Friday, April 29

Countdown to the Kiss

The Royal Wedding did not disappoint. I am sorry to say that there are no snarky comments here.

Kate looked beautiful. Stunningly beautiful in the freshest way possible. She was glowing and perfectly understated in a way that is oh so appropriate for what the world and her country is going through right now.

William looked dashing and a tad bit overwhelmed. I'd like to think that he was thinking of his mom since the last time he saw crowds like that with that much emotion was at his mom's funeral.

This morning we watched a real life fairy tale. Sure you can cast it off as publicity or stupidity, but this morning is what many little girls (and boys) dream of. The fairy tale wedding where the princess finally gets her prince.

It was a wow, and a spectacle, and a defining moment in pop culture. Is the Monarchy still relevant? Who cares! Love is. And we witnessed it at such an aspirational level this morning that it is going to be influencing trends for years to come. Fashion, cosmetics, food, parties, you name it - we will be seeing shades of The Royal Wedding for a long long time.

The crowning moment? The countdown to the kiss! Yes, they had a countdown to the kiss - the moment when the newly married couple comes out on the balcony of Buckingham Palace to wave to their fans. And have their first public kiss as man and wife.

Does it get any bettter than that?

What's your experience? Jim.

Thursday, April 28

Breaking Up With A Brand


It used to be that we could "break up with a brand" anonomously.  We could just simply stop using a product and the brand would never know.  We could just basically stop "dating" without ever offending the brand.


With social media, those days are gone.

Between loyalty clubs, email subscriptions, Facebook likes, Foursquare checkins, and Twitter followers, our devotion to a brand is very public.  As is the rest of our lives I suppose.  And when we exit from that brand, well that's pretty public too.  Especially to the brand who is likely to be keeping a very close count of its social media numbers.

There's a great article here on the subject with some specific research findings that you might find interesting.

In a nutshell, we break up with brands because, well, "we're just not that into you anymore."  Think about your own behavior.  When we have a certain affinity for a brand, we click on its social media presence.  Then what happens?  In many cases:
- we start to get bombarded with messages constantly all day long
- OR we hear the same message over and over and over
- OR we rarely hear from the brand if ever
- OR we got what we wanted so we leave

So we opt-out, unlike, stop checking in, and unfollow.  Or worse yet, just simply ignore.  We break up with the brand.

From a marketing perspective, it's a lost opportunity.  Most consumers who consciously choose to engage with a brand really are looking to start a relationship.  They are looking to get something in return for their loyalty, looking for something to add value to their lives.

The brands that get it, do exactly that.  They engage with their consumers in multiple ways, understanding how their consumers live their lives and look to enrich it.  Brands that get it don't just bombard with coupons and offers, they engage in conversations about what's going on in the world, in their world.

How do they do this?  Well they don't just talk about themselves.  They provide meaningful information that makes "dating" interesting.  And then every once in awhile they throw in a promotional offer or two.  It's just like with people, we rarely like people who only talk about themselves.  It's much more engaging when a person mixes it up.  A little about me, a little about you, and a lot about other related topics.

Then, maybe then, the brand can keep the relationship alive and perhaps even grow it by getting "shares" with friends of friends.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Wednesday, April 27

Why You Should Watch The Royal Wedding

You may not care about "celebrity" love affairs, or the British Monarchy, or what dress Kate is going to wear.  You might not even know who Kate is.  You just may not care.  But if you  are in marketing, I say you need to watch The Royal Wedding.

I understand that getting up at 4:00am EST on a school day is a big commitment.  So let me tell you why it's important to those of us in marketing.

First of all, this is pop culture baby.  The Royal Wedding is influencing fashion, language, style, you name it.  It's the defining moment of the decade from a pop culture perspective.  As marketers we need to take note.  We need to participate in it; we need to live it with our consumers.  We need to be on the inside of it -- not the outside wondering why.

Second of all, it's influencing the marketing of other brands as well.  I walked by The Gap last night and witnessed an in-store promotion called "Get The Royal Treatment".  Marketers from fashion to cosmetics to hair care to entertainment (you name it) are going to be leveraging pieces of The Royal Wedding and we need to track it.

