overall poor quality of merchandising by the large manufacturers.  Now that could be the buyer at Kroger stopping some nice initiatives, but it felt like a part of the store which, though high profit, is relatively ignored from a shopper marketing perspective as young mom's account for a small minority of this particular store's traffic.  Any short term promotions to build trial and loyalty was almost non-existent, if you judge activity by the shelf alone.  So I went on-line, and whoa:  what a lot of stuff is available, courtesy of Gerber/Nestle, Beech Nut, and a whole host of brands.  Plenty of what marketers are terming, in annoyingly repetitive fashion, 'engagement opportunities' for the young mother with time on her hands (not) to explore these sites, laden with coupons and advice.

But that raises the question - why isn't it carried through to the point of sale, the zero moment of truth or whatever you want to call it?  Is all the seeding of prospects occurring outside the store, such that the in-store experience is purely a transactional relationship, aimed as satisfying the shopping list item?  Why is there no guidance to choosing a selection of items which provide a balanced diet to a baby or toddler, in the form of shelf strips or point of sale advice?  Or why not provide QR codes which link to the information, to help a mother get the right assortment for her child?

In short, it seems at least where baby food is concerned, that the digital revolution has been at the expense of the shopper marketing revolution, with precious little interest or effort in driving sales and information at the last few feet.

Still, at least Murphy is feeling better!!

PS:  It feels kinda weird feeding a dog baby food from a spoon.  Almost had a knee jerk reaction to put him over my shoulder to 'burp' him afterwards ...

Sep 17, 2012

How the NFL mirrors the changes in marketing

I LOVE both the NFLand marketing.

But football has changed - and so has marketing, before our eyes.  

Witness the following:

Yesterday AND Today
No Huddle
Planning Cycles and Large Team Initiatives
Real Time Adaptive Planning and Small Team Empowerment
Receiver shuttles in signals
QB hears signals on headset
Communication via ‘traditional’ channels
Communication via ‘real time’ channels
Predictable play calling:  run, run, pass, punt
Unpredictable play calling:  constant change and mix it up
Predictable mix of campaigns and tactics – ‘we’ve always done it this way, and it worked before’
Responsive, adaptive tactics and programs, which optimize opportunities as they appear
QB tries to read defense
QB studies tendencies, and predicts while still reading
Marketers try to understand competitors and market changes through traditional research methods like focus groups or sales interviews
Marketers use predictive analytics and advanced social listening to understand competitors and market changes … as well as traditional research methods done in a non-traditional way
2 minute offense is strictly for the last 2 minutes in the half/game
2 minute offense is anytime
Speed to market is on hyperdrive only in exceptional, non-routine circumstances
Speed to market is always on hyperdrive, and doesn’t need exceptional circumstances to occur.
Players multi-task and play offense and defense in some cases
Players are specialists
Senior marketers multi-task, and are expected to be experts in all aspects of an increasingly complex marketing field
Senior marketers specialize in terms of technology, insight, communications – less ‘generalists’ and more specialists – and hence structure aligned to having specialisms within the marketing function
Pads made of leather
Pads made of complex polycarbonate mixture
Communications mainly paper based or TV
Communications mainly electronic and real time.
Running back … runs the ball.
Running back might run, catch, throw an option.
Marketers hired for marketing a product or service
Marketers hired for marketing a product or service, specifying innovation and IT requirements, selling partnerships or even directly to major customers

The question for marketers is simple:  how adept are you at calling an audible in the heat of battle?  Do you have Manning or Brees in your DNA … or more conventional qualities, like the vast majority of Bears QBs (with the exception of Cutler)?

Sep 12, 2012

Campaign tagline 'match n win?'

If you enjoy games where you need to match up two columns of information, then you'll enjoy the following in the spirit of the election season.

Can you match the tagline with the anti-campaigner from these previous Presidential elections? Prize?  Nothing but the honor of knowing your stuff!!

1.  Ma, Ma, where’s My Pa? Gone to the White House, ha, ha, ha
a.  Kerry
2.  Let’s stop the 4th term now
b.  Adams
3.  57,000 ways to tax Americans
c.  Ford
4.  Bargain and Corruption
d.  Cleveland
5.  Bonzo is Back
e.  Bush (GW)
6.  Bozo and the Pineapple
f.  FDR
7.  Compassionate Colonialism
g.  McCain
8.  Don’t settle for peanuts
h.  Reagan
9.  Incontinence meets incompetence
i.  Carter

Answers:  1d, 2f, 3a, 4b, 5h, 6c, 7e, 8i, 9g

(Special thanks to for the info on these)

And the credit for this tagline goes to ...

