Thursday, December 18, 2008

The last shopping days before Christmas

'Twas the last days before Christmas, when all through the stores
Not enough customers were coming thru the sliding front doors.
The shopping carts were arranged in a tidy neat row,
Awaiting frenzied shoppers to spend lots of dough.

The registers were staffed by an anticipating crew,
With hopes that paying shoppers were surely soon due.
And the manager with keys and the new hire named Don,
Had just checked the front sign to make sure it was on.

When out in the parking lot there arose such a stew,
Employees rushed to the windows to see the new view.
Away from the panes they returned to their places,
With not a grin but frowns on their faces.

For it was not future buyers making the fuss,
But just a trash truck and a big passing bus.
Now time was short to start making sales,
Discounts and coupons should cure all that ails.

But customers still did not buy in quanities sought,
Retailers scared of low revenues from products not bought.
Wishing but knowing that holiday earnings wouldn't be stout,
But in the back of their minds, Congress might bail them out.

Maybe this is a time to just try to scrape by,
And come back December 26th to give it another try.
For then unwrapped gift cards will be burning a hole,
In wallets of shoppers ready to give it another go.

To get what they want, to make post-Christmas hay,
Let's hope they spend until this New Year's Day.
Retailing is tough, this holiday season two thousand-eight,
Let's just survive and see next year's fate.

So from the advertisements giving it one more last try,
"Happy Christmas to all, and please from us buy."

Monday, December 15, 2008

Marketing the "when and where"

Taking into account the when and where you are should influence marketing tactics

Scenario #1
If you were a dentist at the opposite end of of a strip mall from a coffee shop, how could you get new patients?

Scenario #2
If you sold coffee, how could you compete with Starbucks on its home turf in Seattle (or any place else, for that matter)?

Though there are various methods to approach each of these scenarios, the marketing tactics selected should take into account where and when the firm is dealing with customers.

A "where" approach to scenario #1
With the drive-thru lane of a popular coffee shop directly behind a dentist's practice, the dentist used the "where" of the practice as an opportunity to communicate with potential patients.

A "when" approach to scenario #2
McDonald's is taking a direct "when" tact in promoting its espresso via billboards in the Seattle area with messages such as "four bucks is dumb". The current economic climate provides an interesting "when" opportunity for McDonald's to move into Starbucks turf with a lower priced product.

Image from 12-15-08 USA Today, 4B
Addendum to original entry -
December 17, 2008:

Another example of a "when" situation dealt with via marketing

What does a retailer do when a major winter storm stops consumers from coming to a major sale? (At least that's what the retailer hoped was the reason.)

Last weekend, a major winter storm negatively impacted a major pre-Christmas sale at a local Macy's as shoppers failed to brave single digit temperatures. Macy's announced a continuation of the sale... and even blamed it on the storm! Below is a portion of the newspaper advertisement announcing the extended sale.

Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Lower prices plus

This holiday season, consumers are being flooded with so many "price deals" that it is difficult for a business to stand out from competitors.

Economic news is making consumers skittish. It seems that little is certain in the financial arena except that the values of their homes and 401k plans are both down. Bail outs of American business institutions seem to come on a daily basis.

Some good news... Gas prices have dropped by more than half from the summer highs of over $4 per gallon last summer.

The bad news? While nice to have more money left in pocketbooks and wallets after a fill-up, it has not been nearly enough to bolster shaken consumer confidence.

A textbook business response
In an attempt to attract such jittery customers, many businesses have lowered the effective prices on various products by offering sales and coupons. However, since so many retailers are doing the same, buyers have numerous options offering lowered prices. In addition, an environment of intense price competition -- where competitors keep lowering prices to match or beat other stores -- can "teach" consumers to wait to make a purchase. In this type of situation, consumers learn that postponing a purchase results in better (from their perspective) prices by giving retailers more time to keep lowering their prices.