And lastly, we are witnessing the marketing of a nation.  This is Britain's big moment, and they are basking in it.  On social media, in blogs, with television specials, and the list goes on.  They are using the opportunity to showcase the glory days of the British Empire, and using it as a signal that maybe, just maybe, they still have a little bit of that sparkle.  That maybe, just maybe, this couple will bring it back.  It's the publicity stunt of a lifetime and the UK wants it to work to unite their people and the world around all that is Britain.  Right at the time when we probably all need it most.

This is marketing in the making and pop culture changing right before our eyes.  As a marketer, you have to witness it first hand.  Not to mention the promise and hope that comes from watching a young couple start their life together.  Oh yeah, and then there's that!

What's your experience?  Jim.

Tuesday, April 26

Bluefly on Bravo

Andy Cohen from Bravo gives us a tour of his closet
I'll admit that I feel a little bit out of it because I don't do much shopping online.  Sure, I destination browse -- meaning that if I am looking for a very specific item I will surf around for it.  But I still generally go to brick and mortar to do the actual buying.  I'm out of it when it comes to online shopping, particularly in fashion.

But there's no denying the trend -- there's been a huge surge in fashion sites offering designer clothing at great prices.  You become a member and suddenly you have access to amazing deals on "must have" items, particularly shoes and bags.  It's become a real boom online.

Rue La La, Zappos, Gilt Groupe -- there are plenty of places to pine for a new fashion item and try to get it for less.

I do have a particular obsession for Bluefly.  But not for the fashion or the website, but for the advertising.  I think it's brilliant, if you're in the target market.

Bluefly has partnered with Bravo and features several of its reality tv starts in their own closets.  Kyle Richards, Bethenny Frankel, and Andy Cohen have all given us a tour of their closets, pointing out their favorite items or that one thing that sparks a memory that would rather be forgotten.  It's great advertising -- built on the insight that we'd all like to peek into people's closets to see what they are all about.  Bluefly lets us do that, with some of our favorite reality stars.  Yet another dose of reality.

The online experience is very well crafted as well.  You can sort by items or by size and you can save items that you want to keep an eye on.  Very easy to navigate and to keep coming back to.

Bluefly -- The Ultimate Hook Up For The Fashion Obsessed.  And the reality obsessed too.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Monday, April 25

Cezanne Card Players

I'm not a big museum person, but I do enjoy going every once in awhile.  I force myself to go every few months and I try to learn something new.  I mean, c'mon I live in NYC!

The Metropolitan Museum of Art (The Met) is featuring an exhibit from Paul Cezanne and his work called Card Players.  It was absolutely fascinating, and totally captured my attention for a solid 20 minutes, which is a lot for me in a museum.

I hadn't realized that when painting these major works of art, these masters painted them over and over and over again, just to perfect it.  The Card Players is a series of paintings featuring workers from the Cezanne estate all playing cards.  He painted them solo and in pairs, all in preparation for painting the final master work.  He sketched them, painted them, perfected them.  He did an entire study -- all to create an incredible piece of art that now stands still in time.

There was one other thing that impressed me too -- the gift shop!  There was a small gift area dedicated to Cezanne Card Players that had merchandise all about playing cards.  There were gift packs of actual playing cards, books to teach card games, and of course books featuring the works of art.  I thought it was pretty clever for the museum to take the artwork of the master and turn it into a theme.  Great way to engage the kids as well as those of us with short attention spans!

This little visit to The Met will last me about three or four months!

What's your experience?  Jim.

Friday, April 22

You're Still Inside There

Last night I watched "Love and Other Drugs" with Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal. It was a good movie, a typical movie, a love story with predicable scenes and a totally predictable ending.  But completely enjoyable.

There was one thing, though, that really caught me by surprise:  the consumer insights.

Now I always say that observing pop culture is a great way to learn about consumer behavior. Many of the characters in movies and tv shows are reflective of how our target markets live their lives.  How they feel about things, and the stuggles they go through.  Many of these characters are heavily researched to resonate with their audience.  Undoubtedly through a "Hollywood" filter, but often still accurate.

This little movie nailed it.

