Tuesday, November 30

Groupon and Google

Rumours were flying yesterday that Google was buying Groupon. I'm not sure that it ever got completely validated, but those in the know certainly seem to think it's true. Today the reports are flying in on purchase price and some of the details.

Groupon seems to have come out of no where. I've had it on my list of topics to blog about for a couple of weeks now, mostly because I've had so many people ask me what it is. I wasn't even sure myself at first.

It's basically a deal site with a particular focus on local services, food, and entertainment --- meant for sharing with personal networks on social media. It's caught on like wildfire, so it's no wonder that Google would be interested. Puts them into position to add even more value to their brand experience, giving them more ties to local needs through search and incentives. I love it. The deals are quite significant, again totally meant for sharing, providing reach that local businesses just wouldn't have been able to get before.

Makes Google even more of a local service provider. Smart.

You have to register with the Groupon site, and then you receive email blasts of all the local deals available including pass along incentives when you share with friends. Try it! If you want a quick tutorial, click here.

Whether the sale goes through or not, this is certainly not the last bit of buzz on the quickly growing Groupon brand. They've crafted quite the experience and provided significant value for their consumers, on a local level, two things that should create some long term success for the brand.

What's your experience? Jim.

Monday, November 29

Black Friday - Cyber Monday

By now we all know what Black Friday is all about. For retailers, it's the first day of profitability for the year (first day "in the black"). For consumers, it's pure retail chaos as we shop for deals deals deals in preparation for holiday gift giving. The average deal on Black Friday was 50% off.

It's hard to pin down exactly how sales on Black Friday were this year. Some say there was a tremendous increase, something like +16%, but I have not been able to verify that. I'm sure in some categories that may be true -- I read that jewelry was experiencing big success. But most reports say just a slight increase over last year (as in under +1%) although I did read in a couple places that the increase was between +2% - +3%. Not sure how to tell, although the sheer fact that the numbers are a bit all over the place shows that retailers are trying to build perceptions that sales are robust.

It was also interesting to hear that discretionary spending, meaning non-gift spending, was prevalent -- meaning people are capitalizing on sales for themselves, not just for the holidays.

The advertising was aggressive, I can say that for sure. Kohl's, JCPenney, Target, Walmart, and Macy's all had heavy duty broadcast media spending to lure people into their stores at 3:00am, 4:00am, and 5:00am Friday morning. Reports say that Gap and Best Buy were the biggest "winners".

Me, I stayed clear and spent time at home with the family.

And the sales are not over! Today is Cyber Monday, which actually officially began last night at midnight. Cyber Monday is Black Friday online! Online deals that rival the brick and mortar stores -- the earlier you snap them up in theory the better the deal. Interesting to note: how you pay is just as important as where you shop. Additional deals can be had by paying with one credit card over another, etc. The more clever you search, the bigger the deal you may be able to get.

I did tool around a little last night and the deals were popping. The big rush, they say, will be lunchtime on the East Coast when millions jump on their office computer to do a little shopping over their sandwiches and salads.

The most interesting part for me is how both Black Friday and Cyber Monday have become such a huge part of our pop culture -- and a huge barometer for the state of the economy. Although I am clearly no indication because I didn't buy a thing!

What's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, November 23

Wonderful Pistachios

There's a great new campaign out for none other than Pistachios, as in the nuts. Wonderful Pistachios to be exact. Yes, Wonderful is the brand name.

The new campaign is called "Get Crackin'", and it features a whole range of "celebrities" showing how they crack open their pistachios. "Celebrities" like Snooki who uses a tanning bed and Charlie Brown and Lucy who kick it like a football in that famous scene.

Who knew that pistachios first of all had a brand at all, and who knew that they could be so much fun? Check out the Facebook page -- to see the commercials and also play a game called crac-man.

What I find interesting is that pistachios in and of themselves are an experience. You have to crack them open to eat them, one at a time, which is part of the enjoyment. The Wonderful brand of pistachios has in turn made a fun experience to go along with the product. Even the packaging is well done. Who knew?

What's your experience? Jim

Monday, November 22

Oprah's Favorite Things

We all know it's Oprah's Farewell Season, and she is certainly pulling out all the stops. Big celebrity reunions, big giveaways, big topics of concern. Did I mention big giveaways?

