Monday, January 31

Is College Worth It?

I was interviewed last week by "Shine for Yahoo" for an article about the value of a college education. "Is it still worth it," was the question at hand. Does it really help you in life? I surprised myself that I didn't have the automatic response that I would have imagined.

Maybe it's because I am right in the thick of it with my daughter who is a high school senior. Now I went to two amazing schools for my undergrad and then grad degrees, so clearly I believe in a good education. It was the experience of a lifetime, and I wouldn't trade it for anything. But as we analyze options for my daughter, and look at the sky high costs, it does give me second thoughts.

Is college for everyone? Is college worth it? For my daughter, yes. She is not sure what she wants to do, really, so college will give her the chance to explore options and create a network of forever friends. She is very studious, loves the academic side of things, and will soar at college. The experience will serve her well I am sure.

But I don't think that is true of everyone. At least not anymore. If you have a skill or a dream or a great idea, college may not be the place to pursue it. The investment may not pay off compared to other avenues. And that's all right, really.

We have friends with very specific skills who are going places to fine tune them. We also know entrepreneurs who are going to spend their time developing a new business. The college experience will just slow them down and take them off track. $50,000 a year won't pay off like just jumping into it will.

I think the economy has changed how we think about all this. There is no longer just the tried and true path to career success. We each need to make our own. If college is a part of it, then go for it. If not, that's perfectly fine.

If you'd like to read the article that I was quoted in, you can find it on Yahoo here.

What's your experience? Jim

Friday, January 28

Men Doing The Grocery Shopping

There was an interesting article last week from Yahoo, describing how many of the grocery shopping duties for the family are now falling on the men of the household.

Now as a single Dad, I do find that easy to believe. I have long done the household chores for my kids, although admittedly that has dwindled for me as my kids have gotten older. And I know a lot of my guy friends who take very active roles in the household shopping, cooking, and (even) laundry.

But as a marketer who runs an agency around marketing to women, I still wonder if it's really a national trend. The survey seems legitimate, so I am not questioning that. I just wonder if many of the men in the survey exaggerated their household influence ... not necessarily on purpose. Don't women still rule the grocery aisle?

The economy has certainly changed our roles, with many men finding themselves at home a lot more. With each generation we also see a blurring of traditional roles and responsibilities. But 60% of men say that they do the household grocery shopping?

Not sure ... but you can read about it here.

It sure does speak to how we need to change our communications strategies. As package goods marketers, we tend to focus on mom. White mom married to her first husband with her own kids. Even the census data shows that those households are way way way in the minority. So what this little article does for me, regardless of the actual data, is to tell me that we need to expand our definition of our target market. Expand beyond the traditional and really look hard at who is doing the shopping, the deciding, and the buying. It's very likely a mix ... Mom, Dad, teenagers, grandparents. We should be talking to all of them.

A true melting pot. Hmmmm.

What's your experience? Jim

Thursday, January 27

Michelle Obama and Walmart

Wow! Is this an unlikely pair or what?! Michelle Obama (or any first lady for that matter) promoting something for Walmart? I took a double take yesterday when I read the headline on Yahoo News.

But it's true, read it here.

Michelle is helping Walmart spread the word about an initiative to bring more healthy choices to their 140million shoppers each week. More healthy foods, more instantly recognizable labeling, lower prices on better choices .... quite a few things in an effort to get Americans to adopt a more healthy lifestyle.

Even lowering the prices on produce, which I think is particularly smart.

Walmart is also helping Michelle spread the word of her "Let's Move" campaign to reduce childhood obesity. Surely the power and might of Walmart will help, as they leverage their "influence" through their vast supplier network to not only reduce prices on healthy choices but also reduce sugar content, calories, and fat.

I think it's pretty amazing. Walmart has gotten a lot of criticism over the years for a lot of things, so certainly Michelle Obama's ringing endorsement will help in that department. Perhaps even more interesting is the blurring of the lines between social issues, "government" programs, and big business. Maybe, just maybe, "we can all just get along."

Not the first time ever I suppose, but having such an iconic pairing I do believe is a breakthrough. If we are really going to stop something as important as childhood (and adult) obesity, we are going to have to unite and partner. The more unlikely the pairing the better.

What's your experience? Jim.

Wednesday, January 26

Jack LaLanne

I have to say that I've been debating all week about this blog post. Not because I don't think Jack LaLanne is an inspiration, because he is. More because I didn't want to look like I was jumping on the bandwagon after his death. I didn't really know much about him until I started reading so much this week.