Offering more than just lower prices
Some retailers have started to offer consumers "lower prices plus". The "plus" can be wide ranging -- including higher quality products, more service, better product selection, a better return policy, and so forth. In our lower price retail environment, the purpose of the "plus" is to give prospective buyers a reason to buy from that retailer and even possibly give consumers a reason to buy sooner rather than later.

Currently, Best Buy is doing this.

Best Buy is in a highly competitive market space... they compete with a wide variety of businesses such as Walmart, Costco, national department stores, and local electronics stores. Lower competitive prices are widely used. This retail space is so competitive that former Best Buy competitors Circuit City and CompUSA are either downsizing or are no longer in business.

Best Buy's current television advertising campaign "You, Happier." exemplifies the "plus" strategy. The thirty second spots each feature a "Blue Shirt" (Best Buy employee) sharing a brief story that shows how their product knowledge and empathy for people helps their customers. With Best Buy's assistance, you can be happier. Now that's a "plus".

Example A: Connecting grandpas and grandkids

Example B: Needing the perfect gift

Example C: Great gift ideas

Sunday, November 9, 2008

Does the early store get the customer's holiday cash?

Christmas was in the air at the Walmart store in Hadley, Massachusetts...

  • An instrumental version of "The First Noel" played on store speakers.

  • The check out area was adorned with wrapped gift boxes above the cash registers.

  • Christmas decorations, clothes and gifts were stocked on shelves and aisles.

  • The entry area inside the front door was decorated with a Christmas Tree and wreath decoration (above).

It was looking a lot like Christmas.

It was November 9, 2008.

A "quiet" change
Moving the holiday shopping season earlier and earlier is a relatively newer phenomenon. Not too many years ago, Christmas shopping really started after Thanksgiving. Over the last decade, retailers have started stocking holiday decorations and gifts before Thanksgiving. It was not uncommon to see such sights prior to Halloween.

However, this was done more on the sly... with little promotion and fanfare. It just happened. Things seemingly just appears on store shelves. If shoppers bought holiday items, it would be great. If not, there was still a lot of time until the holidays for them to do so.

It is different this year
This year, there is a reason for retailers to have an earlier holiday shopping season. Economic concerns are impacting consumers' spending. The prevailing thought is that consumers will have smaller gift giving and holiday decorating budgets... and be more likely to stick to them this year. So, when the allotment is gone, consumers are done spending on the holidays. Therefore, retailers fear that, if they do not get the early Christmas spending, coal will be in their holiday sales stockings.


  • What issues are affecting your customer base?

  • How are you addressing these issues?

  • What will be the impact on your business if such variables are not dealt with effectively?

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Tough marketing for tough times

This is not the time for timid marketing

There is a lot of news on how consumers have quickly closed their wallets in response to the barrage of recent negative economic announcements. The 10-20-08 BusinessWeek cover story (right) on how U.S. consumers are tightening their spending is representative of most stories.

What we've been taught
It is accepted business practice to "get lean and mean" when revenues fall. It has not been uncommon for businesses to cut, or at least slow down, expenditures on variables such as new hiring, customer service, advertising, product improvements, sales promotions, sponsorships, and hours of operation.

A recent study of the 400 member Association of National Advertisers found that more than 1/2 anticipated decreased spending by their businesses for marketing and advertising over the next 6 months.

But what we've been taught is not always right
However, business history shows that economic downturns might be an inopportune time to cut marketing efforts. Businesses have found significant success by increasing their marketing campaigns (or at least keeping their marketing stable) while competitors shrink theirs.

In the midst of financial uncertainty, consumers tend to be more open to trying different brands, stores, restaurants, products and price points. While some competitors cut the very resources that allow them to communicate and retain their current customer base, other businesses increase marketing expenditures to reach out to these abandoned consumers. Such firms take advantage of the decreased advertising and promotional clutter that makes communication with customers more difficult and expensive.

Examples of successful marketing campaigns started during economic downturns since the 1950s include Crest toothpaste, BMW, Calvin Klein jeans, and IBM personal computers.

