Feb 16, 2016

A Furry Hall of Fame

During the recent Super Bowl festivities, most sports fans will know that the NFL has announced it's Hall of Fame class for this year. This groups joins the ever expanding exhibits at Canton, OH later this summer. 

As a fan, it's interesting how saying Springfield, MA or Cooperstown, NY or Canton, OH immediately conjures up images of their respective major sports halls. So surely when I say Whiting, IN you immediately think of images of employees of brands like the Phillies, the Phoenix Suns, Auburn, U Wisconsin-Madison, U Delaware, Western Kentucky U, and the Utah Jazz. You don't? Then you clearly don't know about the Mascot Hall of Fame.

Mascot Hall of FameYes, even the dancing, prancing mascot on the sidelines of college or pro sports events has a Hall of Fame that they can aspire to. Originally intended as an on-line HOF under the initiative of David Raymond, the original Phillie Phanatic, the Hall is soon to be the main attraction in Whiting, IN.  The 25,000 square foot, multi-million dollar building will open in 2017 with a wide range of family friendly exhibits to celebrate mascots in all their furry forms.

Now I've got nothing against either mascots or Whiting, IN.  I'm sure the next attraction will delight young kids and entertain parents and grandparents who venture to the south shore of Lake Michigan. But IMHO a Hall of Fame is a means to permanently encase a showcase-able talent or personality, to tap into memories of the viewing public. Visiting Cooperstown is about seeing the ball Mantle hit, or the bat Ruth used, or the uniform of  Lou Gehrig. It's about remembering the amazing Mets of '69, or the Big Red Machine of the 70's, or more recent teams or players or games. Somehow remembering how the Philly Phanatic hazed umpires, or the Auburn mascot doing push-ups after a score doesn't qualify as lasting memories, but a side show at a main event. You don't pay to see the mascot at the event, so why pay to see the mascot in a Hall of Fame?

Maybe someone can enlighten me on this.

Feb 5, 2016

The Rise of the Anti-Hype Radio Host

Image result for dan le batard

If you've not heard it, tune into the Dan Le Batard radio show on ESPN radio. Dan and his crew, including the inimitable Stugotz, are a merry band of talk show anarchists who manage to upset the apple cart where conventional talk radio and sports intersect.  For example, take one of their scrolls during their show, which is also aired on ESPN2 and repeated later in the day on Fusion television:  they scroll instructions for viewers who want to get Dan fired. Dan also has had guests on like the Michigan State basketball coach, but rather than interview him over the upcoming season or talk NCAA basketball instead had him play Christmas tunes on the accordion, while Dan's crew tried to sing along (badly I might add).  This is just the tip of the iceberg where this show is concerned - lots of inside jokes which you'll only understand if you listen regularly, lots of self deprecating remarks, and plenty of insinuation about athletes and celebrities, with the odd insult to their employer, ESPN, thrown in for good measure.

Image result for katie nolan garbage time

But along with other sports shows like Garbage Time with Katie Nolan on Fox, Dan's show is at the vanguard of what I see as a new wave in anti-establishment sports radio.  Just like Bernie and Donald are running 'against the Washington establishment' in their respective, and so far successful, campaigns for President, so too do we see in sports radio the rise of the prankster, the smart ass, the wry one.  It's recognizing that sports is such big business, there is room aplenty for different stances and takes on each story.  Where one channel may report the news, the other can jump all over the heroes or heroines of the story with sarcasm or humor.

I applaud this movement!  The need for alternative voices in all walks of life is what leads society to a better place.  Even something as trivial as sports radio needs something more than a debate about who will win the Super Bowl, or is so and so QB washed up.  It needs famous people doing infamous things and reminding us that behind the name is a typically flawed human being, like the rest of us. Viva la revolution!

Image result for viva la revolution

After a long nap

Image result for yawning

Yes, after an extended period of focusing my efforts elsewhere, I've decided to re-energize this Musings blog with a more regular posting schedule in hopes that it might amuse, stimulate, and/or stir you to debate and discourse.

More to come ... Promise!!

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)