All the commentary I've been hearing on Twitter and Facebook and even at the "water cooler" has been absolutely fascinating. People love this man and all his little sayings. As the "Godfather of Fitness" he is famous for his little LaLanne-isms, such as:
- Your Health Account is Your Wealth Account
- Long Live Living Long (he certainly did that!)
- Exercise is King, Nutrition is Queen ... Put Them Together and You've Got a Kingdom
- People Don't Die of Old Age, They Die of Inactivity
and one of my personal favorites:
- 10 Seconds on the Lips and a Lifetime on the Hips

This man is an incredible brand that I am sure will live on. A unique personality that had his fingers in television shows (really THE original), exercise videos (Jane Fonda should thank him), home appliances, food products, and even a clothing line (his own version of Spanks, thank you very much).

We all knew what his brand was all about and he was incredibly consistent in his messaging. He basically invented a genre and was loved and respected by millions upon millions.

And now greatly missed as well.

What's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, January 25

Starting a New Agency

My very dear friend from Cornell, Ed Catto, recently started a new agency. No small undertaking ... I did it once myself (just take a look at the struggles of the "Mad Men"!). But Ed is an amazing marketer and crazy creative, so I have no doubt that his new venture will soar. It's called Bonfire Agency. I am in love the concept that he and his business partner Steve have come up with, so I asked him what it was like to start a new agency, especially "these days". Here's what he had to say.

Ed, what's your experience? Jim.

So, instead of just opening a new agency, we thought we’d make it even more difficult.

Wouldn’t it be fun, we told ourselves, to also create (well, “define” really) a whole new demographic? Given our deep backgrounds in the so-called “Geek” culture, my partner Steve Rotterdam (formerly of Time Warner’s DC Comics Division) and I have formed a full-service marketing firm, Bonfire Agency. The core idea is to help companies and brands better reach and engage with this geek demographic.

Just what is the geek demographic?

This term, admittedly somewhat clumsy, has come to mean hyper-intelligent, hyper-connected passionate fans who love comics, science fiction movies, collecting toys, action TV shows, anime, manga adult cutting-edge comedies and more. Their passion typically stretches across several genres. You see these fans on Big Bang Theory or waiting in line on opening night for the next big movie.

Not only do these fans spend their time and money on entertainment they like, but they talk about what they like. All the time. In person and online. They are critical, highly articulate and eager to share their views. You can imagine that they make the ideal consumer for brands- - not only will they buy what they like, but they’ll tell others about it!

As we articulate our agency’s reason for being, folks seem to get it. With the proliferation of geek culture spilling into mainstream (who would’ve thought the Green Hornet would do better box office than a Ron Howard movie starring Vince Vaughn?), it’s a logical next step.

And you know, working in this space will be an opportunity for brands to showcase their most creative, edgiest work. Although when people ask, “why hasn’t anyone done this before?”, it makes us wonder too. There is a slim line between visionary and deluded fool, I’m sure.

One thing that we didn’t anticipate was the great interest from professionals who want to ‘join the team’. In the marketing community, so many art directors, copy writers, marketers and strategists have reached out saying, “Great idea! I’d love to join you!” This combined with the initial positive reaction from early clients and potential clients, is encouraging.

So, three weeks into it, as we’re past the point of all those pesky housekeeping/start-up issues, such as getting staplers and filling them with staples, we’re focusing on the projects at hand and the potential ahead. Like the song says- “deadlines and commitments, what to leave in, what to leave out”.

But it’s so much fun and so engaging. It’s invigorating to have something fresh to champion and to leverage, helping all involved. I could talk about it all day. On the other hand, I’d really love to hear what you think. What’s your experience?

- Ed Catto is a partner and co-founder of Bonfire Agency, LLC in New York City. For more information, please visit BonfireAgency.com.

Monday, January 24

Nissan Electric Car

We knew it was coming, in fact it's been a long time coming. The electric car. Nissan debuted its new advertising on OWN (Oprah Winfrey Network) and has been pushing out its messaging heavily ever since.

I have to admit that I am quite taken, more so than I even thought I would be and more so than with previous advertising for the electric car (featuring a polar bear giving an owner a hug, for example). Clearly, there are environmental benefits to the car which we should all be attracted to, but there's so much more too.

For a car, it's pretty hard to capture me, because it's usually all about driving along country roads or looking sleek at a city intersection. But this campaign really makes me want to run out and buy one. Not because it corners on a dime, or because of the soft Corinthian leather. But because of how it makes me really feel.

Obviously if it's an electric car, you have to plug it in to charge it up and drive it. The best part of the commercial is that it shows "the new filling station" not as a gas station but as your home. Brilliant and so true on so many levels.

Home is the new filling station, not just because it has outlets to plug into ... it's also become the filling station for us and our livelihood and security. The world has become a tough place, that's for sure, and all the market research studies have shown that we now take refuge in our home. We relax, we rewind, we re-charge all at home. I know that I do. As vacations have dwindled, we are relying more and more on home to bring us back to life. To protect us from all that is harsh in the world.

Like reliance on oil.

Bravo! Anyone have an electric car yet?

What's your experience? Jim.

