Thursday, December 30

My Favorite 2010 Blog Posts

I can't help myself, I need to do one more year-in-review list.

Monday I wrote a post on our favorite marketing moments of 2010 ... memorable events in our industry that my friends, followers, and readers picked and then I compiled.

Today's year-end list is a little different ... I reviewed all of my blog posts from the year and picked my ten favorites. I write a post nearly every day, and while I love all my children equally, there are a few that for me stick out as the most impactful.

So here goes, in rank order.

10 - Bed Bath and Beyond Dorm Rooms: Right place, right time marketing at its finest and a good example of what I call "The Experience Effect", that I experienced myself while touring college campuses with my daughter.

9 - Snickers "Not Yourself": Without a doubt, the best television advertising of the year featuring the come-back kid of the year, Betty White. A shining moment during the Super Bowl.

8 - Lady Gaga "Telephone": A star is born, scratch that, marketed ... along with some very strategic partnerships. Be on the lookout for a big announcement from her at midnight on New Year's Eve.

7 - Pepsi Refresh: A breakthrough in marketing and connecting and giving back ... funded by a cut in television advertising media.

6 - Kotex Gets Brave: The brand that finally said what we've been dying to say for years.

5 - Who Owns Your Brand?: A lesson that Gap and many others have learned this year. Did we learn nothing from Tropicana? Social media rejected the brand's new logo in a matter of hours.

4 - Royal Caribbean and Haiti: A no-win situation and the commentary in many of the industry articles proved it. Was the brand really helping the locals?

3 - Social Media on Election Night: Tracking election results on social media was far more interesting than on the networks. It was fascinating to see the commentary on twitter.

2 - New FDA Packaging for Cigarettes: How far is too far? New guidelines for cigarette package design answers that question. My most-read blog post of the year.

1 - I Love My Hair: The viral video from Sesame Street that teaches young girls (and the rest of us) self esteem. I'm sure the hair care brands were wishing they could have sponsored this little gem.

And one more for good measure ... yesterday's post:
Bullying: We learned that you can stand up to bullies and in fact it does "get better"!

My friends will notice my self-restraint ... not a single mention of The Real Housewives.

What's your experience? Jim.

PS - One last shameless plug for the year.
If you haven't read my book yet ... make it one of your New Year's Resolutions! :)
It's available in Nook, Kindle for iPad, Kindle, and hard cover here. Thanks for all your support!

Happy New Year!


Wednesday, December 29

Bullying

For me there was one societal theme that rang consistently true this year, loud and clear: Bullying. 2010 was the year that we acknowledged the bully and fought back.

I guess it was the sequence of teenage suicides ... young gay teenagers who had been bullied to the point of wanting out, teased and taunted to the point of suicide that did it ... got us all to realize that it's not ok to bully and it's certainly not ok to be bullied.

It's not like this was the first year we noticed it. We have been seeing high profile stories year after year of high school bullying, cyber-bullying, adult bullying, the whole gamut. Let's face it, I'm sure each of us has experienced it to some extent and probably we've all done a little bit of it here and there as well. If we can recognize it and admit to it.

Dan Savage and Terry Miller, however, brought it to life. In what turned into a domino of home video sequences, they created "it gets better" ... a website with documented messages where Dan, Terry and thousands of others tell young gay people to hang in there. While they may be experiencing hard times right now, feeling abused and isolated, life certainly does get better.

Dan and Terry told of their own struggle with bullying and of coming out, and about how as adults they are in such a better place. It got better for them, and it will get better for you.

What a brilliant message ... for everyone.

And then the celebrities kicked into gear, which in our culture always brings a lot of attention to an issue. Obama, Keisha, Ann Hathaway, Suze Orman, Andy Cohen, Nancy Pelosi, Maroon 5 .. are just a few posted videos. The most impactful are the ones where people actually "come out", and tell of their own story of wanting to commit suicide and check out of their existence. But they hung in there and it got better.

Perhaps one of the most stirring was the video from a Fort Worth city councilman (Joel Burns) who took time out of a city council meeting to tell teenagers that "it gets better."

And then there was that scene in Glee, the television show, where fiction mirrors reality. The scene was shocking, at least for me, because someone finally stood up to their aggressor and got a little slice of life. My one thought after seeing that scene? It gets better!

Not to make light of it, and this is on a totally different scale, but even Kelly Bensimon from The Real Housewives of New York thinks she was bullied this year. She even did a PSA about it. The point being that she feels bullied, whether or not it is true doesn't really matter.

The message from 2010 is loud and clear, and not just for gay teens. For all of us regardless of age or lot in life. We've all seen bullying in action, whether with "friends", co-workers, family ... at all stages of our lives. We can relate to this message and hopefully it gets us to stop and think. Think about how we treat others, and also about how we want to be treated. Think about where the bullying is coming from and get it to stop.

Think about how we want to spend our time in 2011.