One the one hand, you have the pharmaceutical sales rep depicted in an aggressively, profit-oriented way. Not sure how insightful that was - more just what the public expects and very stereotypical.

But on the other hand you have the patient - the person struggling with a health care crisis. A young women in the prime of her life dealing with something that is comprising the quality of it. That portrayal was brilliant.

The emotions around not wanting the disease to take over your life and define who you are were so enlightening. The truth is that people who are dealing with major health issues still have to work, date, take care of kids ... live their lives.  They fear that the disease will become all consuming, and change who they are.

There was one moment in particular that really struck me. I don't remember the scene specifically, but I do remember the moment.  Someone looked into the eyes of the main character and said "You're Still Inside There."  To me, that captured the emotion, the fear, the hope of people dealing with health issues.

As pharmaceutical and health care marketers, it's important for us to realize this.  Diseases and our drugs do not define our consumers.  It is merely one part of their lives that they are managing.  It's important for us to help them live their life in totality, not just as a "sick patient."  But as a person inside.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Thursday, April 21

Argo Tea

We talk a lot about coffee.  This is Starbucks 40th Anniversary year so we are talking a lot about coffee.  But the truth is, tea is pretty cool too.  Lots of caffeine, lots of flavor, lots of choices.

There's a new "tea shop" popping up around the country in Chicago, New York, and St. Louis that I think looks pretty cool.  Argo Tea.

Their shops look a bit like Starbucks, and their proposition is similar:  a place to go hang out, grab a cup, and meet up with friends.  Or just get some work done.  The shops are not radically different from Starbucks, just a little "fresher" and certainly focused on tea.

The brand experience is complete with a loyalty club ("Blends with Benefits"), tea ware, a radio show, and of course a charity component.  Tons of signature drinks.  The place is pretty awesome actually.  You can check it all out here.

But what I love is their tagline:  "Tea So Good, It Makes Coffee Jealous!"  Gotta love that.  I'm a sucker for a great tagline.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Wednesday, April 20

Senior Year - High School

I am in the throes of re-living my senior year in high school, via my 18 year old daughter.  Senior year is such a pivotal year in life with so many things kind of wrapping up yet so many things just beginning.  It's an amazing time filled with the entire range of experiences and emotions.  I am very fortunate to be a part of it, again!

It's interesting to "go through it again", to witness so many of the emotions that I went through and to compare her relationships with the ones that I had.  There are so many similarities.  Yet one thing is vastly different ... technology.

Cowabunga, has technology changed the life of a high school teenager.  Things move so fast -- getting opinions (and judgements) from your friends takes a mere seconds.  Relationships come and go over the mobile phone and major decisions are formulated in text message.  She and I even have major discussions in 50 characters or less.

I'd like to point out a few standouts.

The college application process.  Yes, most of it has migrated online which has made it much much easier. The "common app" alone has saved hours of time.  But remember the days standing by the mailbox waiting to get a "fat" envelope?  A "fat" envelope meant you got in and a "skinny" one meant you had to wait to hear from another school.  Not anymore.  It's mostly online -- many schools tell you that they will post your status on your password protected section of their site at a specific time.  You simply log in to see your fate at 5:00pm EST.  Imagine the drama around that, everyone knows you'll be hearing from your favorite school and immediately starts texting to hear your news.  Ouch.  No time to even process it.

And then there's prom season.  I had a wonderful time this past weekend going prom dress shopping with my daughter (yes, you read that right it was actually kind of fun).  After 5 stores and about 25 dresses, we picked a killer -- in canary yellow no less.  A wild one-of-a-kind dress so befitting of senior prom -- she is going to own it.  But what if another girl walks in with the same dress?  Even in a different color, it means disaster.  No worries, the school has a facebook page where all the girls are posting their dresses so you can make sure that no two are alike.  That was a wow for me.  The owner of the shop even posted it for us!

Technology has truly changed our lives -- understatement of the century.  But I have to say that it has also eased the transition for dear old dad too.  I know that when she runs off to school (she's picked Penn State), that I'll be able to hear from her every single day.  Even if it's just a :) on my iPhone.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Tuesday, April 19

Packaging Innovations That Simply Score

I've noticed a couple new packaging innovations in the beverage industry.  They are worth noting not because they are so technologically innovative but because they are just darn clever.  And very much rooted in consumer behaviour.