Friday, January 21

The Plight of Airport Food

I am sticking to my New Year's Resolution this year .... I joined Weight Watchers to shed a few lbs that have creeped up on me. I've been doing really well; it actually works, as long as you're diligent.

My will was put to the ultimate test this week though ... flying. I had two back to back trips, so I knew I was going to be subjected not only to temptation, but also to jet lag which heightens our need to munch.

But I had no idea how bad it would be. At three different airports, I couldn't find anything to eat. Nothing healthy or Weight Watchers worthy. No salad shops, no smoothies, no fruit ... just pizza, fast food Chinese, burgers and fries. Not that there's anything wrong with those foods, I've lived many a time thriving on them. But not right now when I have turned a new leaf in eating healthy. I'm getting older now and I can't just eat whatever I want. Those days are over.

I literally had one of those moments where I was standing in the middle of the concourse almost spinning in place. Looking 360 degrees for something that would work. I finally saw a Yoplait yogurt and a banana and decided it was just going to have to sustain me for a couple hours.

On the plane? Even worse. Nothing at all. Period. Starving .....

So all I could think is "where are the marketers!" This is a HUGE opportunity. Millions of travelers every day passing through our airports and flying on planes, not all of them satisfied with high calorie, high fat food. Get some salads in there, some grilled chicken breasts, some fruit ... some healthy choices. This is complete white space for a clever brand or two to fill. And please make it easy to bring on board, so we can spread out our goodies and not shove it down our throats waiting at the gate. Not a great experience.

Someone better get on board with this ... there's money to be made! And people's health to save.

What's your experience? Jim.

BTW -- I am way ahead of my weight loss goal, so it really is working!

Thursday, January 20

Using Audience Personas from the Inside Out

I am so excited about today's blog post - 'cause it's written by someone I've come to admire!

I met Nate Riggs at an AMA convention last fall and instantly could feel his intelligence and presence in the industry. He's a consumer marketer who has a particular focus on social media,but it's not just social media for social media's sake ... he applies the fundamentals of good marketing to his work. Like really understanding his consumers. He's a fellow runner and a fellow marketer, so we naturally became fast "friends."

I asked if he'd write a guest post for my blog and he graciously said yes. So here he talks about building personas, and using them as bridges to brand loyalty. Man after my own heart.

The fun part is that Nate is also simultaneously hosting one of my guest posts on his blog today too, which you can read afterwards at nateriggs.com.

May I present the wonderful Nate Riggs, better known as @nateriggs.

Nate, what's your experience? Jim.

Using Audience Personas from the Inside Out

I’m kind of obsessed with browsing around the Zappos site. In my opinion, it’s one of the best online shopping experiences in the game.

So yesterday, I figured that after stepping in a puddle and winding up with cold wet toes, my running shoes were pretty much kaput. It’s time to buy a new pair.

Except there are dozens upon dozens of shoes to choose from, and buying any type of apparel online is tough. You can’t feel it. You certainly can’t try it on, and even though I know that Zappos has a killer return policy, I want to make a good choice on the first round.

Enter Andrew, one of Zappos’s buyers who kindly demos and explains the technical parts of the shoe to me while displaying the product in a neat little video hosted on the site.

I get why they chose Andrew to deliver the spiel. He seems to know his stuff. In reality, I have no idea who Andrew is, but he’s about my age and his build and demeanor give me the impression that he’s most likely a runner, just like me.

Watching Andrew’s video demo a few times, I get strange this feeling like I can trust this dude. As runners go, he’s one us.

Being One of Us

Last year, Chris Brogan and Julien Smith released Trust Agents. The book that would end up topping the charts as a New York Times and Wall Street Journal best seller in about a week.

The authors outline a framework of 6 principals that humans can apply when using the Interwebz to build trust among their fellow humans, some of whom might one day buy there stuff.

For me, one of those principles has stuck in my mind as most relevant and applicable to the next generation of brand marketing: “One of Us”.

The concept here is simple. We humans tend to trust other humans who are similar to us in terms of belief structures, cultural interests, and behaviors. If we can identify with another human in the sense of “Hey, he (or she) is just like me…”, we feel safe. We trust based on the emotions that the feeling of “One of Us” evokes in our psyche.

What One Earth Does This Have to Do With Personas?

Everything.

For years, marketers and brand strategists have found value in personifying the audience. It helps us establish a feeling of connectedness and understanding of the audience we are trying to reach.

The result? We become better equipped to craft relevant and timely brand messages that evoke an emotional connection between the brand and the consumer.

Change is Happening (Right NOW)

You already know that some aspects of marketing have changed.

Supported by social media and the popularity of user-generated content, a fair majority of brand marketing now resides in the interpretation and re-distribution of content by the audience.

While exciting, that change can also be a scary one for brands to wrap their head around.

So what do we do? How to we make it less scary to engage with audiences on the social web?