What's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, December 28

New Year's Eve

So what are you doing New Year's Eve?

It's the question of the week, as most people I know are still scrambling to make plans. We can blame it on the "thundersnow" and holiday travel, but the truth is that it's pretty much the same every year. We kind of make plans at the last minute, at least I do.

If you are staying home or going to a party at someone's home, there are several "brands" to choose from on television. I say "brands" because these entertainment properties, some vintage and some new, have become brands unto themselves. Brands that are either directly tied to New Year's Eve or that are bringing their "equity" to the event. Let's check out a few and see which brand fits your needs.

Dick Clark. Many of us think of him as the original New Year's Eve "brand", as well we should. He started the countdown in 1972, was pretty much unchallenged for years, and really does still own it. As his health has started to fade, sidekick (and entertainment successor) Ryan Seacrest joined him in 2005. While in our minds this is Dick Clark's show, it was really Guy Lombardo who invented the night and also made famous "Auld Lang Syne". But the night now and still belongs to Dick and Ryan, with a big focus on the ball drop. Clarification: the ball made by Waterford crystal.

Anderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin. Relative new comers to the scene, this pair came together almost by accident, but have created a unique duo in celebrating the New Year. Anderson and Kathy are more comedy oriented and are on cnn. While Dick may own the ball drop, you can't miss Anderson's shoe drop live from Key West.

Carson Daly. Coming off his success as a music host for mtv, Carson has a music-oriented show that has been successful the last few years on nbc.

So I've just noted abc, cnn, and nbc, but the truth is that most of the networks have a special or two planned including mtv, cbs, and fox. But what about Bravo? The masters of pop culture and reality tv.

Well Bravo's own Andy Cohen is hosting his first New Year's Eve special complete with all of his favorite "bravo-lebrities." Oh, and a wig drop. Let's see if Andy Cohen has the 411 when it comes to this holiday!

So with all of these great entertainment brands to choose from for New Year's Eve, who's the best and who's the winner? The answer to that is easy ... New York City.

New York City IS New Year's Eve so no matter what you fancy, New York City should be part of the mix. The original New Year's Eve brand, starting in 1904 in Times Square with the first ball drop in 1907. The first televised special? 1941 from The Rainbow Room on top of Rockefeller Center.

Enjoy and have a happy ....

What's your experience? Jim.

Monday, December 27

Favorite Marketing Moments of 2010

I love year-end lists ... can't get enough of them. The week between Christmas and New Year's Eve is meant specifically for reviewing year-end lists, at least in my book! So I thought I'd compile a list of of my own: 2010 Favorite Marketing Moments.

On all my social media outlets, including my website, I asked people for what they thought were their favorite marketing moments of 2010. So I simply compiled them here, and put them in rank order. Thanks so much everyone!

What's your experience, gang?

10 - Publix: the holiday advertising for this grocery retailer is an annual favorite. Seasonal advertising in general tends to hit the mark emotionally, and Publix is an expert at it. Take a look at the Thanksgiving execution here -- it's not just the stuffing that gets stirred.

9 - Real Housewives: Bravo has reinvented the soap opera, and these "real women" (cast mates) have taken personal branding to a whole new level with book deals, speaking engagements, new products, and even hit music. The question remains ... can money buy you class?

8- Kotex: talk about REAL, finally someone in the feminine hygiene category spoke to women about what periods really are like. Take a look here ... no more awkward moments sitting next to your mom.

7 - Mad Men: not only a pop culture hit, but also a master at product placements, marketing partnerships, and customized advertising for its brands. We all got mad about Mad Men.

6 - Black Friday and Cyber Monday: certainly big shopping days and absolutely becoming annual traditions both online and off, at all hours of the day and night. But the deals this year were off the charts, and kept going right through to Christmas day. Both days broke records, and probably credit cards too.

5 - There's An App For That: 2010 became the year of the app, for brands and for products and services ... but not just for the iPhone. In came the Android, giving Apple a run for its money and pc users a sigh of relief.

4 - Old Spice: arguably the most profiled, measured, discussed, and now likely to be copied social media campaign to date. The magic was in the integration from tv advertising to facebook to website to twitter ... and in the results. Catch one of the videos that got it all started here.

3 - Online Publishing: I would say that Kindle kicked us into gear, then came the iPad, and now Nook. E-readers took over this year both for books and for magazine publishing. Are people reading more? Not sure, but the magazines have become so much more engaging with dynamic content and it sure is easier to carry around books. I even get a kick out of the little ads that appear in between content ... for now!

2 - Brands in Crisis: we saw quite a few brands come off their pedestal this year. Royal Caribbean, Tiger Woods, bp, Johnson & Johnson ... let's hope we learned that honesty and transparency will keep consumers loyal.

1 - Oprah: the queen comes in first place, at least from my perspective. Her farewell season and favorite things has kicked a marketing machine into gear for her new network. While we certainly heard a lot from Ms. Oprah in 2010, I have a feeling that 2011 will be her OWN. Starting January 1st.