Hot news on the communications wire this morning says that Toyota has introduced a new tagline, "Let's Go Places".  According to the report, "Toyota worked with advertising partners Saatchi & Saatchi, Dentsu America, Conill, Burrell, Intertrend and Grieco Research to create the tagline."
Which begs the question:  how did that work?  Did Saatchi come up with "Let Us", then Dentsu pitched in with 'hey we can shorten this let's make it "let's"'?  Did Conill and Burrell then spend hours contemplating words like 'drive', 'jumpstart' (nope, not so good for a car brand) before settling on 'go'?  And was it up to Intertrend and Grieco Research to figure out that "Let's Go" by itself is better suited to a laxative brand, and therefore needed the eponymous "Places" to round out the message?
It's interesting how this approach to giving the whole communication agency team credit for what will assuredly be a long term tagline is a radical change from earlier times when single mainline ad agencies claimed taglines and slogans as being their creative property.  The benefit of the team approach?  Everyone can claim they developed it.  Not just those in the creative departments, but countless freelance creatives who worked at any of those shops can probably put it on their reel or resume.  Of course, if the tagline bombs or is perverted due to some mechanical issues - as in "Let's Go Places as Long as They have the Parts in Stock" - then watch everyone run a million miles from the program. 
Such has it always been in the communications game - success means everyone jumping on the bandwagon and claiming credit; failure means no one did it.  Sort of like asking who voted for Nixon in 1972.  Incidentally, his 1972 campaign slogans were "President Nixon - now more than ever" and "Four More Years".  I heard the latter once or twice at the DNC recently - do you think they were honoring Nixon?  But maybe Nixon's 1968 slogan was better:  "Nixon's the One".  Yep, that's probably what the Watergate prosecutors thought too.

Sep 6, 2012

Let's stop the engagement

I've worked in marketing all of my life.  And every so often, I come across a word which is over used by practitioners to the point of it's meaning being lost or confused.  In the 1990s one such word was 'integration', as applied to either your agency services or more often the campaigns you produced.  For some, an integrated campaign was one in which the literal assets of one media (e.g. the TV ad imagery or copy) were zealously duplicated in any other media (e.g. direct mail, email, website, on-pack, etc.).  For others, an integrated campaign was one in which the tone was consistent - each channel could look different, but they had to 'sing off the same hymn sheet'.  Still other pundits took the stance that an integrated campaign was one where everything linked to everything else, even if the tone or imagery differed.  So, for example, as long as you put the website address on the TV spot, or had a click through on your website to the video of the same TV spot, you were integrated.

But that was the 1990's, when Clinton was President, grunge and Britpop played in clubs, MP3 players weren't selling much until that Jobs fella changed it, and direct marketing/CRM was seen as the savior of most companies.  Surely, in the twenty-teens we're about to enter we'll have outgrown such confusion over a word.

Nope.  It's now  in our social world all about 'engagement'.  You know:  10 steps to engagement; how to engage with prospects; how engaging is your brand; are your employees engaged with your brand; etc.  How many emails or postings of content do you receive daily with the word 'engagement' somewhere in the title or description.

Diving a little deeper, we find engagement has multiple meanings and raises multiple questions and opportunities for befuddlement and confusion.  If someone 'likes' your brand, are they engaged?  Well, maybe - they were engaged at the time they clicked 'like', so for a nanosecond or two.  Or maybe they were engaged by the offer or funny video you did, but couldn't give a hoot about (or even remember) who they 'liked' to get it.

Does engagement mean they regularly chat about your brand to all their friends?  Sure, that's engaged, although if your brand was Clorox wouldn't you be concerned about the type of people who pontificate about your brand excessively as having a strange personality disorder?  Not sure I want as my brand advocate someone with potentially a screw loose.  I can be loyal to a brand, use a brand, but it doesn't necessarily follow that I want to be engaged by a brand.  Hell, Clorox, I buy it ... isn't that enough?