First Up -- Diet Pepsi and the new skinny can.  So smart.  This is a beverage for people who are not necessarily on a diet but just want to stay thin.  So a short, squat, fat can just never made sense.  But a tall skinny can reinforces the end benefit.  Nothing amazingly new, just smart.  Makes me want to have one right now.



Then -- Bud Light and the new write-on label.  This is a beverage for the bar and party culture.  People drinking throughout the night, putting down their bottles, mingling with friends and meeting new people.  So a write-on space on the front of the bottle lets you put your name, your phone number, your twitter handle ... what ever you feel like.  And you don't even need a pen, just a coin or a key will allow you to scratch in whatever you feel like.  Very clever, and a much better execution than those stupid wine charms you see at gift shops!  Check out the ad here.


Innovation doesn't have to be technologically breakthrough.  But it does have to address a consumer behaviour and satisfy a consumer desire.  In both cases, these little packaging innovations score.

What's your experience?  Jim.

Monday, April 18

J.Crew and Some Pink Nail Polish

There was a whirlwind of controversy last week surrounding J.Crew -- a brand that although I don't purchase often I do have profound respect for. Even wrote a lot about it in my book. J.Crew has created a wonderful brand experience regardless of how you engage either online, in-store, or via the catalog. Very social media savvy as well.

Last week a communication (an email blast) went out to their customer database featuring their now becoming famous Creative Director Jenna Lyons. "Saturday with Jenna" featured her spending a Saturday at home with her son. The photographer captured a lovely bonding moment of the two of them together. The "problem" is that she painted his toenails pink. She lovingly commented that she was lucky to have a son who likes the color pink.

The comments they started a flying. "She's going to make him gay."  "Why is J.Crew promoting transgender behavior?"  "He's going to need psycho-therapy."

Gimme a break. I'm not even going to comment on any of that, it doesn't deserve a response.  I'll let Jon Stewart comment.

But what I am going to comment on is Jenna. At first I thought "how brave" of her. And then I realized that it wasn't bravery at all. She is doing what comes naturally. She probably didn't even think about it.  She is having a loving moment with her son. A J.Crew moment that is completely consistent with the brand and with her as the "spokesperson" for the brand. Comfortable clothes to enjoy a weekend with your family and friends. Perfect.

If that wonderful moment includes giving your son a pink manicure, who cares? That's what J.Crew is all about with Jenna as the creative inspiration.  I personally think the message communicated was pretty inspiring.

Whats your experience? Jim.

Friday, April 15

My Webinar

I did my first webinar yesterday - very cool. But I have to say that it was a little weird "performing" in front of a dark audience. I love being with a live audience - one that I can see and interact with and ask questions.  Can't do that with a webinar.  So I know there were about 1,000 people on the line, but I wanted to hear what they thought as I was speaking!

At least there was a chat option so that people could write in questions.  And there were a lot, so thanks for that!

Quite a few questions centered around small business.  Not surprising to me because when I speak at conferences I get a lot of questions from small business owners.  Much of the inquiry is about how to replicate what the big brands do with far smaller budgets.  "That's great for Tylenol and Tide, Jim, but what about me who doesn't have those kinds of budgets?"

I don't think it's about money, actually.  And least not about out of pocket cash.  I think it's more about time and effort, and probably staffing.

The truth is that marketing is marketing, no matter the brand, the industry, the target market, the budget.  If you follow a core methodology, then you can replicate what the big brands do without spending a lot of money.  Same is true if your brand is a package good, a consultancy, a B2B, or a non-profit.

Start by defining who you are and what you offer.  Focus is crucial here, especially with a small budget. Do a real brainstorm session with core team members to iron out exactly what you are good at, and stick to it.  Be the best you can be at a few things.

Identify who your best type of customer could be, and go out and learn about them.  Get to know them better than ever, better than your competition.  It doesn't take a huge market research budget to understand your customers.  Talk to them.  Survey them.  Walk in their shoes for a day and see what they go through.  Just get to know them anyway possible.