Happy Holidays to all - and to all good marketing. Jim.

Thursday, December 23

I'll Be Home For Christmas

I was recently interviewed for an article about how technology is changing how we interact during the holidays (should run next week). I think their theory is that technology has made it all so impersonal.

My observation is different -- that technology (and social media) has allowed us to be in touch and close again with so many people from the various parts of our lives. I know the holiday activities of all my Facebook friends, I'm getting holiday e-cards from all over the world, and I can even Skype with relatives who can't make the trip to my house for the big day. None of this could have happened before.

Social media, I believe, has brought us closer. Technology has allowed us to stay in touch, better than ever before. While at times it seems cold and impersonal, the result is often very personal.

But I suppose there's a limit and a balance.

We had a training session at the agency yesterday, all about sensitivity in the workplace. One of the topics was being "present" in meetings and making sure that you are paying attention to the conversation instead of texting and emailing. It's pretty "insensitive" to not give your co-workers the kind of participation and undivided attention that they need to get their work done, together.

So it got me thinking ... we need to be "present" during the holidays as well. Yes, keep in touch with old friends and family members across the miles on Facebook and post your holiday pictures to share with everyone on Flickr. But when the time comes to get down with the family, put down the electronic devices. Check them at the door. Be in the moment with your family and give them the attention they want.

I say this mostly to myself. Multi-tasking has become not a habit but a way of life, a necessity to keep it all going. My iPhone is never more than a few steps away from me.

But not this holiday. I am stepping away from the keyboard. I am going to be "Home For Christmas."

What's your experience? Jim.

"I'll be home for Christmas. You can count on me."

Wednesday, December 22

OWN

As I was walking to work yesterday, I saw it. It was out of the corner of my eye, and it whisked by me on the side of a bus but there was no mistaking it. I saw my first billboard advertisement for Oprah's new network, OWN. It was only a matter of time before the machine would kick in, and with the launch on January 1st, I would say that it's about time. And like any good marketing plan, that first exposure yesterday coincidentally turned into exposure after exposure after exposure ever since. Did I ever tell you that there are no coincidences in marketing?

The woman is working it. As if the "farewell season" isn't enough of a daily reminder of what's next, there is now a full assault to build an audience for OWN and its shows. Facebook pages, blogs, viral videos, and of course advertising every time you turn your head and turn the channel.

Who can blame her? This is a big venture -- bold, brilliant, and risky all at once. Oprah readily admits that she is scared to death and lays awake at night worrying that perhaps this is too big. Relax girl, you own it.

As she says: "New shows. New faces. New possibilities." The lineup is jammed packed with new original programming all in Oprah style. The programmers are of course relying on some old favorites like Suze Orman, Dr. Phil, and Dr. Oz ... "Oprah's All Stars", as they say. And some old friends like Rosie O'Donnell and Carson Kressley. And a few new surprises like Shania Twain and Ryan O'Neal. Ryan O'Neal with his daughter Tatum!

The ultimate bridge? A behind the scenes look at the final episodes of the Oprah Winfrey Show. Brilliant. You can watch the promo video here.

I write this blog post for a couple reasons. First of all, the woman is a master and she deserves all the success she is so expertly creates for herself. She is a marketing machine that must be respected. And second of all -- fair warning. When we are all home for the holidays next week, expect to be hit over the head, time after time, with announcements about the OWN launch on January 1st.

It is a national holiday after all!

What's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, December 21

Progressive Insurance

This is so cool! Professor Vassilis Dalakas at Cal State San Marcos started a new marketing class this semester about the brand experience. We met over the summer to talk about the class and my book and his incoming students. We decided to invite students to write blog entries as guest posts, and here we have our first from student Dee Michetti. She talks about her personal experience with an insurance brand, and about how it changed her perceptions probably forever -- making her a loyal follower and a sharer. This is a great example of a brand that follows through on their advertising promise at the point of contact with consumers. Thanks so much Dee and Professor Dalakas!

What's your experience, Dee? Jim.

When it comes to engaging consumers and creating memorable experiences, most think of theme parks like Disneyland or places to take children. As a mother of two young children, and one on the way, I am always looking for a product, place, or event that will be useful, convenient, easy, fun for everyone, and one that is going to create lasting positive emotions.

One experience that I feel creates the antithesis of everything I am looking for in a positive interaction is dealing with an insurance company. Dealing with the other party, adjusters, service stations and rental companies can be such a hassle, especially when the accident was not your fault.

Recently, I was involved in a hit and run accident. I can’t imagine a more horrible experience. Just filing the police report set up expectations of a grueling experience. Three months later, I received a letter from the Highway Patrol releasing the driver’s information to me. Finally, some light at the end of the tunnel, well just a peak of light at the middle, I still had to deal with the insurance company. I called the insurance company and started my claim. To my surprise, I got a call from an adjuster just an hour later. I could not believe it. Suddenly my expectations of horrible experience were changing. The company that was changing my mind was Progressive.