But the bottom line is at the moment, engagement is so overused that I think some of the meaning is going out of the term.  People aren't really sure what it means anymore, but like 'integration' in the 1990's it must be a good thing to have or why else would everyone be talking about it.

In seeking resolution to this challenge, I took a step back and thought about what most Average Joe and Josephine thinks about the word 'engagement'.  My limited scale research (I talked to the neighbors, Joe and Josephine ... they're thinking of changing their last name, as it hinders job applications for Joe) and found that they don't think they're 'engaged' with a brand, only that they like it, hate it, can't be fussed with it, don't know it, or think it's someone else's.  Some brands they'd like to be engaged with - Porsche, for example.  Problem is Porsche doesn't want to engage with them, at least not where new cars are concerned.  Mr and Mrs Average do not drive a Porsche.

So maybe the trick is to think less about 'engaging' customers, and more about what the original form of engagement stands for.  Tell someone "I'm engaged" and it's a clear signal that marriage is impending.  It's a promise, nothing more.  Doesn't carry much legal weight, it can be short or long or failed or called off.  But it's a promise.  So the question is does your brand elicit a promise with your customers?  Are you breaking your promises (through customer service or through crappy performance) such that the engagement breaks off?  And are you measuring engagement by the metrics of what someone says (ie telling everyone 'we're engaged') or what someone does (ie here's the ring and the wedding is booked)?  In other words, is your engagement meaningful enough to drive actions and get you the ring ... in particular, the ring of the cash register.

Wait a minute - that's another 90's reference - cash registers don't really ring anymore, do they?  That's what I call progress!

Sep 5, 2012

Sports Analogies: Part One

Imagine the situation.  You’re leading the client services team pitching a huge new client.  It started with 10 agencies on the pitch, and in round one, your creative director nailed it.  Amazing ideas, terrific presentation – brought tears to the eyes of the client, it was so good.  You breeze through to round two with the field whittled down 5 agencies.  Again, the CD lays it on the line and pulls out amazing work.  Cheers from the client, with post presentation feedback indicating that your CD is the ‘creative spark that fuels your business’.

Now it’s down to the final shootout, all the big guns firing as three agencies vie for this lucrative assignment.  The morning of the pitch, you’re called into the CEO’s office, presumably to discuss the final presentation team or format or iron out some details.  Instead, you’re told the CD will NOT be there or do any further work with this client on the pitch.  Reason:  fatigue brought on by too many hours in the office coming up with ideas, and a determination by the management team that we need to ‘save’ some of the CD’s ideas and energy for the next prospective client. 

How do you feel?  Well, now you know how Washington Nationals fans feel at the moment over Stephen Strasburg.

Mar 7, 2012

Wild Onion Musings: Last Impressions Matter

Wild Onion Musings: Last Impressions Matter: Walking through many stores is often a manifestation of the retailer's desire to create a positive impression from the point of entry to t...

Last Impressions Matter

Walking through many stores is often a manifestation of the retailer's desire to create a positive impression from the point of entry to the store.  In many cases, that impression is excellent - a walk through Whole Foods or The Fresh Market is like a grocery fantasy land, complete with exotic smells and sounds to complement a visually enticing shopper experience.  No doubt many thousands of hours have gone into crafting these exceptional experiences, and a positive first impression.

Yet with many retailers, what is the last impression a shopper has?  The checkout.  Traditionally highlighted in research as the bane of most shopper's existence, it's a source of frustration and annoyance on busy days in particular.  There's a number of reasons why this is the case.  Let's face it - checkout is where reality dawns on shoppers.  All those wonderful ideas they've conceived about their meals or DIY projects or whatever they put in the cart come crashing down as the shopper faces the harsh economic reality that they have to pay for it and the realization that it probably cost more than they were expecting.  Add to this 'pain point' the checkout clerk, who in many cases is the most junior staffer or newest hire, and you have the potential for a really lousy last impression.  Putting a button on a checkout clerk saying 'How can I help you' or 'Customer First' does not make them an attuned salesperson or CS representative.

Indeed, most retailers now offer self checkout in an attempt to speed up the process and minimize the pain associated with waiting and dealing with a clerk.  And on most occasions where I've used said scanners and bag carousels, I've found the process equally time consuming and invariably requiring the assistance of the one person whose job is to oversee all of the self checkouts.  Apple are going further, testing self-checkout via mobile apps in selected stores as well as pre-ordering capability, to minimize wait times and free up staff.