Although through the years there have been many giveaways, I wouldn't say that there have been a lot of product placements. Some, here and there, but certainly not at the level of other shows. So in the world of marketing and public relations, to get your product on Oprah is the holy grail!

Well Friday's show was product placement heaven! The lucky audience members were given thousands and thousands of dollars of merchandise -- Oprah's favorite things. But it wasn't just a regular audience because each person was hand selected based on their community service. These people had given to their communities so it was time for them to be on the receiving end.

And Oprah did not disappoint, because the entire show was one giveaway after another. Custom merchandise from Ralph Lauren and Tori Burch. A cruise. Even a brownie pan that makes sure that every brownie has edges! Every single one a branded product placement. Marketing nirvana! Especially loved the FedEx elves.

And today is day two ... so tune in!

What's your experience? Jim

Friday, November 19

Hallmark Augmented Reality

I think I saw my first demo of augmented reality about 3 years ago. There were a bunch of us in a conference room in NY and we were amazed. "It's the future!", we all said. We immediately saw applications in healthcare marketing, fashion, retail, beauty ... you name it.

It's interesting to note, though, that 3 years later we have not seem much of it ... until now!

Hallmark just introduced a line of augmented reality greeting cards. Honestly, hadn't thought about that application.

You simply give this special greeting card to your loved one, just like any other greeting card. But this one has a website code written on it. When you log in and put the greeting card up in front of your computer monitor (with video cam), the greeting card comes to life. It's augmented reality for love!

You can visit the website here. The television advertising to launch the new cards is in true Hallmark style ... completely compelling and makes you want to run out and buy one. Think I will this weekend.

Hallmark is such a classic brand. So true to its equity yet innovating through the years. Consistent at every turn. Congratulations!

What's your experience? Jim.

Thursday, November 18

Twitter Chats

If you are at all in the game on Twitter, you have to start participating in some of the Twitter chats. So simple, each chat is literally like a chat room (referenced by a #) on Twitter where like-minded people gather at a designated time to discuss a specific topic of interest. Most of them have a regular host, who is both administrator and "mc", and the group meets at the same time every week.

For example #blogchat meets every Sunday night at 9:00pm ET. #entrepchat follows right after. These two in particular are a lot of fun, at least for me. The first, #blogchat, is filled with people who right blogs. #entrepchat is for entrepreneurs.

I will admit, the conversation is fast, and it's hard to type fast. There are often guest hosts who bring a particular expertise to a given subject, and that's been very informative. I typically stay on the chat for about an hour, and then move on.

It's just a wonderful way to connect with people (most of whom you don't know), who have similar interests and trying to accomplish similar things. We can learn from each other! Something that just a few years ago was much harder to do, even though chat rooms started out in the aol days!

Well now there's a Twitter chat for just about anything, from dogs and cats to health concerns to running a small business. Just hop on and do a search for your topic and I bet you'll find a chat to try out.

What's your experience? Jim.

Wednesday, November 17

Ralph Lauren 4-D Fashion Show

Back in August I wrote a blog post about a public fashion spectacular from Target, which was quite the rage. This past weekend, we witnessed another amazing display from Ralph Lauren, which you can see here ... an experience like no other.

Feels like a growing trend towards including consumers in fashion shows, and using technology to create an experience that both wows and shares, since many of the videos quickly made it virally to YouTube, Twitter, and Facebook.

Let's face it, fashion shows have generally been reserved for the elite, not for the consuming public. Target and Ralph Lauren are making what would normally be seen by industry insiders totally a part of the public domain ... to great success.

I write quite a bit about Ralph Lauren in my book ... I believe that the brand is on the cutting edge of experiential and digital marketing, particularly in the fashion industry. But I wanted you all to get a different perspective on this event, so I asked my friend Barbara Newman to comment.

What's your experience, Barbara? Jim.

The experience effect has just hit the fourth dimension, literally, dazzling us with theatrical innovation that is truly unforgettable. Leave it to Ralph Lauren to take the jump - Polo Style - into a new world of flight and fancy. What he has brought to fashion he now brings to the experience of it.