I have seen the commercials for hassle free claims service through Progressive with their “Concierge” Claims Center; but this was a service that I had to experience personally to believe. When I pulled up to the claims center in San Diego , I was immediately greeted by three happy attendants who were all eager to help me. I was offered coffee and a snack before I even gave my information. There were even toys in the lobby to occupy my young child while I waited. So far, so good right? Within 15 minutes I was provided a written estimate for me to take wherever I wanted the work done. I was off on my way 30 minutes after arriving with a cup of tea and a snack for me and my son.

Because of this positive first experience, I was motivated to have my car repaired with Progressive. I had to continue and see if Progressive could fully change my mind about the accident/repair experience. My expectations were growing. I got the call to bring my car in for repairs the day before Thanksgiving. Progressive set up such positive expectations that I was not even concerned about the holiday. I was at home with my rental in less than an hour. I was greeted this time even more personally since I was dealing with the same attendant who helped me before. I received calls from the adjuster, the claims center, and the repair shop assuring me that I was being taken care of. It was amazing! When it came time to pick up my vehicle, Progressive even gave me the opportunity to keep the rental car for another 24 hours, giving me the convenience to get my car when I was ready. I picked up my car and the attendants switched out my car seats, and even watched my children as I inspected my car.

Progressive even guaranteed my repairs for the life of the vehicle. In dealing with Progressive, I had no hassles, only had to drive to one spot to drop of the rental and pick up my newly repaired car; received “personal” care and was treated like a Progressive customer throughout the whole experience. I was so happy with my service that I am now switching to Progressive!

For a busy mom, Progressive was my Disneyland for accident repairs, I will forever remember this wonderful experience and am telling everyone I know!

I base my day on expectations and creating affective expectations is what marketing is all about. In addition to feeling emotions during the experience, many times people feel emotions in anticipation of the experience. I do not want to invest my time or money on something that I know will let me or my family down. My expectations in dealing with an insurance company were negative in the beginning; however, through the marketing and services provided by Progressive, I was able to reset my expectations. They based their marketing and services on what the consumer needs, wants, and desires building on emotions and necessity. To me, this is the best way to reach a busy mom like myself.

- Dee Michetti, student at Cal State San Marcos

PS - Dee, I love your line "Progressive was my Disneyland"! Glad you're ok from the accident. Jim.



Monday, December 20

TSA

I'm a big believer that almost anything and everything can be and in fact is a brand. Products, celebrities, ordinary people, services, television shows, and yes even government organizations. And I have to say, the TSA has been making strides lately to try to be more of a brand. The Transportation Security Administration that is, the folks that screen us as we get ready to board our planes.

I witnessed it last week, four times in fact as I made two day trips to two different cities.

The TSA has not been without its criticism. First for its lack of preparedness on 9/11 and then its disorganization then it's lack of keeping up with technology then its hiring practices then its staff training then lately its physical screening procedures. It's a long list and I'm sure I didn't even capture the half of it.

But I have to say that the government organization is making strides. As you approach one of the "greeting" stations, you are met with organized rows that move people along, consistent "educational" signage, a welcome video (one of many from their YouTube channel), and a fairly pleasant greeter. You are communicated with throughout the entire process. The organization has a website and a blog (with regular posts) and even a twitter account. They are making every attempt to be "human" and to talk to their audience and to help them through their issues. Sounds like a brand to me.

I couldn't find a Facebook page, but then again who would want to "like" the TSA? Following the organization on Twitter makes a lot of sense, though, because followers get to comment and get up to the minute status updates. Just like a brand! There were lots of posts last night about how fast travelers are speeding through the process. Compliments!

So I say let's give them a chance. A chance to redeem themselves and to reinvent themselves and to start really acting consistently like a brand. It'll be worth it because any good brand is in service of its target audience so we will win in the end. And maybe, just maybe, the whole flying experience will get just a little more pleasant again.

Of course we'll have to get the airlines back in the game as well!

What's your experience? Jim.

PS - For a blog post next week, I am compiling our favorite marketing moments of 2010. Click here to tell me yours!

Friday, December 17

Wendy's

We are all only too familiar with the Wendy's iconic logo, featuring the red-head little girl with pigtails. Well that little girl is all grown up and has hopped out of the logo and onto the television screen.

Wendy Thomas, daughter of founder Dave Thomas who died nine years ago, is headlining a new advertising campaign for the fast food chain and introducing a new double patty product. Makes sense, when you think about it, afterall she is the name sake and the inspiration for the company's identity.

Those in the marketing industry know that Wendy's has been struggling. Sales are down, for sure, at a time when the competition has been doing just fine, thank you. The brand has switched from one advertising campaign to another, in a category whose sales are so dependent on effective advertising.