Then figure out how to satisfy your customers not only rationally, but also emotionally.  Get under their skin and figure out what they really want from you, beyond the obvious.  They can get the obvious from anyone, it's the emotional benefits that will keep them coming back to you.  Facts and figures get you in the door, but an emotional connection will keep you there.  Figure out how to become indispensable in their lives, and you'll have a customer for life.

Is this a lot of work?  Sure.  And that's where the rub is I believe.  We think it's about budget, but it's really about time and effort.  When you run a small business you are doing everything.  There's no staff, no delegation, no status reports to fall back upon.  Just you and a few other team members.  And you can't throw money at things to get it all done.

But don't let that get in the way of doing a few simple things, the marketing basics, to set you up for success.  Many of the basics take a lot of time, but not a lot of money.  But they go a long way.

Thanks everyone for joining me yesterday, all of my friends unknown on the webinar!

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

PS - A lot of people also asked about my book.  You can get it from amazon.com here.  Thanks!

Thursday, April 14

Let's Grab A Beer

My house would be perfect for "customized television advertising" -- where cable companies know my media and spending habits and therefore only show me advertising that is customized to my attitudes and behaviors.

I don't buy beer and I'm not a beer drinker. So when I see beer advertising, I don't really get it. Even from a creativity standpoint, even as a marketer I don't really get it. Goes right over my head. So advertising beer to my household is a waste of media money. Clearly, I am not the target market.

So it took one of my students at NYU to show me why. It's all about the consumer behavior, a lesson that I always speak about. Start with the consumer!

Beer brands are targeted to young men, and therefore beer ads are written and created to appeal to young men. Young straight men. Single young straight men. Single young straight men who hang out with other single young straight men.

Now not ALL beer, but the vast majority and certainly the big big brands.

What's the most popular thing that young straight men say to each other? "Let's Grab A Beer". For any reason. To talk about work, talk about girls, relax after going to the gym, happy hour, after a long day at work, hang out and watch tv -- you name it. They are always "Let's Grab A Beer" when ever there is downtime or something to talk about.

So the advertising is geared toward that culture. "Let's Grab A Beer."

Now I get it. The advertising is tapping into that mentality, tapping into that consumer behavior. That specific consumer behavior. Now I get it.

See you can teach an old dog new tricks!

What's your experience? Jim.

Wednesday, April 13

The Right Amount of Wrong

I've been noticing a trend coming out of the "recession" -- not sure if it's an official trend but it's just something that I've noticed in pop culture.

Being bad. It's not like it's a new concept -- being bad has been around ever since civilization. But this seems to be a new kind of bad. A kinder, gentler bad that is almost a form of escapism. It's ok to be bad for a little bit. Good people can enjoy being bad once in awhile.

Maybe we have Las Vegas to thank. The city made it acceptable to explore our wild side without anyone judging, or remembering. And maybe we have the economy to thank as well. We all need a little escapism from our day to day troubles. A night of being bad can sometimes do the trick. A little bit of bad can be good for us.

There's a new campaign for The Cosmopolitan Hotel in Las Vegas and the headline reads: "The Right Amount of Wrong" and I think that this little ditty captures the sentiment.

So does Rhiannon's new song where she proclaims "I might be bad but I am awfully good at it."

Is this a real trend? Not sure, maybe just a rush of public sentiment. But I've seen enough of it to comment.

Have you noticed ... what's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, April 12

And Now ... The Donut

First it was a national obsession with the chocolate chip cookie. We couldn't get enough of them and they were all over the place. Perhaps we can thank Mrs. Fields.

That obsession then moved to the cinnamon roll. Delicious. Cinnabon did it right.

Then I believe over the last couple of years we have been fascinated by the cupcake. Big or little, doesn't matter as long as the frosting is thick and creamy. Cupcake companies have popped up all over the place. It's a big business. I have frequented quite a few myself, including my favorite Magnolia Bakery here in New York.

Well now that movement might be moving over again ... to the donut. Gourmet donuts are appearing on fine dining menus and upscale eateries all over the country. I just went into Donut Plant over the weekend, just to witness the varieties of donuts that they make fresh on-site. Carrot cake, devil's food, white chocolate, you name it. The place was packed, all day long.