Reverse Engineer Your Personas

As more and more brands begin to think in terms of conversational marketing and command centers as a part of their marketing mix, the opportunity arises to use audience persona data to identify individuals inside your own company who can act as agents, utilizing social networks and media to connect with specific audience segments.

Think about it. Who better to represent your brand across social media that a genuinely influential member of the exact audience segments you are trying to reach?

At its root, the idea is simple. However, the process to get there can be a bit more complicated.

Here’s 5 things to consider when identifying the agents who will be “One of Us” with your audience.

1. Find those who match – work to identify folks in your company or your clients company that match the traits, attributes and behaviors of your target audience personas.

2. Develop your agents’ communication skills – train the selected individuals to be proficient in not delivering your message to the audience, but also in using technology to communicate the content.

3. Be a coach – be ready to offer guidance as to the objectives of the business as related to reaching your goals.

4. Assess regularly – find ways to continuously measure how your agents are communicating the messages and creating response among your target audience.

5. Boost their presence online - Help them develop their human brand and increase their level of influence among the target audience.

What else would you add? What are the things you believe to be important when you send an agent into the social web to become “One of Us” with your audience?

- Nate Riggs, Social Business Strategist at nateriggs.com

Wednesday, January 19

The Focus Group

I spent the day yesterday doing something that I did years and years ago ... attending focus groups. We've got a brand new client with a very particular breakthrough technology so I've been intimately involved in the branding and positioning work. It's pretty exciting because we are charting new territory -- something I've always enjoyed doing. I like staying in the game.

But I have to say that not much has changed with the focus group. I remember my first -- we were designing new REACH toothbrushes for kids, and we wanted to understand the issues that little kids have with brushing their teeth. The ultimate result was an ergonomically designed brush for chubby little hands (REACH WonderGrip), to help them reach their back teeth, their upper teeth, heck all of their teeth. We laughed and laughed as we heard little kid after little kid talk about how hard it is to brush their teeth.

All behind a two way mirror, sitting in the dark, taking notes, and eating M&Ms.

Like I said, not a lot has changed. Yesterday we sat behind the two way mirror and listened to women talk about an even more personal issue. The M&Ms were replaced with healthy salads, but the methodology was the same: listening.

Listening!

Truth is we don't do enough of it as marketers. And as old as the methodology of the focus group is, I have to say that I still learned something. Imagine that! I listened and I learned.

And I've seen a distinct evolution in consumers since those days on REACH toothbrush. They are much more saavy and much more articulate and much more (shall I say) jaded. Consumers have been inundated with marketing messages year after year after year. They don't believe so readily and they don't take anything at face value. As brands we have to prove our worth to them, and then they are immediately going to ask their friends about us and research us online to make sure that we are telling the truth. Advertising is hype, and they immediately question it ... what others are saying about the brand is far more important and sincere and real.

Which is why it's so important to listen! What a thrill to learn something new every day!

What's your experience? Jim.

PS - Don't know if you've seen the new Domino's tv spot but the concept is that they are filming a real focus group which ends up being in the middle of a Domino's pizza kitchen.

Tuesday, January 18

Golden Globes Pop Culture

So of course I watched The Golden Globes on Sunday night. Honestly not because it's wildly entertaining, but because it's a piece of American pop culture that those of us in the business need to stay on top of. In particular, we have several fashion clients so I personally need to stay on the pulse.

Did the Globes satisfy? Not in the usual way. I wasn't particularly fond of Ricky Gervais this time around. As Mike Brown said in his post, it felt like he was merely trying to "one up" his last performance rather than come up with something new, fresh, and funny.

The awards themselves were pretty much standard fare. A couple touching moments, but nothing that you would say changed the world. I wish that these folks knew how to give an acceptance speech, that's for sure. They have a moment when the world is watching them to actually say something, and most of them let it slip right by.

But not Chris Colfer, who made a point about bullying and being who you are. It was a shining moment. And Claire Danes who called out the real person, Temple Gradin, who inspired her movie about a breakthrough woman dealing with autism. Conspicuously missing this year was a major "cause". No Haiti, no breast cancer, no AIDS, no homelessness ... just people in pretty clothes accepting awards.

The other thing missing was the very "in your face" bottles of Moet. They were there, but much more subtly than in prior years.

All that aside, let's face it: these awards shows, and this one in particular, is really only about fashion. And I'm ok with that. It is a piece of pop culture and it's now a part of the fashion industry marketing machine. Brand names roll off the tongue now with ease, and glam cams analyze every stitch. I'm just waiting for the "click to buy" feature to pop up. This year -- color, lots of color, with a bunch of black mixed in for good measure. And not a lot of bling.

Olivia Wilde ... OMG. Sophia Vergara ... OMG.

There are hours of coverage live from the red carpet, all the recaps post-show, and then the ultimate "Fashion Police" with Joan Rivers the next day. I am so happy to see her back, in her element, making us laugh. This is her brand and she is back to own it.