Certainly new products should help. In addition to the new item shown by Wendy Thomas, the brand has focused on and revitalized its french fries, in an attempt to tumble market leader McDonald's. Not sure that it's working, but it has gotten a lot of attention.

So maybe going back to the original heritage and introducing us to the real Wendy Thomas is smart. Afterall, showing men in red pigtail wigs from the last campaign didn't seem to help (they even had people in the restaurants wearing the wigs!). But this new campaign is not without some controversy surrounding the fact that Wendy is a bit overweight, an issue directly tied to fast food - you can read about that here.

I'm not a fast food fan, I gave it up several years ago after a McNugget overload with my small kids. But I do think it's fascinating to watch the branding, and although Wendy's is still searching for itself, I do hope the brand stays vital.

What's your experience? Jim.

Thursday, December 16

Kleenex Softness Worth Sharing

Kleenex is running a very cool, very viral promotion that I believe is the first of its kind. Perfect timing, too, as I know so many people are muddling through colds and fighting off the flu right now.

It's called "Softness Worth Sharing" and the basic concept is that for free you can send a friend of box of Kleenex - presumably someone who is dealing with a cold. You just log onto to the website and enter the information. The cool part, though, is that you can track not only your "send" but also the "sends" of everyone else around the country. By state, by zip code, all of your friends too. So you can see the chain reaction that your "send" creates but also see if your neighbors are being neighborly too. All free!

Over 781,000 boxes have been sent already. California is the top state, with Ontario, New York, Florida, and Pennsylvania right behind. 25 boxes were sent from my neighborhood in Chelsea, New York with Chicago, Toronto, and Brooklyn being the top destinations. How fun to track the chain of kindness (excuse me, softness).

An interesting move to keep an obviously well known brand top of mind during cold/flu season. The brand keeps its messaging clear as well: "America's softest tissue" and "share the softness" are prominent at every move. Well done, and very contemporary for a heritage brand I might add!

What's your experience? Jim.

Wednesday, December 15

Beads of Courage

Although I don't watch it very often, I caught CBS News Sunday Morning the other day -- it's a great show, actually, that profiles little capsules of pop culture that are generally very fascinating. One of the stories this past Sunday really captured my heart.


It's a non-profit organization that uses beads to help children cope with the treatment that comes from the serious, life-threatening diseases that they are facing. The children collect the beads for each treatment they undergo, and each side effect they struggle with, and assemble jewelry that they can wear. Jewelry that they wear as a badge of survival and as a sign of hope and a signal of strength. As one little girl said, they are not beads of courage but rather "beads of life."

It's a tremendous organization that really helps these kids and their families cope, and you have to completely respect that. From the looks of their website, it looks like a lot of people do. The site is fully functioning with complete listings of all their programs, ways to contribute and shop, corporate sponsors like NASA and AFLAC, and inspirational stories on their blog. Plus all the social media outlets known to our generation.

It's clearly a well run organization of very committed people doing very good work -- work that inspires young people to keep up the good fight and get healthy again.

If you are in healthcare or kids marketing, you should consider supporting this amazing organization. As a parent, I would appreciate it!

What's your experience? Jim.


Tuesday, December 14

Holiday Shopping

We're in the middle of the holiday shopping season, and retailers are pulling out all the stops to drive sales. I myself was shopping this past weekend and was surprised by the level of "sales" -- 20%, 30%, 40% off everything in the store at places like Williams Sonoma, Pottery Barn, Armani Exchange, Club Monaco, Old Navy. These kinds of offers are generally held until January, after the big rush. Not this year, they are front and center during prime shopping time!

One big trend that has continued into this season is the "friends and family" discount. I've received dozens of postcards, tweets, and facebook postings offering me significant discounts as a "friend". Social media has made this easy for brands to distribute these kinds of offers. Funny thing is that when I've gone to the store, I've noticed that many of these retailers are offering these discounts to everyone. So much for "friends and family"! One retailer handled it really well though by posting: "friends don't keep secrets so everyone saves." Clever.

The other big trend continuing into this season is the pop-up store, and we are seeing several varieties "popping up." There are of course the big holiday villages in the city centers selling gift items. They are in several locations here in NY as well as Chicago, San Francisco, all the major cities. They are a lot of fun to browse and to get unique holiday gifts. A great opportunity for smaller businesses to get exposure.

In the malls, we are continuing to see pop-up kiosks offering everything from hair accessories to mobile devices to Proactiv. These kiosks seem to come and go as shopping volume increases and decreases. Some are manned by sales people and others are more like vending machines. Best Buy has a great vending machine that I've seen in malls and even in airports. Smart.

And then of course there are complete pop-up stores that go into empty retail spaces for a short window of time to capitalize on demand. I wrote a post about Piperlime a short while ago who has a pop-up store in Soho. With so much empty retail space, many brands are creating these stores to be in the main stream of massive holiday shopping.