True to his visionary eye, this beloved tastemaker and fashion futurist has always been 10 steps ahead on the runway. Now he leaps with no boundaries into bold new terrain. In honor of ralphlauren.com celebrating its 10th digital year, the “Madison Mansion” was home to innovation and imagination gone wild.

The experience? Stunning. The effect? Mesmerizing. Giant polo ponies gallop toward us in full force, dancing on the edge of a fortress, their power as commanding as the sound of their hooves. No question, they own it. As they should. After all, they are the brand, their iconic image imprinted.

30 foot tall models float on air…out of windows, and onto the descending stairs. The RL signature Legend Bag appears almost two stories tall, and as onlookers stand enraptured, a green leather belt wraps the building and morphs into a watch.

Julie Taymor look out…this is theater taken to new heights. No matter how Ralph evolves the consumer experience, he always stays true to his brand—timeless, elegant, classic.

It begins the moment you walk into the Mansion at 72nd & Madison, where you expect the butler to arrive and politely ask you for your coat. It’s a multi-sensory experience. You can taste the richness as though it were a piece of dark Belgian chocolate. You can smell the wood paneling, and the very touch of his fabrics could make you cry.

When I was a student at the Fashion Institute of Technology, I worked backstage at the COTY Awards. My first experience meeting Ralph had quite an effect. He was the brand, embodied. World class in every way. Never mind that he wasn’t in 4-D. He was right there, bigger than life.

I’m not surprised all these years later to find myself again effected. Bravo, Ralph… what bold brand experience will you dream up next?

- Barbara Newman





Friday, November 12

Scott Naturals Tube-Free

Back in May, I wrote a blog post about Cottonelle and their eventual resolution of the roll-over vs roll-under toilet paper debate. It was pretty cool. And today I'm writing about an innovation from Scott. Who knew there could be so much going on in the toilet paper category?

This little innovation from Scott is a long time coming, and a whole lot of "what took so long?"!

According to Scott, 17 billion "tubes" from toilet paper rolls are tossed out each year, enough to fill the Empire State Building twice. Yikes.

So the brand introduced a new product, Scott Naturals Tube-Free. When the roll is done, it's just done. Nothing to throw away. So simple, so brilliant, so what we all need. Think about it: this is huge ... no tube! I love it!

I'm just worried about all those craft projects - what will we use now?!

What's your experience? Jim.

Thursday, November 11

ING NYC Marathon

This past Sunday was the NYC Marathon, sponsored by ING. The marathon has become quite the event in NYC, with live coverage and celebrations all around town. I myself ran the marathon when I turned 40, it was birthday gift to myself. Quite an experience. I was very proud this year of all my friends who were checking this off their "bucket" list.

I had a funny marketing revelation this year, a bit of a "duh" moment. I have to say that I always wondered why a financial services company like ING would spend all that money on a title sponsorship. Other than the obvious sheer awareness, it wasn't intuitively obvious to me. Where was the brand equity connection?

But then this year I heard a company spokesperson explain it, and I got it. For financial planning, you have to be in it for the long haul. It's a marathon, not a print.

Ohhhhh! Makes sense. And it certainly appears that ING gets a lot out of the sponsorship -- the brand is top of mind the entire marathon promotion season with all the merchandising, media coverage, signage, etc. It's a full marketing extravaganza.

It was also fun to see all the local businesses use the marathon as a marketing event as well. Dinner and drink specials, that kind of thing. Lifts the spirits of the entire city, something to rally around.

Congrats to all the runners, and to the lead sponsor. Job well done!

What's your experience? Jim

Wednesday, November 10

Coca Cola Couture

There is some pretty amazing packaging design and innovation coming out of Coca-Cola in Europe. Very cool designer-inspired couture collections on aluminum "bottles" that makes it oh-so-fun to sip. I have not seen them here in the US, and trust me I am a diet soda fiend so I would know!

A recent bottle featured Karl Lagerfeld and his signature silhouette, very cool. Previous designs have included works from designers Patricia Field, Matthew Williamson, and Manolo Blahnik.

The latest collection is from Gianfranco Ferre, and features four distinctive designs inspired by his collection of work. Sure, it's frivolous but it's fun. Soda is supposed to be fun and refreshing, and these designs are certainly that!

