Monday, June 28, 2010

Good Neighbors

State Farm Insurance claims to be my neighbor; and a good one too. I beg to differ.

State Farm has been on an advertising blitz for a couple years now and they're putting there mark everywhere they can. Sure, this media obsessed strategy is often intrusive, annoying and disregards the customer. But we will remember it's State Farm, or so the logic goes.

However, while State Farm continues to buy up space in front of every eyeball in the world, I wonder if their marketing executives every asked what is the value of adding another commercial, sponsorship, logo or sticker?

This is exactly why and how fences get built. For your own sake, be the neighbor you claim to be.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

They May Firm Your Legs and Butt, But Toning Shoes Won't Firm Nike Brand.

When marketer's exercise their genius and create a new category develops, they don't send out a memo. Then again, they don't have to.

They get the message anyway. Then they follow the leader into the new category.

While such a strategy is an excellent path to short-term profits, it's troublesome for the brand or organization in the long-run. The category creator has free reign in claiming the best position in the consumer's mind. They create a brand that's a benchmark to which all others will be compared against.

Unfortunately, lots of marketers cannot help themselves. Marketers jump into new categories with also-ran brands, settling for positions that fall short of category leadership and sometimes at the expense of their leading brands.

That's why they're completely avoiding the exploding "toning-shoe" category, even though the category is estimated to be worth $1 billion in 2010 (up from $17 million in 2008) by financial experts.

To their credit, the discovery of this new category is igniting major growth for the Adidas owned Reebok and Skechers brands, this despite overall declines in footwear.

However, toning shoes make marketing sense for those brands. The Skechers brand has existed without a real strong identity until "Shape-Ups" while Reebok owned the female ignited areobic shoe position during the 1980's.

Conversely, the Nike brand was built on athlete performance. They commanded consumers to "Just do it." Toning shoes hope to give consumers the option of "getting in shape without setting foot in the gym" and "get better legs and butt with every step."

This is great branding by both competitors. On one hand, Adidas deserves a lot of credit for finding and owning the "toning shoe" category, while Nike has remained focused on it's core brand.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


Patrick C. in Louisville sent in this interesting bit on Pringles. Apparently, in an effort to avoid paying a British potato chip tax, P&G's lawyers are downplaying the "potatoness" of the crisps.

What could the marketing implications be of publicly denouncing the "potatoness" of a chip? Maybe they will now be referred to as "fake chips."

Thanks for sharing Patrick!

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

My Flight Home

I flew home yesterday from a mini vacation to visit friends. I had a great time but because I'm mention this on a marketing blog it can only mean one thing: I have an airline story for you.

I flew on United Airlines and had an early flight out of Dayton, Ohio. I was to leave Dayton around 10 am, make a quick stop in Washington, DC and then I be home at 2 pm.

I was greeted at the United Airlines check-in counter by an unusually long line. After five minutes of standing still I learned that a flight to Chicago was delayed and these were travelers with no hope of making their connecting flights. Fearing the same fate, I stepped aside and quickly checked in. The desk staff still managed to help despite being overwhelmed and frustrated.

I landed at Washington's Dulles airport with 40 minutes to make my next flight. Naturally, I check the first arrival/departure monitor I see to learn what gate I need to go (possible hustle) to.

Discreetly in the bottom corner of one of the monitors is a sheet of computer paper that reads "monitor malfunctioning, please see agent" for information.

A few steps over is a United customer service desk. I get in line as both reps are being shouted at by customers. A couple minutes later I discover that my gate is actually just a short walk down the terminal- so I found time to get a drink.

Unknowingly, I had lots of it. That twenty minutes before my 12:37 p.m. departure transformed into a wait of more than four hours and a 5 p.m. departure. Mechanical reasons with the plane's air conditioning and lavatory were to blame.

That's the key word for United, blame. Flying's a very personal thing. So when things go haywire, consumers usually want someone to blame. The airline employee in sight often takes the brunt of traveler frustration which can kill customer service moral. Even if it doesn't, it's quite draining and will negatively affect it.

Early in my marathon wait I (and the entire terminal) overheard an angry customer shout at an employee "I'm never flying United again." From 20 feet away I could overhear the employee respond "I don't care... I wouldn't."

Was I shocked to hear that response? Not at all.

It's too difficult to completely bury real emotion at work especially when we are attacked.

Obviously, flying the frustrated sky's creates a huge brand problem. One that causes a bigger headache for airlines than most businesses.

Why? For starters, we must call and text all concerned parties to share that we're late. Furthermore, a recently angered and suddenly bored with a Blackberry at hand doesn't bode well for the airlines public relations on social sites.

Don't believe me.

Despite being a mostly blameless occurrence, airlines must improving customer service during these long flight delays. They screw up lives and kill brand integrity in the process.

First, I would fix the apology. Anyone with a scanned boarding pass to a flight delayed more than (fill in) hours would get a sincere letter of apology in the mail. Again, flying is very personal but the current apology is not. Even the world's best written blanket apology read over a public address system (possibly by an overwhelmed employee) doesn't atone for missing a business meeting, vacation time missed or precious time lost.