So I will admit it, I do watch The Golden Globes. Yes I am in the fashion industry so I need to, but also because it does give us a slice of our culture. An aspirational slice of our culture that does impact trends and attitudes and even shopping behaviors down the line. And in marketing, it's important to keep up with what our consumers are viewing and what is influencing them. We can't reserve our learning just to the focus group or quant study, we have to observe a little bit of it ourselves. And participate in it sometimes too.

What's your experience? Jim.

Monday, January 17

On Top of Spaghetti ....

... all covered with cheese!

I was quoted in The Boston Globe on Friday in an article about none other than meatballs! The reporter was covering a local business who has seen a tremendous rise in meatball sales and she was trying to analyze why.

One of my clients, IKEA, is also a huge meatball supplier ... Swedish meatballs to be exact. But that by no means makes me an expert. But I am a connoisseur.

Spaghetti and meatballs is a Sunday night tradition in my family. Had them last night while we were watching the Golden Globes! Not sure how it all started, but we've been doing it for years now. Mostly at home, but if we are out we go to a restaurant that serves it, and if we have company then they too join in the feast. We do it every single Sunday night. Right now we are on Weight Watchers (still keeping that New Year's resolution!), so last night we made turkey meatballs and a low fat sauce on top of whole wheat pasta. Totally fit the bill.

We look forward to it every single Sunday night.

I do have a theory on why meatball sales are through the roof ... the local Boston company has seen it as has my client IKEA. It's comfort. We are still living in trying times, despite all the accounts saying we are out of the recession. Yeah right, I still see vacant store front after vacant store front and it's quite sad. We've seen things around us disappear over night and our trust in the institutions that we often relied upon has dwindled.

Now the meatball won't save the world, but it does help in our little corner of it. For me, our traditional Sunday night meal has become something that we do all rely on. Something that brings us together when we are all running around like crazy. We sit at the table together and we talk, and we get ready for the week ahead of us. Sometimes, really, for the first time all week. And if we are home cooking, we've all been gathering in and around the kitchen during the prep as well. It's very comforting, and in a time when not a lot is comforting, I am happy for my spaghetti and meatballs. All covered with cheese.

I have a feeling that I'm not alone, and not just for the meatball. Judging by the comments posted on The Boston Globe article, I know I am not! Comfort foods, home and away, give us that feeling of security and feeling of home. Sometimes we need it more often than others.

What's your experience? Jim.

Friday, January 14

Facebook Shopping

We've all witnessed the tremendous growth of social media, and of Facebook in particular (it just surpassed Google for traffic volume as I am sure you are aware). For those of us who actively participate, I think we are all a little surprised by how much we actually use it - surprised by how much (and even how) we have incorporated it into our lives.

I for one have reconnected with friends from every facet of my life: grade school, high school, college, first jobs, career changes, neighbors, new friends ... you name it. Quite honestly it's wonderful. And as Facebook has grown, so too have I in how I use it including emailing, photo sharing, news reading, crowd gathering, opinion seeking, coupon clipping and now .... shopping.

Yes, you can now shop on Facebook! Not a huge revelation, I suppose, but yet another way that Facebook is infiltrating in our lives, and another way that brands can be in the right place at the right time with value for their consumers.

J.C.Penney is the first major retailer to put their full catalog on Facebook. Now I don't know about you, but I grew up on J.C.Penney and the catalog. Literally. It was my very first job all through high school and college. Even did a tad bit of modeling (blush). So to think that J.C.Penney is now on Facebook is nothing short of ... modern!

I for one think it's brilliant. Bring the catalog TO the shopper and TO the browser. Get it out of the snail-mailbox (those catalogs are heavy!) and get it out of the lumbering website, and bring it to where the people are!

But they are not the first. 1-800-FLOWERS is on there. And of course CPG giant P&G is there too, with a full Facebook shop of P&G products (the first in its class I might add). And this is just the short list of a few early entrants. Perfect for small businesses, too, who don't have the resources to print catalogs or make big websites.

What will they think of next? No, I mean it ... what else will Facebook do to infiltrate our lives? I love it, as a marketer and a consumer.

What's your experience? Jim.

Thursday, January 13

Jillian Michaels' Tagline

I'm sure you're familiar with the television show "The Biggest Loser". Not just a show, but a mega-brand in its own right with a huge website community that has fueled a very successful line of exercise equipment and videos and related products. Tremendous success with a real following.

And a few spin offs like trainer Jillian Michaels, who then had her own show and then a web-based business. Just like she does for her contestants, she will personally help you lose weight. Her website is filled with her "products" like a weight loss plan, work out videos, an app, a multi-city challenge ... the list goes on and on.

Now these two "brands" have not been without their controversy, but I'm not commenting on that portion.