What's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, November 9

Kohl's

I've become completely fascinated by Kohl's lately. I've heard many times over that the retailer is doing quite well despite the recession, even in a Walmart and Target dominated world. So I decided to check it out myself.

Popped in on a Sunday afternoon to a packed house, and not just browsers. There was a long line at checkout and everyone in the parking lot was walking to their cars with multiple bags in their hands. And it wasn't even a big sale day.

Customers were buying! What a novel concept these days.

As I walked around the store, I was honestly surprised by the quality of the merchandise and of the array of brands. Clothing for women from Vera Wang and Britney Spears. A huge selection of Polo for men and boys. A home collection from Elle Decor. I couldn't believe it.

The other surprising feature -- customer service! Every department had help in it, and even the store manager was walking around making sure that everyone was getting what they needed. It was awesome. Brought me back to my high school days when I worked at JCPenney!

Now it all makes sense -- no wonder Kohl's is doing so well! And BTW, I was one of those consumers walking back to my car with multiple bags! There I said it.

What's your experience? Jim.

Monday, November 8

Cornell MBA Program

I spent Thursday and Friday last week at The Johnson School at Cornell University -- one of the top MBA programs in the country. I did my undergrad at Cornell, although I got my MBA at Columbia -- either way my heart belongs to Cornell.

The fabulous Warren Ellish organized a Executive Coaching program where a bunch of us "seasoned" (so nice to say it that way) marketers come back to campus to coach the students who are just starting their careers. We had a cocktail reception, some 1:1 interviews, and then a student activity. From my vantage point, it was very productive.

The activity was called "Battle of the Brands" where the first year marketing students competed to present their marketing plan for a well known consumer package good. Each team presented how they would position, target, and market the product to The Johnson School. They even had to sell product at a social event and calculate a pro forma P&L. The products included were:
- Colgate Wisp
- Listerine Breath Strips
- Axe Detailer
- Lipton To Go
- Johnson's Wipes
- Irish Spring Body Wash

It was a fun competition and clearly everyone had put a lot of effort into it. All of the Executive Coaches voted to determine the winner, which was the team who marketed the Axe Detailer (male body wash device). I loved their idea of a tie-in with Livestrong and the tagline: "Screen 'em while you clean 'em." --- I'm sure you can figure that one out! The team even donated their prize ($1,000) to Livestrong. Brilliant.

It was a wonderful two day get away. Not only to be back up on "the hill" as Cornellians say, but also to give a little back. The students were wonderful to talk to and their energy was completely contagious. I found being around them to be very revitalizing. I hope that I can continue to help them.

And it was wonderful to meet the other Executive Coaches, many of whom have been doing this for a few years now. It was great to meet thought leaders in the industry and to hear about their career progression.

I certainly plan to repeat again next year!

What's your experience? Jim.


Friday, November 5

Gant

I was walking down Bleeker Street in NYC the other day, just kind of strolling along. If you don't know, Bleeker Street is a quiet little street in Greenwich Village that has become a bit of a shopping mecca, filled with little boutiques.

Across the street I noticed some buzz in front of what looked to be a new store, so I walked over to check it out. It was in fact a new store .... from Gant!

Gant! I think of the brand as tacky mens' ties and business shirts, to be honest. But clearly the brand has gotten an extreme makeover. The store itself was so inviting, a little boutique that just draws you in. Rustic wood paneling, cabinets filled with merchandise, and sales associates dressed perfectly. The clothes are amazing. Casual stuff like jeans and rugby shirts and polos - a bit like Ralph Lauren meets J.Crew.

The brains behind the new brand is designer Michael Bastian, and his work is incredible (if you are as much into mens' clothing as I am). So impressive that I just had to give him and Gant a shout out! You can visit his work here.

I am not sure how wide the distribution is, but you really do need to check it out. I bought a pair of khaki's for myself and now I'm buying the lacrosse-inspired jacket and polo shirt for my son.

I just love seeing a "tired" (sorry, no offense) brand get revitalized. It's the stuff great marketing is made of!

What's your experience? Jim

Thursday, November 4

Kellogg's Crackers

It was only a matter of time. Cereal brands for years have been trying to get us to eat cereal at other times during the day, other than just for breakfast. And quite honestly, it makes sense. Cereal is a very fulfilling, nutritious, delicious (in most cases) snack food. There is something quite satisfying about having a bowl of cereal at the end of the day. I did it last night, truth be told.