No one says it will be easy
Building a brand during an economic downturn is not for the faint of heart. Devoting dwindling financial resources to marketing efforts is not an easy decision to arrive at. But the payoff can be significant. Not only might the hard times be lessened by increased sales in the short-term, the firm can enjoy greater brand awareness, customer loyalty, as well as, increased sales long after the economy strengthens and consumers loosen their spending.

One final note: such marketing efforts must be wise and judicious. The changes in consumer behavior that result from financial hard times must be understood and reflected in how firms relate to customers. Marketing "the way you've always done it" will not be enough. Consumers have new concerns and desires that businesses must recognize and appeal to.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Tampa Bay Rays offer perspective on building multi-generational workplace

Key question: Do you make younger workers adapt to your culture or are you willing to adapt your culture to younger workers?

Whether small or large, most U.S. businesses are dealing with differing generational expectations, attitudes and values brought into the workplace by their employees. These differences are causing misunderstanding and strife between employees, as well as employees chafing at corporate culture and policies. The cause of such misunderstanding and irritation is that the generations currently comprising the vast majority of the U.S. workforce –from youngest to oldest: Millennials, Generation X, Baby Boomers and the Silent Generation – are retaining more of their generational “personalities” than previous cohorts.

The three teams remaining in the Major League baseball playoffs (Philadelphia Phillies, Tampa Bay Rays and Boston Red Sox -- the Los Angeles Dodgers have been eliminated) offer varying approaches to building multi-generational workplaces. Consider that:

  • Players are Millennials, Gen Xers and even a Baby Boomers (Phillies pitcher Jamie Moyer).
  • Middle management tends to be Xers and Boomers.
  • Top management and ownership includes Xers and Boomers.

Try to change workers
or change some for workers
While the Phillies and Red Sox have taken a more traditional approach that integrates their younger players into their culture, the Rays have made more adaptations to their organizational culture to better reach, involve and maximize the performance of their younger workers.

Some examples of how the Tampa Bay Rays have adapted their organizational climate to maximize younger workers include:

  • Hiring a manager who is open to the differing style of younger players. Whether their music, haircuts, or understanding that younger players want some work-life balance, Rays manager Joe Maddon recognized that such work style differences are not bad... just different from what other generations of players did.
  • The Rays showed significant trust the organization's younger players. Management was criticized in many quarters for not acquiring more of a "veteran presence" late in this season as a precaution if their young team wilted under the pressure of making the playoffs.
  • Over the last several years, the organization made significant investments in younger workers. Early this season, Rays management made a very unusual decision to sign a player who had been in the major leagues for only one week to the longest contract in team's history -- 9 years with six of those guaranteed! It should be noted that the player, third baseman Evan Longoria, was bound to the club for many years at a lower salary due to the rules agreed upon by the players union and Major League Baseball.
  • In addition, the ownership showed trust in the team's president and general manager -- both in their early 30s -- in making such key decisions.

No matter the outcome of the playoffs and World Series, the Tampa Bay Rays have shown organizations can benefit from examining their cultures, practices and climate and understanding that a "that's the way we've always done it" philosophy might not be the right fit for today's workers or the business environment it finds itself in today.

Sunday, October 5, 2008

Why portray customers as clueless?

An objective of advertising is to endear a product to current and potential customers. Allowing them to "see" themselves in advertisements is a basic tenet of marketing. Such groups should be able to identify with the commercial... that the advertisement hits their situation so closely that it could be them in the ad.

A good classic example of this was the long running advertising campaign by Michelin Tire that ended several years ago. Perhaps you recall the advertisements (above right) where babies and tires were featured with the slogan "Because so much is riding on your tires." People "saw" their babies -- no matter how old -- in the advertisement . The message and images related to their lives. A part of them was identified in the ad.

Portraying customers as foolish to attract new customers... it does not make sense.
While humor is a powerful tool in advertising and promotion, care must be taken not to cross the line where humor goes from attracting to repulsing. For example, in television advertisements over the last two years (below), Holiday Inn uses their own customers as the butt of the joke... making them look silly. So the message is: see our customers... don't you want to be just like them?