There was a great article about pop-ups yesterday, and in fact I am quoted in it! These pop-up stores basically put brands (big and small) in the right place at the right time as shoppers spend their precious holiday cash and credit.

Happy holiday marketing and shopping!

What's your experience? Jim.

PS -- if you don't mind, please click here to vote for "The Experience Effect" as one of the best books for small business

Monday, December 13

Santacon

I've turned the corner ... I now get almost all of my news from social media, particularly Twitter. I go there first, because I know that the people I follow are on the pulse of what's going on in news, pop culture, politics, social issues, and the economy. If I want more, then I search on from there.

On Twitter I found out that Elizabeth Edwards lost her battle with cancer. On Twitter I found out about Mark Madoff's suicide and about Bill Clinton's visit to the White House to help out Obama. And in a unique piece of pop culture, I found out about Santacon for the first time.

Santacon was on Saturday, and it's so cool. It started in 1994 in San Francisco, but this is the first time I have every heard of it. It's basically a big party, where people dress up as Santa Claus and congregate in major cities to cruise around. Bar to bar, store to store, park to park -- and like I said, bar to bar. In Manhattan, Santacon was all over the city. It was a visual feast to tell you the truth, seeing all of these Santas walking around and gathering in the parks and in front of bars. Sure, it's a party, but these folks were having a lot of fun. And it was a lot of fun to watch.

According to the website, there are really only a few rules:
- don't mess around with kids (I mean, you're dressed as Santa!)
- don't mess around with police
- don't mess around with security

Santacon has become an international phenomenon in 178 locations in 24 countries, including Paris, Beijing, and Sydney. The website helps people to congregate by posting locations -- there were 11 locations in NYC alone including Central Park, Brooklyn Bridge, and The Museum of Natural History. And the costumes are not just Santa -- I saw a lot of elves, reindeer, presents, etc. All with holiday cheer!

The organization claims to have no mission, no political affiliation, no agenda ... other than to have fun. They do provide a lot of entertainment, a new slice of pop culture, and I have to believe an economic boost to the cities that participate.

Go Santa Go!

What's your experience? Jim.

Friday, December 10

Hallmark Christmas

Hallmark is clearly a brand that "gets it" -- it knows how to be a brand. Fulfilling the needs of its consumers, emotionally as well as functionally, and I would add that its the emotional component that seals the deal. More than just greeting cards, the brand has evolved to a full line of products, retail stores, services, and entertainment. It's an emotionally based mega-brand.

But I have to say that the brand's newest offering takes it up a notch. Maybe it's the holidays and I am feeling particularly stretched like the rest of us, but I literally jumped up and screamed at the television screen when I saw the latest Hallmark commercial the other day.

Putting together the family holiday card is always a source of stress, particularly when you try to take one of those now infamous family photos every year. First you have to get the kids to agree to it, year after year, and then you actually have to get them in one place looking decent and happy. You snap the photo, pick the best one you possibly can (a nightmare alone), get them printed, enveloped, addressed, stamped, and sent to the post office. Ug, I still have not done it this year so guess what my weekend project is going to be!

Hallmark gets it, they totally get it. They took a whole lot of time and hassle out of this crazy process by doing the entire back-end for you. Simply take and pick your family photo (simply, he says!), upload it to the Hallmark website and complete everything right there. You choose the style and format, upload your addresses, and then Hallmark prints, envelopes, stamps, and mails all of your holiday cards. Of course you can also choose from an entire range of other holiday products as well. C'mon this is Hallmark!

"Cards that mail themselves", as the brand says on the website. And not just for the holidays ... the brand offers this service year round for all greeting card needs for both consumers and for businesses.

Holy cannoli I love it. Is this a brand that gets it or what? And then as the television commercial so smartly promises, you can run off and get other things done (like spend time with your family and friends). Simple, brilliant, functional, far reaching, emotionally fulfilling ... just what a great brand should be.

What's your experience? Jim

PS - My book "The Experience Effect" is nominated as one of the best new books for small business. Would you mind clicking here to cast a vote? I appreciate it.

Thursday, December 9

Brand Name Auction

Something very cool and interesting happened in the marketing world yesterday, probably the first in branding history. There was an auction to sell off some classic but dormant brand names, 150 of them to be exact. Available for complete buyout -- the brand name, the domain, full licensing rights - the entire entity of the brand.

150 brands were available to buy, 45 without a minimum bid at all. You might be surprised at some of the brands that were available:
- Meister Brau (a classic!)
- Lucky Whip
- HandiWrap (didn't realize it had disappeared)
- Pom Poms (one of my favorites as a kid)
- Shearson (a very early part of American Express)
- General Cinema
- Computer City
- The Linen Closet
- Kiddie City (I remember that toy store as a kid)
- Knickerbockers
- Braniff (the airline)
- Phar-Mor (the old drug store)
You can see the complete list here.