The donut game is on ... move over cupcakes and make way for the next trend to satisfy our cravings.

What's your experience? Jim.

Monday, April 11

Branding a Street

I was in LA last week, staying on Sunset Blvd aka The Sunset Strip. It's a jamming place filled with bars, restaurants, clubs, and hotels. Oh yeah, and a Starbucks or two.

I immediately noticed these signs on the street lights that said "The Street that Rock Built". It got me thinking ... this street is a brand!

They've branded the Sunset Blvd so that people know what it's all about and why they should go there. It's a destination for people looking for a certain kind of thing. To fulfill a certain kind of need. Sounds like a brand to me. And it's also a way to screen out newcomers ... you wouldn't open up a daycare center on "The Street That Rock Built".

LA is also home to Rodeo Drive - another great "brand". You certainly wouldn't see a Payless Shoe Store on one of the most exclusive fashion streets in the world, although I wouldn't be surprised to see a plastic surgeon office above one of the store fronts.

There are a number of "branded" streets in New York:
- 7th Avenue is "Fashion Avenue", home to many of the country's fashion houses
- Wall Street
- Broadway is "The Great White Way"
- 42nd Street used to mean one thing (toot toot, hey, beep beep) but now it's evolved to be more like a Disney World

Chicago has Michigan Avenue and "The Miracle Mile." We know what's there.

Miami has Ocean Drive, one of my favorites in the world and the symbol of Miami night life and beach culture.

Philadephia's South Street even had a song written about it: "where do all the hippees meet, South Street South Street."

This is a fun little marketing thing that I hadn't thought of before: even a street can be a brand. I guess we can thank Main Street for starting the trend.

Do you have a branded street in your city ... what's your experience? Jim.

Friday, April 8

Ads on School Buses

We all know what's happening with budgets these days. We are feeling the squeeze on the marketing side and certainly we see unprecedented budget pressure at the government level. Schools are suffering too with reduced budgets to support educational programs and teacher salaries. Times are tough.

So people are getting clever. Several states have begun allowing advertising on school buses, and it has become a heated argument.

Advocates are saying "why not"? It generates revenue and can make children's education better.

Opponents are saying that it's damaging educational values, making it unsafe to drive, and in reality drumming up very little money at the district level.

How do I feel? Marketing should always be done responsibly, that's a given. So I am going to assume that there will be rules in place to make sure that any advertising is appropriate. We have guidelines for online marketing and television advertising to minors so we would do the same thing here.

So with that as a given, why not allow it? It's not really that different than advertising on public transportation. And if it generates money to make education better, then go for it. It's just another touchpoint which when used responsibly and effectively can help to market a brand and raise funds for the venue, in this case a school.

As far as it not generating enough revenue, then obviously someone isn't pricing it right. Raise the price. It's a free market so why not market in it.

What do you think ... what's your experience? Jim

Thursday, April 7

Andaz

I am right in the middle of an incredible brand experience that I just have to share. It's like they read my book or something!

I'm in Los Angeles for work, staying at this "new" hotel called Andaz. New to me anyway, it's a Hyatt property although you would never know it. It's a hotel experience beyond compare.

First of all, there's no front desk. You walk into the lobby which is really just a bunch of seating areas and tall wide tables where people are connected to laptops, having glasses of wine, chit chatting. As we glanced around, we were greeted by a receptionist who welcomed us and invited us to sit down. Offered us a glass of wine and began to check us in. No standing in line, no standing at a desk, nothing.

His name was Dean (very LA) and he proceeded to tell us that the mini-bar is complimentary and drinks in the lobby are complimentary too. Just sit here and relax and make yourself comfortable. It was the smoothest and most welcoming check-in that I have ever had. Even when I've been on vacation in Hawaii.

The room keys? No awkward magnetic strip that freaks out on you. Just tap it on the door panel and in you go. I know, it's the little things. We went downstairs to grab a bite to eat and were warmly greeted by the host who asked our names. When the server came to our table, he greeted us by name. Awesome. Picked out wine for us to go with our entrees, we were set.