What do customers see in your ads?

  • Does it relate to them?
  • Is it attractive to them?
  • Do they want to be a part of it?

Monday, September 29, 2008

Let your customers be involved

Businesses should do more than talk about incorporating customers into marketing efforts

Although businesses might not be able to go to the same level, the newly released movie Fireproof offers a lesson in customer involvement. The movie, which came in 4th place and earned $6.5 million for its debut weekend, asked for and got a level of participation from its constituencies during product development (shooting the movie) unimaginable to most businesspeople. For example, volunteers built the sets and it is reported that most of the people that made the movie also volunteered.

Why do it?
Allowing customer involvement is one way to increase customer loyalty. Such participation improves customer "buy in". They have a voice. They have a stake in the effort. They want you to succeed.

Easy to dismiss
Businesspeople should not dismiss this lesson too quickly due to an "our customers will not participate with us!" attitude. Granted, Fireproof is an example of extreme customer participation. However, too many businesses do not try hard enough to allow their customers to become involved with them.

Customer participation comes in many forms. A few examples of customer involvement across various industries include:
  • Airlines providing programs to let participants in their frequent flier programs donate airline miles to charities such as the American Red Cross.

  • T-shirt makers allowing customers to vote on which images (which were designed by volunteers) on shirts to sell.

  • Businesses aggressively soliciting and acting upon customer feedback regarding their products and services.

  • Providing online communities that allow customers to interact with each other and the firm.

  • A soda maker featuring pictures taken by customers on the labels on pop bottles.

The questions to ask include...
.....1. How could we be helped by customer involvement?
.....2. How can customer involvement be facilitated?
.....3. How soon can we get it going?

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Quick response -- effective marketing

Moving in a timely manner can be the difference between success and failure.

Economic news was very bad this past week.
  • The stock market dropped several hundred points one day mid-week.
  • Top management of the U.S. "Big Three" automakers were on Capital Hill to stump for Federal funds to assist their firms (GM, Ford and Chrysler).
  • Experts and newscasters tell how losses from sub-prime home loans and foreclosures in the residential house markets threaten the U.S. and world economies.
  • The Federal Government is working on a taxpayer funded $700 billion (at a minimum) bailout of various financial entities in an attempt to shore up the U.S. economy.

Obviously, this news is causing much uncertainty and angst among consumers.

Such times call for timely marketing responses
The newspaper advertisement (above right) is an example of a thoughtful marketing response that addresses issues on customers' minds. However, a significant portion of this advertisement's effectiveness is due to when it was in the newspaper -- in the weekend editions of the week described at the beginning of this entry.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Displaying benefits in promotions -- part II

A May 2008 post on this blog discussed the benefits of directly tying a business's promotional theme to variables impacting customer lives and telling how your product, service and/or store can assist consumers in dealing with that issue.

Currently economic concerns -- ranging from high fuel prices to falling values for their homes -- are now on the minds of many U.S. consumers. Several examples of advertising that clearly address such concerns are currently on television. Each commercial's appeal is easy for customers to understand... you are in tight financial times and our product can save you money.

Here is one such television advertisement:

Ask yourself

  1. What issues are your customers dealing with?
  2. What concerns do they have?
  3. Do I know even the answers to questions 1 & 2? If not, that's an item for future blog posting.
  4. How can my marketing efforts be tailored to address those issues and concerns?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Business is about today and tomorrow

Sole focus on the "here and now" can hurt in the future.

Premise #1
Businesses need products and services that are attractive to consumers in the "now". If a firm cannot sell enough in the "near-term", the "long-term" may not arrive for that organization.

Premise #2
Businesses cannot be so focused on their current product offerings that changing trends and consumer preferences are not recognized and acted upon.

Premise #3
Successfully balancing both premise #1 and #2 is difficult.