Held by a private equity firm, the auction was held at the Waldorf Astoria in NYC yesterday and also online, via high bidders' choice. All you had to do to participate is to register in advance and have a $10,000 check in your hands.

In a world where it costs a fortune, literally, to launch a new brand, this was an amazing opportunity to buy a classic brand name and reinvent it. A name like InfoSeek for example, a big data company that was hot before the dot com boom. Or Meister Brau, that some lucky bidder picked up for $32,000.

I'd love to see the list of buyers, and follow the progress. It'll be fascinating to see which ones become household names again, as they get new meaning and offer new benefits to consumers.

I guess this was marketing's attempt to be somewhat green: reduce, reuse, recycle!

What's your experience? Jim.

PS - If you don't mind, click here to vote for "The Experience Effect" as one of the best new books for small business. I appreciate it.

Wednesday, December 8

What Is WikiLeaks?

Ever notice how when you first hear of something new, it registers for the first time, and then suddenly you hear it over and over again? Like you can't believe that you've just recently heard about it.

That's just happened to me with WikiLeaks. Maybe I live under a rock, but I have to admit that I just recently heard about it, and then suddenly it's all I am hearing about! I generally try to stay on top of the latest and greatest, but this one passed me by!

The constant repetition on Twitter motivated me to do a little research. So just what is WikiLeaks? At first I thought it had something to do with Wikipedia and was some sort of a gossip rag online!! Couldn't have been farther from the truth.

I started my research by going to the website - wikileaks.org - but it was shut down. And it turns out that the Director (Julian Assange) was arrested yesterday. Why? Had to do a little more digging.

WikiLeaks is a non-profit organization whose stated mission is to locate and release sensitive documents that are otherwise not open for public distribution. A self-described media company that brings news to the people.

The website was created using a wiki format, making the content editable and shareable, hence the name WikiLeaks. The organization gained a lot of fame and notoriety with the release of documents surrounding the Iraq and Afganistan wars. In the early years of its life, some pretty prestigious awards were also given to the organization for its journalism.

As the controversy mounted over the last few years (and certainly last few months), and by the way the Facebook fan count grew as well, there was a lot of speculation about government surveillance around the world. I guess the more sensitive the topic, the more scrutiny from the government. Not sure all about that, but I've now know enough about WikiLeaks to make me content. At least enough to keep up with the Twitter feed!

It's certainly not what I thought it was -- it's not a social media site for gossip! It's a whole lot deeper and mysterious than I had imagined. Just don't know where I've been for the last few years!

The question is ... is it the future of journalism? Is the online world and technology changing how we get our "news" and the type of "news" we get -- well the answer to that part is yes, WikiLeaks or not.

If you want to learn more, there's a pretty detailed breakdown on Wikipedia (no relation!).

What's your experience? Jim.


Tuesday, December 7

New Cigarette Packaging

The FDA is ramping up its game to get smokers to stop smoking. The government organization is seeking to release new guidelines for cigarette advertising and packaging, the first in 25 years, with a direct aim toward scaring people away from tobacco.

It's a bold move, let me tell you. The FDA is selecting a range of horrific images to be depicted directly on the cigarette packaging (and in the advertising) showing people who have suffered from the ravages of cigarettes. One version has a visual of a terminal cancer patient with copy that says "cigarettes cause cancer."

You can view some of the proposed images in this article. Warning: its pretty out there. The FDA is currently selecting the images and seeking public comment, with the goal of having 9 different images ready to roll into the market by 2012.

I am not a smoker, and never have been. I have family members and friends who have suffered greatly from cigarettes. I am all for fully communicating the health ramifications of smoking so that consumers are fully aware of what they are getting into. I don't have any data, but I think people are pretty aware of the dangers. The question is will a very bold and graphic reminder every time they dip into a pack help people to stop smoking?

Do we need to go this far? I'm honestly not sure how I feel. On the one hand, I don't want anyone to smoke. But on the other hand, this is a legal consumer product and I'm not sure that the government should go this far in dictating packaging design. Warnings on the effects, sure, but packaging design? Should we do the same with alcohol and firearms?

What's your experience? Jim.

Monday, December 6

Baking at Michaels

It's the holidays, and among other things 'tis the season for baking. I noticed some very interesting marketing activity in the baking category at a surprising place, Michaels (as in the arts and crafts store).

I actually had no idea that bakeware and cake decorating supplies were such big stuff for Michaels. It makes sense when you think about it, baking is as much arts and crafts as anything else. The dominant brand for years was Wilton, but they seem to be getting some hefty competition from some pretty big names in the kitchen and on tv.

Martha Stewart for one. She's had a huge line of art and crafts products at Michaels for quite awhile now, and she has extended her line into bakeware and decorating items. But two new entrants are heating up the space with some very interesting products, packaging, and point-of-sale materials. Paula Deen and Duff Goldman (Ace of Cakes), each have a full line of products at Michaels now as well, right across the aisle from Wilton and Martha Stewart. As I said, it's making Michaels quite the destination for the baking category.