Yet minimizing the exposure to the checkout clerk is not the answer, particularly in busy grocery stores where the shopper objective is to get people to fill their carts and self-checkout isn't practical.  Imbuing the clerk in the ethos of the retail brand and the practice of exceptional customer service is more than answering a few questions on the application form or reading the new hire handout.  Most clerks can recite fruit and veg codes, but not the vision for the retailer brand nor the values which they all supposedly share.  Few clerks ever receive formal training on handling customers effectively, efficiently, and positively.  Scenario training, role play, gaming - all are techniques which could educate and enlighten the checkout staff.  Investing in staff, particularly when they're often the lowest paid, is likely to pay greater dividends in terms of not just brand perceptions and that last impression of the customer but in terms of staff retention.  With staff turnover at retail typically 20-25% per year, any reduction in the implicit cost of getting new people has got to make economic sense.

The challenge for retail marketers is simple:  how can you make the last impression, as good as the first.  Dishearteningly, few have been up to the challenge so far.

Feb 22, 2012

No strings attached

We're moving Wild Onion Marketing into a new direction:  shopper marketing.  This plays more to our heartland of retail marketing, sales promotion, data, mobile technology, and merchandising.  More on that later, but thought we'd start to move the blog more in the direction of issues and trends within the shopper marketing arena.  First stop, invariably:  retailers.

A friend who used to work with me previously served as Lord Sainsbury’s PA in the UK.  Sainsbury, CEO of the huge multiple grocer bearing his name, used to regularly travel the country visiting outlets on the company jet or via limo.  Of course, when Lord Sainsbury was arriving, stores were swept clean, shelves stocked immaculately, staff uniforms pressed.  Like a good regiment, the staff would be lined up, ready for an enthusiastic greeting of their founder and CEO/Chairman.

Lord Sainsbury would arrive, and promptly have the regional and store management show him around.  All would be pleasantries until … the butcher’s counter.  Suddenly, Lord Sainsbury would stop, point down at the floor, and ask ‘what’s that’.  Staff would stare at the floor, seeing nothing amiss.  Managers would sweat, butchers twitch, as Sainsbury would repeat his enquiry to utter silence.  'What's that', he'd repeat.

Soon, a tirade would erupt, as the infamous Sainsbury temper would ensure all within earshot knew that the famous owner had visited.  And invariably regret the day they were born.  The cause?  A loose piece of butcher's string, swept under the counter but not out of sight.  To Lord Sainsbury, it was not a piece of twine, but a symbol of waste, slovenly management, lackadaisical attitudes.

Striding out of the store, Sainsbury used to explain to my colleague that these store staff would likely see him only once or twice during their employment (which with retail turnover at 25% is probably true).  He wanted to ensure they remembered a message from his visit.

Now maybe your CEO is not quite as temperamental as Sainsbury, or slightly draconian in his employee relations.  But the point is this:  waste can happen throughout a store, especially in the area of shopper marketing.  Poorly executed programs, complex operational instructions, lack of attention to detail in design or development of whatever the campaign may entail:  all are common issues.  

The goal for any retail marketer, especially in the competitive environment most retailers or e-commerce providers face, is to ensure your customers have the best environment in which to buy.  In essence, help the 'buyer buy', not simply the 'seller sell'.  Extend that attention to detail to how you promote, merchandise, service, stock, deliver.  

Make no bones about it, it's hard - many moving parts, difficult to control staff, and paramount need for speed of execution.  But remember the string - and avoid getting strung up in the process!!

Sep 23, 2011

Wild Onion Musings

Wild Onion Musings

The Scientific Method for Marketing … and Neutrinos

I woke up this morning to hear that a neutrino had been caught for speeding.  Specifically, it allegedly exceeded the speed of light, although attorneys for the neutrino deny the charge.  Now I do not claim quantum physics expertise, but I gather this is big news.  As in, upending Einstein’s special theory of relativity news.  Granted, it will not impact the way we go about our lives like a surge in oil prices, drop in tax rates, or invasion of Cuba might.  No one apart from a few geeks at MIT or Uof C will lose much sleep over this one. 

But what is interesting is what the scientists in Europe did once they discovered this phenomenon:  they expressed disbelieve in their own findings, and opened up the research methodology and results to the wider scientific community for evaluate.  In effect, they exposed themselves to disrobing on an international scale and having their three years of work torn apart by other scientists.