The example of the parking lot
While sitting outside a Starbucks in Burbank, CA (see 8-29-08 entry), the issue of balancing the near-term with long-term business perspective was parked right in front of me. Literally parked.

There were 24 vehicles in the parking lot on this Saturday morning at 7AM.
- the largest 11 vehicles were all from US automakers
..(12 SUVs/vans/pickups and 1 very large car)
- the remaining 13 smaller vehicles (all cars of various sizes)
..were from non-USA automakers

With gasoline around $4 per gallon, Toyota and Honda reported vehicle sales at very high levels during the summer of 2008. During the same period, American automakers' sales were poor. What caused US automakers to be in the position of not offering more fuel efficient vehicles when US consumers were craving them?

The lure of the high profit margins from larger vehicles (per unit profitability of pickups and SUVs have been - until recently - very high) was too tempting and became the prize of American automakers. Such a limited focus blinded executives from American automakers from possible opportunities and threats -- including the prospect of high fuel prices and the increasing green attitude of American auto buyers.

The impact of higher prices of fuel is not unprecedented. One only has to recall the high priced gas (with accompanying long lines at service stations) of the 1970s. Since such uncontrollable variables impacted the auto industry before, why were they missed by American automakers just 30 years later? The answer: too much focus on the "here and now" to the detriment of watching for (and reacting to) events and issues that would shape future consumer behavior, wants and needs.

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Simplicity can be bliss

Product innovation and continual product improvement are two of the main mantras of US business. In many industries it is "improve or die".

However, product improvements and innovation for their own sake can be a strategy misstep and should be aligned with consumer desires.

Take In-N-Out Burger, for example. This western (California, Nevada, Arizona & Utah) burger chain has maintained a simple and stable menu (see picture) for many, many years and their customers love it. They offer just a few items but they do them all exceedingly well. No chicken sandwiches, roll-ups, salads or breakfast here. Just how many hamburger patties and do you want cheese? Only one size in servings of french fries, shakes and coffee.
Obviously In-N-Out does not try to be the fast food outlet for every fast food buyer. They know their customer base and focus on them.
Living in an area of the country without any In-N-Out Burger outlets, I continually get comments like "wish we had them here" from complete strangers when I wear one of my In-N-Out t-shirts.
In-N-Out keeps its customers in mind and those consumers want few (if any) changes. Such simplicity and limited product assortment is not for all firms but businesses need to take care not to innovate their products away from their customers' desires.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Don't forget current customers

New customers not the only route to increased profits

While not taking anything away from the importance of new customers, current customers are often overlooked as a source of increasing sales.

How can this be? I think a major reason is that many businesses find it easier to track new customers than tracking increased sales from current customers. Businesses reward employees where data is available (i.e. attracting new customers) and, therefore, employees focus on new customers.

However, not looking at current customers as sources to increase profits is a mistake. By their very nature, current customers have an established relationship with the business... thus costs of their acquisition is lower than attracting someone that is not a customer.

An example
Dropping by a Starbucks one morning last week the sign above was prominently displayed (along with similar wording on the receipt). This "come back again later today" promotion has multiple potential benefits to the coffee chain:
  1. Starbucks increases sales by bringing traditional AM customers back in the PM.

  2. Starbucks gets the profits of the drinks ordered in the PM ($2 promotion price - actual cost associated with the drink = profit).

  3. Builds the habit of stopping by Starbucks after 2 PM even after this promotion ends.

To do
The question is how can your business attract more purchases from current customers?

Sunday, August 17, 2008

"Shoot straight" with customers

Be accurate,
.....don't overpromise.

On a recent trip I had the opportunity to eat at Pret A Manger -- a sandwich shop with locations in London and New York City. These busy eateries specialize in preparing "natural, tasty food".

One item I noticed was Pret A Manger's promise (see photo) that states:
"Just Made" organic when we can, always
preservative-free and "Just Made", of course

This product statement is straightforward and clear. It promises without overpromising -- note the "when we can" clause. From the crowds at the several locations we passed and/or ate at, it is a hit with customers.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Check your advertising carefully

Examine ads from customer perspective.