If the cost of mailing individuals who fly on all an airlines extra long delayed flights is too massive, then they may want to reconsider being in business at all.

Unfortunately, an apology after the fact won't fix the PR damage done on Twitter and Facebook. However, an airline that's properly automated can and should send passengers on delayed flights a text message expressing their regret and concern of the situation. A well phrased text sent from a higher power could curb a lot of anger tweets because it demonstrates that someone paying attention to the problem;-other than the employee at the counter that's too busy to breathe.

If Google or my bank can do this, the airlines have no excuses.

Additionally, airlines should have special customer service toll-free number with uniquely trained staff that only handling these unexpected problems for the best customers. That would add real value; much more than special lounges and priority boarding.

Finally, I would remind the airlines that the actions of a brand in crisis or in failure are the biggest opportunities to make a real impression on a customer.

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Brand Promises

When we make a promise, we should keep it. It sounds simple and very basic but it not everyone does it.

That's why when you hear a story like this (I'm kind of late) it generates loads of positive publicity.

Just for keeping their word.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Innovation or Gimmick?

The word innovation gets tossed around a lot. So much in fact, it devalues the true meaning of the word.

The word "innovation" often gets attached to things that often seem to be nothing more than "marketing gimmicks."

Look no further than MillerCoors. Is the Miller Light Vortex bottle really an innovation? What about Coors Light's hole-cut-in-the-box-to-be-able-to-see-blue-mountains?

And during my last trip to the grocery store, I noticed that they finally found a way to make pepperoni smaller.

I said, what stupid marketing gimmicks? That's too simple and cheap to be innovative. It's gimmicky.

That's not innovation. Real innovation changes the world in one swoop. Innovations are big, complex and far-out things, right? They make front page headlines and get everyone talking. Today, they involve satellites, digital gizmos and confusing code written by engineers. Or at least an internet connection.

I spent a lot of time this past week thinking about what makes a true innovation.

I decide on two criteria:

(1) An innovation makes life easier, faster or better in someway.
(2) An innovation lasts. Whether through time or widespread recognition.

It's debatable whether a hole in a case of beer will make my life better in anyway. However, it might be quite useful to others (now a bartender can tell before bringing the case from the cooler to the bar). Just like an ipod and itunes may improve my life tremendously but not someone who doesn't consume music that way. They're out there.

I know they're out there. In fact, a commentator on the blog (from the first link above) argues that Steve Jobs and Apple haven't created any innovations since the Newton was invented. The other commentator's attack and call him idiot but he's right. Consumerism is still very personal; marketers please take note.

Thus, if innovation is personal, the second criteria holds the key to differentiating silly gimmicks from innovations. Will it last; in time or in space.

If the beer case if dead next summer then it will be difficult to claim real innovation. However, in the early 2000's Coca-Cola created the refrigerator friendly 12 pack. It made grabbing a Coke from the cooler easier and saved fridge space at the same time. Of course, the true innovation was adopted by lots of drink brands and is still used today.

Perhaps a less messy way to consider true innovation is that it's a glimpse into the future. The odd thing is that the very best innovations eventually become the most ordinary objects or moments as we are exposed to them longer and more often.

Think seat belts for instance.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

No Words

I think the ad campaign for the Stanley Cup playoffs is superb. It wonderfully conveys the emotion that the NHL playoffs are played with.

I particularly enjoy the commercial appropriately titled "No Words." It displays the emotion from an interesting angle and in a very powerful way.

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Natura Loyalists Are Nervous

Announced last month, the sale of Natura Pet Products to Procter & Gamble Co. is expected to be finalized later this month. P&G will buy six of Natura brands, including Innova, Evo, California Natural, Healthwise, Mother Nature and Karma, which hold the high-end position of holistic and grain-free food for healthier pets.

Based on sales of more than $100 million, the purchase price is estimated to be in the range of $450-$500 million.

However, look beyond the price tag and this story is very interesting.

Natura retailers have many concerns. They worry that P&G will change the food's formula as they did with the Iams and Eukanbua brands, eventually cheapening the product. P&G doesn't deny adjusting the formula, but say they never sacrificed quality in the process. Unfortunately, the consumer perception differs after both brands suffered a major product recall in 2007.

Furthermore, independent retailers are concerned that P&G will demand distribution of the Natura brands in larger chains like Petsmart and possibly Walmart, who can sell the mix significantly cheaper.

Since the announcement of the deal, independent retailers have been fighting back through social media.

Pets in the City, a St. Louis store, recently tweeted "After the announcement that P&G bought Natura Pet, our sales have dropped 75%. We are successfully switching many pets to other foods!"

A willingness to drop the products from their store is very telling because in many cases a significant percent of sales coming from Natura products.

Unfortunately, P&G cannot disclose its plans for the Natura brands until the sale is completed.

I'm very curious to follow those plans. What will the addition of six premium brands do to P&G's current pet product portfolio? Will it hurt their existing brands?

Further, as a mass marketer, if they push Natura to the masses, then how can it remain "high-end?" That current brand position will undoubtedly weaken.

The independent high-end retailer plays a major role in keeping that position strong.