But I am impressed with her tagline: "America's Toughest Trainer" - coming directly from her personality as a tough-ass motivator on the tv show. She created an ownable way to brand herself, and she is consistently using it in her marketing materials. It got me thinking ...

The branding is pretty cool, actually, tagline and all. How may other people in her category have we seen do that? It's almost like it's her "elevator pitch" - you know, the words you would use to describe yourself (or your brand) to someone as you ride up the elevator. It got me thinking ...

We should all have a tagline, an elevator pitch. A way we would describe our brand, our essence, and what we offer to people. A way to serve ourselves up in a flash, rather than going on and on about our accomplishments. A personal tagline that people will remember us by.

It's a fundamental of branding, so why not for personal branding as well. It's working quite well for Jillian Michaels, why not for people in other professions. So tell me ....

What's your elevator pitch ... what's your experience? Jim.

Wednesday, January 12

iPhone and Verizon

The day we've been all waiting for finally came on Tuesday, quite honestly without all the pomp and circumstance that the rumours would have had us all believing.

Verizon is now servicing the iPhone. "... forget your troubles, come on get happy..."

The truth is, despite the horrible (and I do mean legendary horrible) customer service, I have been a loyal Verizon customer for years, because the network is so strong - just like they say in the advertising. I got an iPhone at work about a year ago, and an iPad over the holidays. The one thing I hate about both is the AT&T service, and I know I'm singing to the choir on this one.

I never understood the AT&T exclusivity, unless there was a technology advantage that I simply don't know about. When you negotiate a marketing alliance, both parties are supposed to benefit. Equally, and ideally without money changing hands. It's an exchange of assets, I always say, that allows both parties to do things that they couldn't do on their own.

I get it from AT&T's perspective. The brand was all but dead and needed the demand that the iPhone instantly generated. But for Apple, what did they need from AT&T from a marketing perspective? From any carrier for that matter. AT&T brought them down, quite honestly. I for one put off the purchase for a long time because I didn't want to deal with AT&T.

Perhaps those days are over now ... we have a choice in carriers if we do indeed want to engage with Apple. And true to form Apple marketing, they are already alluding to new advances with Verizon coming down the pike. And the rumours are already leaking, stirring up pent up demand sure to cause a frenzy with long lines stretching around city blocks.

Good thing, because the Droid has been eating iPhone's lunch. Same great apps, same great features, much better cell coverage. Perhaps the Droid, over the course of the last year, was what pulled the drama out of the Verizon announcement? Ahhh .... I love marketing.

What's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, January 11

Luvs Diapers

I have a confession: I love commercials with babies. Maybe it's because my first brand assignment was on Johnson's Baby Products or maybe it's because I like the potty humor, not sure. It's certainly not because I love hanging out with babies, though, I found that part of life as a Dad way too stressful!

Let's talk about Luvs: I love the marketing of Luvs diapers. You would think that it would take second fiddle to Pampers in the P&G portfolio, but it certainly doesn't look that way. It is the lower cost brand, but that doesn't mean as a consumer you give up any performance or engagement with the brand.

The brand just appears to be a lot more straight forward. Luvs cuts it straight - shows the real part of being a parent. This is all about making sure everything stays in one place before you have a chance to change it, right? Nothing more, nothing less. So the brand uses language like "Double Dooty Protection" and "Blowouts" ... stuff we can relate to and smile with as parents. "What happens in Luvs, stays in Luvs" -- gotta love that!

And the brand is keeping up. New advertising (featuring a blowout competition), new diaper designs that improve performance and style, new packaging with added information ... and a community manager on Facebook that speaks directly with parents and lives their lives with them. I particularly like that she thanks Moms and Dads!

Not rocket science for sure, just good diaper marketing. I don't know the sales figures, but Luvs is certainly no second fiddle.

What's your experience? Jim.

Monday, January 10

Kleenex Hand Towels

Here's a new product that is tracking with two huge trends in current pop culture: germaphobia and environmentalism. The problem is that it goes directly with one and directly against the other.

Kleenex just came out with disposable hand towels. Single-use towels that you use to dry your hands after washing, and then you throw them out. Convenient for sure, but we've seen for years the proliferation of products designed just for convenience. And in the wave that is all green right now, it certainly smacks environmental efforts right in the face.

Are they biodegradable? To an extent, but remember that they are generally put into a plastic garbage bag which sadly preserves them in landfill. Plus these towels are reinforced for strength which makes them much less environmentally friendly. You certainly can't flush them down the toilet.

So what's the benefit other than just convenience, which we as a culture are training each other not to prioritize over the environment?

Germs! The other huge pop culture obsession, particularly with swine flu and the likes. As the Kleenex brand says, "your hands are only as clean as the towel you dry them on." So clearly a fresh clean towel after each hand wash would certainly help to keep your hands clean from germs, right?