The interesting part is that all three of these brands (Martha Stewart, Paula Deen, Ace of Cakes) are leveraging their television presence into a product line and using Michaels as exclusive distribution. Seems much more compelling than what Wilton has to offer.

Another television personality who isn't in this game -- Rachel Ray, who has her own empire of course. I'm quoted in an article about her brand, and you can read it here.

I love a little holiday competition. Now I suggest a trip to Michaels to get some cool products for your holiday baking.

What's your experience? Jim.

PS - if you don't mind, vote for my book "The Experience Effect" as one of the best new books for small business by clicking here. I appreciate it.

Friday, December 3

@brandsconf

Yesterday I spoke at the @brandsconf held by Jeff Pulver in New York. The theme was the humanization of brands, meaning that brands are people too.

I loved the format where each speaker gets 9 minutes to present. Forced me to stay totally focused with ... wait for this ... no powerpoint slides!!! I felt so free ... weeeeee.

But seriously, the format allowed a lot of people to present their points of view, without allowing anyone to dominate or get lost in rhetoric. You know what I mean ;)

My point of view? It's through an incredible brand experience that a brand becomes real, authentic, meaningful and yes, human. But how you create that brand experience is the tough part. You have to start with a deep, thorough understanding of your consumer, and then you have to create an emotional connection with her that is beyond compare. A connection that truly adds value to her life more than just the functionality of the product.

Then you have the chance of being incorporated into her heart and soul and can try to build a personal relationship that hopefully she shares with her friends.

Social media has certainly helped. With the dialogue that we are able to create with our consumers, we now have a real brand voice and real brand personality in ways never before possible. We can speak "with" consumers, not "at" them. We can join their communities and listen to their needs and wants. Gosh, as brands we can be human!

The funny part? The entire audience was on their mobile devices and laptops the entire day. But it was by no means insulting to the speakers because the audience was tweeting the entire time! That was a first for me, but really cool to read all the play back. Live tweets in the lounge made it fun too. All of our name tags had our Twitter names -- me, @jimjosephexp.

Thanks to all who attended yesterday's @brandsconf and a big thanks to Jeff Pulver for not only organizing it all but also for allowing me to participate. I loved it. It was also personally very cool to have people in the audience who had read my book -- thanks for all the love!

What's your experience? Jim.

PS - "The Experience Effect" is listed as a top book for small business but I need your vote! If you don't mind, click here to cast a vote for my book. I appreciate it.

Thursday, December 2

Always Menstrual App

Another day, another app ... certainly seems like that, right? Everyday there are more apps to choose from for the iPhone, iPad, Android, etc. It's fun and really helpful, but hard to keep up with for sure.

Yesterday I wrote about a new app from Robitussin. Perhaps not a new idea, but certainly a new value-added app, particularly for moms who are trying to keep their families healthy.

Today I'd like to highlight a new app from P&G's brand Always, designed to help women manage their menstrual and ovulation cycles. Sounds meaningful.

It's called Always Me, and it was designed with input from website editors, bloggers, women's health experts, physicians, and consumers. It looks to be content rich, with information on health issues, cycle timing, exercise, and even diet. The app begins with a Q&A section to help assess the user's needs. And of course there is a guide to product selection and purchase.

Always Me looks to be just the first in a long line up coming from P&G across a variety of categories including skin care, hair care, and beauty -- so stay tuned. If this app and others help women to manage getting through a hectic day (and month), then I applaud the effort. One app at a time.

What's your experience? Jim

Wednesday, December 1

Robitussin Relief Finder

This idea has been around for decades ... I pitched it myself to a client or three through the years and have even made a few here and there. The notion of giving a tool to consumers to help figure out their cough, cold, and flu symptoms and then help them select the right medicine can truly be meaningful to someone not feeling well or who has a sick kid. The age-old question of "is it a cold or the flu" is a hard one to answer!

Of course the symptom analyzer has taken many forms through the years. When I first did one, it was a consumer brochure printed on ... wait a minute ... paper! It was handed out in doctors' offices and then eventually we did one that sat on the retail shelf as a "take-one".

When the web came along (boy do I sound old), we created one on the brand's website. Of course now it's all about the smart phone and being mobile.

So enter Robitussin and their new "Relief Finder" app. Similar in nature to its ancestor on paper, this new app allows consumers to select their symptoms and then find the right Robitussin product to give them relief. Of course the magic comes from being able to do that right at the shelf.

Have you shopped one of these shelves lately -- it's very hard to figure out which product to buy. With the app right there, consumers can now match up the photo on their mobile phone to the package on the shelf. Couldn't get easier. There's also a feature to help find a store within a specific zip code that carries the product.

So the insight is still the same: consumers need help deciphering their symptoms and finding the right products to get relief. Technology has simply made it more convenient and valuable.

Good job, Robitussin.

What's your experience? Jim.