Like in everything else, mistakes happen in advertising. However, some mistakes result merely from the failure to look at (or listen to) the advertisements from the perspective of the intended audiences.

Taking the time to closely look at the words and images to anticipate how they will be received by consumers is a must. Sometimes businesspeople are so close to the ad or time pressed that problems are not found.

For example, the newspaper ad shown is for a "huge" sale going on at a local car dealer.

Stop... you might pay too much! Unless you shop at our dealership this weekend!
However, this appeal does not match up with the image just below it which indicates prices won't be slashed (see the blue arrow inserted on the ad). Oops.

It's not the end of the world. Maybe not many people noticed it... but those who would were likely interested in the advertisement (a.k.a. car shoppers!). In any case, it could have been caught and corrected prior to publication.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Deal with issues impacting consumers proactively

It's not a new idea...
businesses just need to do it.

Gas prices have skyrocketed and have impacted consumer spending far beyond merely buying fuel for their personal vehicles. This is due to increased prices across many product types as a result from higher fuel prices for production and transportation being passed along to consumers.
Consumers are feeling the pinch.
If consumers are changing some buying habits this summer -- from what vacations taken to trading in trucks and SUVs for smaller cars, etc. -- what are businesses to do?

Sitting on the sideline should not be an option.
Businesses need to be proactive in addressing such consumer concerns. While offering free or cheaper gas with a purchase is not a new promotion (see example advertisement), it is very relevant to American consumers during Summer 2008. Hotels, restaurants, museums, etc. are promoting how their organizations can be part of "staycations" for those limiting or dropping vacation plans and staying closer to home (see example advertisement).

Friday, June 13, 2008

Intregrating promotional efforts to maximize results

Pay attention to the "little" things.

Walking near a local Nordstrom store this morning left little room for doubt... there was a sale underway at the store. In fact it just wasn't any sale, it was a "HALF-YEARLY SALE".

How did I know? There were no posters, fliers, or bill boards in sight. The news was carried outside the store by customers... on the sacks they were carrying (above). Though this sale was limited to items in the men's department, such generic sacks could be used for sales in any department.

While businesses focus on advertisements in "major" media vehicles (radio, television, newspapers, magazines, etc.), it is often the little things that make a big difference.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

No tomatoes = competitive advantage?

Salmonella in tomatoes should be turned into opportunity for eateries.

Over the last few days many eating establishments have been posting signs with the news that they are not serving tomatoes (due to the current warnings regarding salmonella food poisoning in raw tomatoes).

Obviously this is not the doing of fast food or sit down restaurants and customers seem to not be holding the issue about possible bad tomatoes against them.

However, no businesses that I've seen or heard about have tried to take this situation "by the horns" and do anything good with it.

For example, why not promote something like "while we have no tomatoes (like everyone else!), we'll give extra meat on your ham sandwich". The "extra" could be more fries, a price reduction on the order (due to lower costs due to no tomatoes), and so forth.

The point is... why not use this situation that is beyond local control and develop some offer of value to current customers and also be an incentive for new customers to give your business a try?

Be basic. Be creative. But at least consider doing something proactive.

Monday, June 9, 2008

How has it gotten to this?

Businesses versus their customers.... ....'ve got to be kidding!

The title on the cover of the June 16th issue of BusinessWeek (see right) that arrived in the mail today highlighted the negative views some businesses have towards customers. It is sad to consider that businesses across industries look at consumers as a form of competition that need to be conquered. No wonder businesses complain of the lack of customer loyalty.

It is unfortunate that too many organizations fail to remember Business 101 and 501.

Business 101 -- customers are the only source of revenue.

Business 501 (graduate level) -- loyal customers are the most profitable customers.

When the situation gets to the point where a major business publication features your business against customers on the front cover in a replica of an old time boxing card handbill, it is time to make significant changes.

How would BusinessWeek represent your relationship with your customers?