From a marketing perspective, this is a great example of consumers setting their own priorities. Convenience, environmentalism, germ-fighting. We all get to pick, and those brands that serve the best for the most people, win.

As a brand, can we help our consumers prioritize? Yes, but we should do so sincerely. If your number one priority as a mom is to protect your family from germs, at all costs, then you very well might choose these new disposable hand towels.

I just can't get around the visual of the upside-down dispenser sitting in my bathroom ... reminds me of the bathroom at Penn Station which isn't a happy thought.

What's your experience? Jim.

Friday, January 7

K-Y Kissable Sensations

J&J, you've come a long way baby!

If you have at all followed the lineage of the brand K-Y, you will see a brand that has had an incredible transformation over the years. The brand's new product, Kissable Sensations, is just the latest in a string of new products that has taken the equity from one of medical lubrication to one of, well, let's say sexual lubrication. And not just in the traditional sense.

I worked at J&J, and back in the day there was no acknowledgement that K-Y was used for sex. This is J&J after all, and it just didn't seem right. The product was for vaginal dryness, and that's it. Packaged in a cold medical tube, it was a brand for women who needed a little extra "something" and for medical professionals doing "procedures". Yet women (and men for that matter) were telling a different story. They were using it to make sex more ... pleasureable.

I think the turning point in the brand, probably 15 years ago, was a brave brand manager who did a print ad saying that K-Y would not break down a condom in use. Bingo ... the "new" K-Y was born.

Now, it's like the brand had a sexual liberation. There are products for her pleasure and his pleasure, in lots of varieties to spice it up. They are even talking about his and his pleasure. Kissable Sensations is for ... wait a minute ... foreplay! I guess "lubrication" means "getting things going" as much as anything. The website explains it all, complete with couple's advice and a Relationship Lab.

Take a look at the advertising here. We can debate the creative approach all day, but the strategy is bang on. Sorry.

It's amazing to see a brand better and better define itself in response to consumer behavior and pop culture norms/attitudes. And finding a need in the category, a gap in the marketplace, and filling it with an entire pipeline of products that satisfy. Literally ... in more ways than one.

Bravo! Can't wait to see what's next.

What's your experience? Jim.

Thursday, January 6

Starbucks New Logo

If you've read my book, you know that I have very mixed emotions about Starbucks. One the one hand, I am crazy loyal and certainly a heavy consumer. On the other hand, as an early adoptor I've seen the deterioration of the brand experience over the years, and certainly the inconsistency in experience from location to location.

So my first reaction when I heard that Starbucks was changing its logo? Here we go again ... Tropicana, Gap, now Starbucks!

Yes late yesterday Starbucks unveiled their new logo, sans the iconic green circle and and sans "coffee" and even sans the brand name. In an effort to make the logo even more iconic, the brand now focuses on its famous Siren. This logo change is rumored to be the first of many events happening during this the brand's 40th anniversary.

Initial reactions, mostly on social media, were bi-polar. Not nearly as drastic as when Gap unveiled their new logo. The reactions were mixed from completely positive to completely negative.

The logo pictured above is the old logo, so to see the new one click here.

Me? I like it, I think. I realize that they've stripped away their brand name, which in old school textbooks is a big no-no. But if you look at Nike, Apple, Target and McDonald's as inspiration, they all have symbols that readily identify their brand without their brand name. I believe that Starbucks is trying to create the same status in consumers' minds ... and I think they can. Might be harder as they roll out worldwide, but I am sure they will figure out how to incorporate their brand name when they need it, just like these other brands have done.

Here's the funny thing about logos. They do need to evolve, and before social media none of us (or any consumers) had a voice. We just got used to it, and over time the new logo became the brand identity. The question about if it makes sense is less about the design, and more about the marketing strategy.

Making Starbucks even more iconic to me makes sense ... gives them the ability over time to branch out beyond what we currently know of the brand (i.e. beyond a coffee house). He says with a sip.

What's your experience? Jim.

Wednesday, January 5

Who.A.U

During my holiday shopping frenzy in NYC this year, I had an experience that has me still scratching my head. I was walking down Broadway and spied out of the corner of my little eye what looked to be Abercrombie & Fitch. The store front was pretty telegraphic ... snow covered evergreens, mannequins in jeans and big sweaters, sweatshirts with big logos on it. I popped in to buy some things for my teenagers.

You know the urban legend, right? No one over 3o can wear Abercrombie & Fitch ... so I was shopping for my two teenagers ;)

Inside, I immediately noticed a disconnect. Yes, there were more snow covered trees but many of them had surfboards next to them. And instead of scantily-clad models, there were bears. Bears on surfboards with snow on them.