Within the scientific community, this is not uncommon.  Some scientists during Newton’s time often jealously guarded their mathematical and scientific discoveries, for fear of having a pretender stake a claim on their findings.  Today, the notion of sharing and questioning across the community is well established and part of the linear scientific method:
  1. Define a question
  2. Observe
  3. Form a hypothesis
  4. Test
  5. Analyze the data
  6. Interpret and draw conclusions
  7. Publish the results
  8. Retest, usually by others outside the initial researchers.

The community seeks to validate or refute the assertion, as it no doubt will in scrutinizing the little neutrino’s behavior.
Putting a marketing hat on, does the scientific method apply to the development of brands, campaigns, programs?  For the most part, it does, but often in a flawed fashion.

  1. Define a question – this happens a lot, such as ‘who are our best customers’, ‘why are sales declining’, ‘which subject line pulls best response and conversion rates’, or myriads of other questions which marketers and their agencies/consultants seek to resolve.
  2. Observe – sometimes this step is what leads to the question in the first place.  Declines in sales, response rates, conversion percentages, or whatever other metric is used typically lead to the questions, rather than the other way around. 
  3. Form a hypothesis – here is where it sometimes goes astray in marketing, and where subjective beliefs in what should be the reason are often fed into the mix, and further steps in the method aligned to prove the erroneous hypothesis.  This is usually self-preservation (or job protection, more accurately).  For example, a decline is sales is best viewed as a sales force problem than a failure of marketing to effectively manage their brand’s perceptions or provide timely leads or give good customer service.
  4. Test – with many companies, the notion of testing and refining is well established.  Perhaps the foremost experts are financial services marketers like American Express, who over the years honed the ‘test, learn, refine’ method for direct marketing and applied it to their digital and social marketing efforts.  But for many companies, ‘test’ is a dirty word which is translated as ‘we don’t know what will work, can’t make a decision, and will have delayed impact on our overall results’.  Companies often don’t think medium term, especially when the CEO is demanding results NOW.  Testing just doesn’t fit within that mindset.
  5. Analyze – if you’re looking for a career in marketing, brush up on your mathematical/statistical skills.  Analysis and interpretation of data is a vital component of any campaign.  As long as it is done correctly, that is!
  6. Interpret and draw conclusions – here is where shrewd marketers can warp or skew the analysis to suit their hypothesis.  A client I know once had incontrovertible proof from customer research that their loyalty scheme was ineffectual.  Yet the millions invested in developing, launching, and promoting the scheme was far too much (aka heads would have rolled) to allow this facet of the analysis to come to the surface.  The interpretation was skewed, other results highlighted, and the loyalty scheme continued.
  7. Publish the results – typically publishing is internally, and within marketing it falls into one of two categories:  a.  “yay, we’re great”; or b. move on to the next campaign.  Unless the campaign serves the career purposes of the marketing team and is successful, the final results are often either ignored or explained away.  Yet my experience is that clever marketing people can take a ‘bad’ campaign and through judicious spin make it sound like a success for the company.  Occasionally the publishing of findings is external at a conference or seminar.  But when was the last time you saw a ‘failure’ campaign as a case study, unless it was swiftly offset by a success in the presentation? Practically, opening up hypothesis and results to the wider marketing community is not practical unless well after the event in question, lest competitors and critics have a field day.
  8. Retest – sometimes, retesting is done.  Not by the same marketing team, unless they’re opting for the ‘control’ and ‘best performing pack/email’ methodology of refinement.  ‘Retest’ in marketing circles is typically done by a new CMO or Marketing leader, usually under the guise of claiming the previous person screwed it up but ‘I’ll get it right this time’.

Yet what would be refreshing would be a marketing team who are NEVER satisfied with the status quo.  Who look for new ideas constantly, no matter the source.    That failing but learning on a program or campaign is sometimes as important as success.  And that refining, testing, retesting should be a way of life – not an anathema. 

Unfortunately, with the CEO/CFO demanding speed of light results, it’s pretty unlikely.