Friday, May 30, 2008

Displaying benefits in your promotions

Over the last several weeks in television commercials, Kia Motors has shown the benefit of their lower vehicle prices in terms that are both timely for many in their target market and with clear imagery.

You may recall seeing Kia advertsiements for their Sportage and Rio 2008 models that highlight safety, features and warranty but really trumpet how much each is priced less than leading competitors. What makes these ads effective is how the savings are shown... Kia shows how many grocery carts full of food the savings would buy (and several thousand dollars will buy quite a few carts full of food).

In a time when consumers are feeling the pinch of high gas prices (approaching $4 per gallon) on their household budgets, Kia leaves no doubt about what the savings from their vehicle prices can mean for the buyer. A picture is truly worth a thousand words.

The commercials will be added to this post when available.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Looking @ websites from mobile devices... is your site ready?

It's not exactly new but the numbers are increasing quickly and organizations need to consider what impact it has on them.

Accessing web sites from smartphones and PDAs is no longer the exception and businesses need to consider the implications. The ownership of smartphones in the USA alone
doubled in 2007 to 14.6 million. Although Web browsers for mobile devices are becoming more technologically advanced, viewing websites from these items still entail making trade-offs such as horizontal scrolling, small screens, and slower download times.

What's happening to new mobile browsers?

There are two improvements that are making web use from phones more congruent with viewing the web from a computer:
(1) the ability to render web sites smaller -- essentially miniaturizing websites for small screens,
(2) the integration of technologies like Java, CCS, Ajax, etc. that allow mobile browsers to better mirror full-scale browsers.

The continuation of these types of advancements -- in mobile browsers as well as smart phones and PDAs -- should eventually minimize the differences between mobile and "regular" web viewing . But the difference is still real so until then...

What can organizations do?
  • View your site on a mobile device to see what it looks like, its readability & viewability, and overall user friendliness.
  • Minimize the horizontal width of your website.
  • Carefully consider the size of images (download time and memory)
  • Consider an alternative website designed for mobile access utilizing a .mobi (versus .com) domain.

Don't forget the customers who might come to you by mobile web access. How does your website project your brand to them?

Thursday, March 13, 2008

The"TMI" temptation of advertsing

"Too much information" in ads = too much lost

Who doesn't like to get more for their money? It gives us a sense of accomplishment... that we've gotten a bargain.
However, more for our advertsing dollar can actually mean less. More words and images in the ad means that readers might actually see less due to all the clutter.

Look at these two ads from a local newspaper. The layouts of both ads have so much that little can be seen. Words and images get lost in all the information. And lost information mean less effective ads.

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Closed for training... differing perspectives on Starbucks

Starbucks decision to close over 7000 company-owned USA locations for several hours on the evening of February 26th in order to implement training in customer service and the making of their varied coffee drinks has caught the eye of new outlets... and understandably so. Starbucks reports that some 135,000 baristas were on the receiving end of the training effort.

Two viewpoints

1) The "How could Starbucks afford to do it?" perspective
.....Those with this point-of-view focus on a range of variables including the:

  • lost sales during the closure
  • "unproductive wages" (just consider the 400,000+ hours of barista training)
  • opportunities for competitors to access Starbucks' customers (for example, Dunkin' Donuts offered heavily discounted lattes, espressos and cappuccinos during this Starbucks evening training)
  • attention on negative issues at Starbucks given through media coverage of the training event

2) The "How could Starbucks NOT afford to do it?"
.. ..Those with this viewpoint -- and it seems to be a somewhat lonely place judging from what is currently read or heard -- wonder, even considering the possible negatives listed in #1 above, why wouldn't an organization be willing to take unconventional measures to refocus on its customers, if such methods were deemed productive?

Comparing the two sides
While those in the "how could they" camp focus on short-term negative outcomes that might result from this event, they seem to not consider the longer term negatives if Starbucks does not do something significant to counter some disturbing trends impacting their customers. One question begging to be asked is: "How much would continuing such current practices impact their profits if left unchanged". Two such practices that Starbucks reportedly focused on Tuesday night were in the areas of: (A) coffee drinks that are not prepared up to "Starbucks standards" and (B) not offering the desired consistent customer service that was a hallmark of the chain in earlier years but had been slumping recently.