I kept looking and came to the conclusion that this must be a NEW store from Abercrombie & Fitch (which is a really old brand from the late 1800's!). It would make sense since a few years ago they launched their sister brand Hollister .. keeping Abercrombie & Fitch about the Adirondack-inspired college lifestyle and Hollister about the California-inspired college lifestyle. One brand gets snow and mountains and the other gets the ocean and surfboards. Never the twain shall meet.

But clearly in this store they did. Bears on surfboards with snow on them. Turns out that it's not from Abercrombie at all ... the store is called Who.A.U -- California Dream. Founded in 1849. How could I have never heard of it?

Did a little research .... Who.A.U is text-ing for "Who Are You"? 1849 was the year of the California Goldrush, hence the California Dream part and the year "founded". A Korean company decided to enter the US market with products that teenagers desire.

Clearly this was a new brand trying to capitalize on the equity of Abercrombie & Fitch and Hollister, but I guess not knowing which one was better. Instead of choosing or creating a new one, they merged them, copied them.

Hmmm ... something really bothers me about this. I don' t like when one brand copies another, especially so blatantly. It's like private label products that mimic the market leader. I don't like it. Create your own brand!

I also distinctly got the feeling that this company didn't quite get it. They knew that they wanted to borrow equity, but they didn't know what they were really borrowing or what to do with it.

Who.A.U - exactly.

What's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, January 4

OWN

So I'm sure by now you've heard that Oprah has launched her new network, OWN :) I even wrote about it in a blog post last week!

And I was also interviewed by a reporter last week, to get my opinion on OWN's likelihood of success. I was very bullish, which took this particular reporter by surprise. Evidently everyone else she talked to thought that OWN didn't have much chance of making it. The reporter agreed with the others she had interviewed, and not with me.

But I felt quite the opposite, at least at the time. This is Oprah ... she is a mega-brand, surrounded by a team of what I imagine to be the best and the brightest in the industry. The network is loaded with new programming that I am sure she can turn on and turn off as the ratings come in, and a flexible schedule that can accommodate any changes they need to make. Much like Bravo. With some sure fire hits from Suzie Orman, Dr. Oz, and Dr. Phil. Oprah's brand equity, if done right, is enough to carry a network. At least that's what I said.

The reporter didn't agree ... and in fact said that one of the mistakes that Oprah is making is that she isn't really going to be on the network much in the beginning. Hmm, that would seem to be a mistake.

Well long story short, the article ran on Saturday without a quote from me. Guess I didn't say what she wanted me to say. I paid no mind, but wanted to check out OWN for myself and see if I still would be so positive. Maybe she was right.

So I spent part of Saturday and part of Sunday watching OWN. You know what, it's pretty darn good, and Oprah is all over it (maybe even too much, to tell you the truth). I watched two episodes of a behind the scenes look of the making of The Oprah Winfrey Show, and two episodes of Master Class (one with JayZ and one with Diane Sawyer).

Season 25: Behind the Scenes was amazingly fascinating .... partly because I don't think Oprah is as easy to work with as she portrays herself. Her people work 24/7, self-admitted, and I don't think they see much of their families. Working parents who never see their kids ... not very Oprah-like. But a great show to watch.

Master Class was very inspiring, a little like the old VH-1 Behind the Music, but without all the sex, drugs, and rock & roll drama. Big time leaders in their fields talking about the lessons they've learned on the way up. I loved it.

So I AM still bullish on OWN, and I think it was a brilliant move on Oprah's part. She openly stated that she didn't want to just do another show. Didn't want to just keep repeating her same success. She wanted to do something bold and daring, something that only she could do, something she had never done before.

I think she just may have done it. Time will tell for sure.

I'd love to hear what you think ... what's your experience? Jim.

Monday, January 3

Weight Watchers

I swore I wasn't going to do it. Not this year. I made a promise to myself that I would not make the first blog post of the year about weight loss. We've all been hit over the head this past week with reminders that we've gained weight. All that "new year new you" crap. I had enough ... but even I got inspired, as both a consumer and a marketer.

Jennifer Hudson and Weight Watchers. Have you seen the new advertising? It's a wow ... a very slender Jennifer Hudson sings "it's a new day" in a little white number. Impressive. Especially when you see the youtube videos of her progress over the year, and her facebook postings, and the website pictures.

If this girl can do it, with all she's dealt with in the last year, then so can I! So I joined ... Weight Watchers for Men online. I can track my progress on the website or through my iPhone app. I'm in.

Love the tagline: Weight Watchers, because it works.

Of course Weight Watchers isn't the only brand trying to capture our weight loss dollars this season. Subway is still in the game, with a new campaign targeting fast food junkies. Jenny Craig has a new system called "Metabolic Max" which is personalized to your metabolism, sans Valerie Bertinelli or Kirstie Alley. Special K now has a full line of products designed to help you lose weight.

'Tis the season, I guess. I got inspired by some very good marketing, and I am going to lose some weight. Wish me luck ... before we know it we'll be at the beach!

What's your experience? Jim.