Sep 21, 2011

A trip back to 1965

If you’re in the marketing business (or the business of marketing), you ought to occasionally look at the past to see a reflection of the future.  I happen to own a copy of Life magazine, May 28 1965.  Can’t remember why I got it – I would have been a toddler at the time it was originally printed.  I suspect it was acquired from one of those funny little shops you find in most towns that stock old books, vintage magazines, and old Coca Cola bottles on the shelves, complete with a layer of dust and a smell of Grandma’s sitting room.

As you leaf through the pages, you pass stories of the newly dedicated JFK memorial at Runnymeade in England, John Lindsay running for Mayor of NYC, and a photo of Ringo Starr on the set of Help!.  Given the advertising: editorial ratio (about 3:1), you invariably are drawn to the various ads and promotions.  Kellogg’s cereals offering the princely sum of 25 cents back as a mail in for two proofs of purchase.  If ever there was a demonstration of the impact of inflation, that shows it!  There’s also double page spreads for Kodak film, the cost of which then would probably equate to today’s global sales of all non-digital cameras and films.  Chrysler offering the unheard of “5-year, 50,000 miles warranty on engines and drive trains”.  And Parker pens with a new product designed for “girl-size hands” which “writes as long as our man-size Jotter”.  Gloria Steinem would have had a field day with that one, except she was still trying to get work following her ‘journalist posing as a Playboy bunny’ days.

Yet what is particularly interesting when you look at old magazines are the brands that survived … and those that didn’t.  From this issue, our survivor list includes Hanes, Contac cold relief, Clairol, Mobil (albeit now Exxon Mobil), Prudential, Carnation instant breakfast (did we, and do we, still buy the notion that one glass equates to two eggs, two strips of bacon, two slices toast and fresh orange juice?), and Canada Dry Ginger Ale.  Many brands featured - Libbie’s sloppy joe sauce, Heublein cocktails, Champale ale - were over time swallowed up by other companies.  And many have disappeared from the US, only to reappear today, like Fiat … albeit at a bit more than $1262 list price for the 600D. 

What separates those that are still with us and afforded national marketing support, and those which fell down and fell prey to acquisition, merger, second tier brand status, and/or discontinuation?  Each brand has a story to tell, a history rich with triumphs and failures, which no doubt someone somewhere may still know.  For example, what befell the Gibson refrigerator company?  In Life,  Gibson had a tip in promotion called the “Frost Clear Sweepstakes” offering 5000 prizes valued at over $1,000,000.  Nice job of working a product benefit into a theme, by the way.  It’s now owned by Electrolux, and doesn’t seem to have much marketing support despite a heritage dating back to 1877.  Did some distributor pull the plug, leading to the Electrolux acquisition?  Did a brand manager push a product innovation which failed?  Did the Marketing Director stick with the turd brown color when lime green became the rage?  Or did one of the winners of 100 VIP jet vacations on Pan Am to Puerto Rico get sunburn and sue the company who had failed to take out insurance against such promotional mishaps?

Yet what is also fascinating about this edition is an ad for Encyclopedia Americana.  This brand is still with us today, owned by Scholastic and moved more on-line for its sales rather than strictly print.  What caught my eye was the body copy in the ad for their encyclopedias, which is about as future proof as you can get:

“The question is, how to make those facts interesting and meaningful and memorable – and worth staying awake for.  We do it by hiring a whole faculty of writer-teachers who are not only experts on their subjects but who know how to tell a good story, too.” 

Remember, this is 1965 we’re talking about here.  Yet in that simple line of copy we see what today many 1000’s of digital agencies, content producers, social media experts, and brands are all saying over and over again, as if it were something innovative.  Americana understood then that to sell an encyclopedia, people had a desire to further their knowledge (or their kids knowledge), but wanted to be engaged while doing so.  Facts by themselves are in the short term interesting, but quickly lose their saliency unless weaved into a broader story.

Like I said, you can learn a lot by looking backwards to look forwards. 
Almost makes me want to buy the Marlin by Rambler (part of AMC), with it’s 327 cu.-in. V-8, power disc brakes, and, hold onto your hats, adjustable reclining front seats as standard.  This was the car from his youth which Mitt Romney bemoaned during his gubernatorial campaign in 2002 as being “kinda awful” and his wife described as “goofy looking”.  Interesting that Romney didn’t mention his father’s occupation at the time he had the Marlin:  Chairman and CEO of AMC.