Lift your cup high
Although Tuesday's closure of their locations surely had some short term negative consequences, let's hope that Starbucks customers lift their venti lattes (or espressos or macchiatos or whatever) high to toast the Starbucks management for their willingness to take a bold (and expensive) step to get the shops back to where they felt they needed to be. It will be interesting if Starbucks' customers taste and experience a difference (and for how long).

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

McDonald's: Please do coffee right this time!

In an early 2007 Consumer Reports coffee taste test, coffee drinkers preferred McDonald's Premium Roast over blends of Starbucks, Dunkin Donuts and Burger King.

Currently, the local McDonald's are in the midst of reconfiguring their front counters to accommodate the fast food firm's move into expanded coffee shop offerings.

No options
Even though they have had a nice tasting product for over a year, McDonald's chose to maintain their fast food heritage regarding their coffee. Even though promoting their coffee as a premium beverage in a redesigned cup, McDonald's failed to offer customers any choices of creamers. Instead of a selection of milks -- cream, whole, 2%, non-fat, soy, etc. -- and flavorings, McDonald's has limited coffee drinkers to a single type of coffee cream in "mini moos" (the miniature creamer "buckets" topped with foil -- see the picture above).

To be fair, McDonald's coffee drinkers could have a wider selection of creamers (2% or non-fat)... if they bought a small carton of milk with their cup of Premium Roast!

Jump, don't just stick your toes in
McDonald's seems to have the coffee that satisfies the palate. Here's hoping they realize it is more than just the coffee. Since McDonald's is entering the coffee market with more gusto, it would be beneficial to remember that up-market coffee is not viewed as a commodity and that even variables seemingly as small as coffee condiments impact consumer perception.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Generational advertising, mixed messages

Messages can be lost thru dated material

In December 2007, Kia Motors continued using the theme of parody retro music-oriented television commercials to promote their Annual KiaFest Year-End Sales Events. This was done via the takeoff of the song "Maniac" from the 1983 movie Flashdance.

Advertisements for similar sales in previous years featured playful takeoffs of the mid-1980s music scene (Styx and techno-pop).

I like the Maniac Kia commercial. It was fun and funny. Of course, I graduated from college in the early 1980s and have seen Flashdance.

My daughter didn't get it. She thought the commercial was pretty cheesy (and considered the salesman's pelvic trusts toward the car a bit "disgusting"). She has never seen the movie and would have only heard the song on an oldies radio station when I use to chauffeur her around. I don't think "cheesy" or being associated with an oldies station is a business' ideal brand position for their products.

Reading various comments on the web regarding the commercial revealed a wide array of comments about the commercial. Many asked if anyone knew the name of the song. Others wrote how funny they thought the actor was. Two things I did not see... much about the vehicles or the sales event.

Should Kia care?
Perhaps they should if they think younger age customers will be needed to reach their sales goal of 500,000 units a year by 2012 (up from just under 300,000 units in 2006). A look at Kia, from their prices, vehicles and promotions -- including a College Graduate (Sales) Program -- indicates that younger buyers are indeed a key target audience for Kia.

Including generational dependent content in ads is dicey.
If the consumers trying to be reached have a wide age range, building a commercial on a dated event, movie, personality, music, etc. runs the risk that a portion of the audience will not fully understand the intended message. Worse yet, some of that audience will develop negative (if even slightly) associations for the product by not "getting" the intended impact of the material and assigning their own interpretation to it.

Obviously, some dated material is less likely to have such unintended consequences. For example, Beatles music still transcends age groups.

Be careful.
Take care to understand the impact of including generational dependent materials in promotions. If your various customer groups have a significant age range, the promotion runs the risk of sending mixed (and sometimes undesired) messages.