The problem is that I don't know if consumers really embraced the notion of cereal during the day quite the way that the cereal brands wanted. Well now Kellogg's has addressed this little dilemma with a new line of crackers for the All Bran and Special K brands.

Same great flavor, same great texture as their cereal counterparts, the new Kellogg's crackers make snacking on cereal during the day so easy, just like any other kind of snack food.

A very clever idea and a smart way to solve an "age-old" marketing problem: how to get consumers to eat cereal outside of breakfast.

What's your experience? Jim.

Wednesday, November 3

Social Media on Election Night

Maybe I'm just getting old (well, not maybe), but watching the election results on network television reminded me of the boredom of watching the Watergate hearings when I was a kid (boy, did I just date myself or what!).

I couldn't stand it ... election night coverage hasn't advanced a lick in twenty years. So what did I do?

I turned to social media!

I started the day by watching all my friends post on their Facebook walls that they had in fact voted. So cool. Then I spent time at night multi-tasking and bouncing between Facebook and Twitter, following the election results. By going online, I didn't have to hear all the commentators trying to fill air time (sorry!), but I got to hear from my friends and followers. I followed the news for sure, but I got to hear what they thought of what was going on. And truthfully, I care more about what they think.

Now that's the social phenomenon of social media!

It was strange at first, because I felt like I was missing something. I mean, I should have the tv on! But then once I got into the groove of things, I really enjoyed seeing all the comments and results. I loved it. The timing was quick, and the comments even quicker. It took a lot of effort to keep up, which was a blast.

I do have to give some props to abc though, for forming a partnership and doing a Facebook Town Hall. They reported all the activity on Facebook, which was interesting. The problem is that they "reported" it like it was news, rather than participate in it like it was social media. I quickly went back online. Good try, though.

A fascinating night, to say the least. Thanks to all my online friends for putting up with me.

What's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, November 2

Piperlime

There's some interesting marketing activity coming out of clothing manufacturer Piperlime, which is owned by Gap. The brand is encouraging consumers to "get dressed again" and to "put away the hoodies". Hmmm, funny coming from a parent company that makes jeans and hoodies! Call it good brand portfolio management.

It's an interesting concept in these days of business casual getting all a little too much casual for many people's tastes. C'mon people, let's put some thought into our clothes and dress like me mean it. Not formally, by any means, but put a little effort in.

Obviously as a guy who matches his socks with his watch with his pen everyday, I like the Piperlime approach. Don't have to go formal, just look good. Look like you care!

For the most part, Piperlime is an online retailer -- right on the website along side sister brands Gap and Banana Republic, which I personally think is a miss. I would have put some distance between the brands, and let them stand a little bit more on their own.

A couple points of interest:
- an entire section of shoes for men and women, fully stocked! Do I hear a little Zappos action?
- for a limited time, there is a pop up store in Soho NYC which is totally worth checking out

Piperlime ... check it out.

What's your experience? Jim

Monday, November 1

Southwest Airlines

Last week I flew on Southwest Airlines for a business trip, and I have to say that I was a bit surprised. We all know what the industry is going through -- costs being added for every single service, disgruntled employees, horrible profit margins, delays, and the list goes on and on.

I was a bit surprised by the attitude on Southwest Airlines. It was pretty darn good. The flight attendants were happy, making jokes, helping people with their luggage, serving drinks and snacks -- it was like the good 'ole days. I actually enjoyed the flight.

I shouldn't have been surprised because I actually wrote about the brand in my book. The airline is known for giving a great experience, but I guess I assumed that in this economy that it may have all faded. I was wrong -- the experience was surprisingly good.

Especially the boarding process. No seat assignments, just a pecking order. When the flight was ready to board, we simply stood next to the post that matched the number on our boarding pass and we got on the plane in order. No hassle, no crowding, no standing in line. We simply got on the plane and chose the seat we wanted. In a nice orderly fashion. For a minute I thought we were all human again.

So just when I thought branding and marketing didn't apply to this industry anymore, I guess I rediscovered Southwest Airlines. So I'm going to do what any good consumer would do, keep on choosing them again and again. They had me at hello.

What's your experience? Jim.