Aug 30, 2011

Man vs. Nature


Isn't it interesting how some people feel the need to exhibit bravado in the face of an impending natural disaster?  In a case of human race machismo, storekeepers and homeowners in seaside locations board up windows and then write on the boards:  ‘c’mon Irene’, ‘give it to me’, and ‘take a shot, big girl’ along with the requisite bulls eye image.   Like they're smack talking a person, instead of an unstable and violent weather system.  Which naturally raises the question:  why?

It could be a case of demonstrating that the human spirit will not be broken by nature’s wrath.  Laughing in the face of danger, and all that.  Or perhaps a perverse sense of humor, knowing that there’s a chance that the sign, and the building, will be 10 miles out in the Atlantic by the time the owner returns. 

However in our reality obsessed, socially connected culture, maybe it’s an attempt on the part of a few owners to get their :15 seconds of newsworthy coverage.  Perhaps a photo in Google images.  Or a slide on CNN’s website.  Even the Oscar of disaster:  feature on TWC’s broadcast storm coverage.

But why stop there?  If owners are going to board up, why not go the whole hog and get some sponsorship money in return for branded slogans. 

“We’re in good hands” - Allstate
“We’re going to DisneyWorld” - Disney
“Built for the road ahead” - Ford
“There’s an app for this” – Apple
“Like it never even happened” - ServPro

Or how about discounted or free building materials, overprinted with ‘plywood sponsored by (insert Home Depot, Lowes, Ace logo)’? 

Maybe put a QR code on the plywood, with a link to branded content, promotional sweepstakes.  Heck, the QR code could hyperlink to a YouTube site with the next Rebecca Black single.

Wait a minute … can’t do that.  It’s enough to have to cope with natural disasters. 

Never mind man-made.

PS:  Sorry for delay in posting this - Irene not only knocked out our power, but dropped a 40' tree on our house.  No injuries, just a mess to clear up.  "We beat Irene, YEAH" about to be painted on plywood.

Jul 27, 2011

Google Plus ... or Minus?

After a week of playing with Google+, along with 20m other visitors, I’ve liked a number of features including:

1.  Some nifty little functionality, like the ‘circles’ which allow you to segment your social network more easily than Facebook or LinkedIn.
2.  It works seamlessly across platforms within GGE (Great Google Empire), meaning I can switch straight to my gmail account from it with a single click.  And it’s always accessible on the top bar.
3.  It offers Skype quality video/audio chat, and easy access without Skype’s annoying ‘buy minutes today’ advertisements.

Yet after posting a couple items and photos, I’m not sure I’m ready to scrap either Facebook or LinkedIn.  Part of the challenge is I’m not sure what niche or area it is fulfilling that warrants giving it more time in my ‘laptop day’.  It could replace Facebook, which I use mainly as a ‘mass broadcast’ to friends, with a more ‘refined’ and segmented approach.  I like that, but do I really have the time to re-connect with all those on Facebook and bring their details over to Google+?  Funny enough, there isn’t a feature on Google+ to allow importing of Facebook or LinkedIn contacts – I’m sure the GGE would have hit a big ‘+1’ on that idea, and had no ‘like’ from the folks at Facebook.  Similarly it could replace LinkedIn and the business use of Skype, but the hassle factor weighs heavily again – is the reward worth the effort, especially if few of my existing contacts are into Google+ in these early days?

The challenge for any social network, particularly one like Google+ which arrives probably a couple years too late to give Facebook or LinkedIn serious runs for their money, is the same problem brands have faced for many years:  first mover status usually wins out over late arriving ‘me toos’.  Think of all the brands Coke and Pepsi have seen off over the years.  How Tide dominates laundry care.  Admittedly, challenger brands can take on the early-to-rise gang successfully – especially when innovation can be a huge differentiator and allow sectors to redefine themselves rapidly.  But what we may be witnessing with Google+ is similar to the online only banks from the late 1990’s/early 2000’s:  simple idea, which on the surface sounds good, but which may not be worth it to change behavior and switch.  In the case of online only banks, few survived once the established banking brands got their acts together … and that little old financial crisis of a couple years ago! 

For Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn, the battle is clearly set over one asset:  your time.  At this stage, I’m skeptical GGE can pull it off, but I’m certainly not prepared to write them off!  After all, GGE came to the market with an outrageously high share price of $85 per share in 2004.  Current value $618.  They must have done something right in the last seven years.