Rooms are beautiful. Cappuccinos in the am were fabulous. Even the gym had bottles of water and iPod stations. I needed some hair gel and they gave it to me. I needed something faxed and they did it for free. At a time when most brands are charging for everything, here's a brand that truly understands customer experience. I'm coming back every time I'm in LA. Quite the Experience Effect.

When you're traveling, especially for work, you just want to be comfortable and have a little bit of glamour. Just a little bit to make the trip at least a little bit of fun. Andaz nailed it.

What's your experience? Jim.

PS - evidently there are two in NYC too which I am going to check out for visitors.

Wednesday, April 6

Conveniently Walmart

Walmart recently announced plans to open up thousands of much smaller, more convenient stores called Walmart Express. The stores would be approximately 15,000 square feet of retail space, compared to the current 185,000 of most locations. The company plans to test various mixes of product selection as well as actual locations. Pretty smart if you ask me.

So I guess Walmart is taking on 7-11 and Wawa? Kind of -- those formats are a lot smaller, more like 2,000 square feet. These Express stores will be a lot bigger than the typical convenience store and will have a much larger product selection. "Express" might not be the right term, more like "downsize" or "mini"!

Speculation is that this will allow Walmart to enter into more markets and locations, particularly urban locations, where the company has had trouble penetrating. That's speculation, but it's probably true. It is definitely another move toward quicker, more convenient service though. Running into a smaller store with less volume has to be faster and more convenient for shopping. Especially when you only need a couple of items.

Walmart has become a huge portion of many consumer brands business, and this will surely make them even more dominant.

The company is also rolling out another convenient service called "Pick Up Today" where shoppers can order items online and then pick them up at the front of the store. Much like Sears and Best Buy, Walmart is rolling this service out to 3,200 locations as we speak.

You can read a little more about it all here.

It's nice to see Walmart evolving -- if you are going to remain the world's largest retailer, then you have to continually evolve for your customer. Convenience is one way, and probably a good one at that.

What's your experience? Jim.

Tuesday, April 5

Brands on GroupMe

Back in March, I wrote about how the hottest thing coming out of SxSW this year is Group Texting. The concept is that you can text to a pre-created group of your friends all at once. Seems perfectly suited to the next evolution in communication -- almost a duh, finally it's here.

One of the leaders in group texting, GroupMe, is taking it a step further and offering their service to brands. For now, only a select set of brands that they believe match with their target audience but it is certainly a sign of what's to come.

So now a brand can engage with a set of its fans, its most rabid fans, through group communication via texting. And fans can communicate back, and with each other. Brilliant. And GroupMe is allowing these brands to also add content, so the fans get rewarded for their participation and can get even further engaged.

The first set of brands are all in the entertainment space: Bon Jovi, America's Best Dance Crew, Bad Girls Club, etc. Makes sense, these are brands that are likely to have very active fans who are also very savvy with texting. It'll prove the concept that can then get rolled out more main stream I suppose. You can read a little bit about it here.

Technology is fun. And the fact that marketers can use it to build a deeper more intense relationship with consumers is just plain fascinating. Let the dialogue begin! I can wait to use it myself ...

What's your experience? Jim.

Monday, April 4

Penn State

I've been going through the college selection process with my daughter who is a high school senior. It's been stressful to say the least, but we've remained pretty calm through the whole process I must say. Not easy with a teenager!

The process resulted in the selection of Penn State, in fact just yesterday we completed the final visit and then hit "accept" on the website. Funny how much of this is now done online.

As we were visiting the main campus over the weekend, I couldn't help but think like a marketer at a few points. Penn State is an incredible brand. No really, the retail merchandising is incredible. Hoodies, t-shirts, sweatpants, mugs, car stickers -- you name it. All a symbol of incredible pride in a school that means so much to people.

But the brand is more than a logo on some swag. It's an emotional connection to something that can't always be explained and probably can't be replicated.

For some, it's memories of days there. For others, it's aspiration for times to come. And for others, it's an incredible sports franchise the likes of which are legendary. Joe Paterno territory.

For us, it's just a match. Our needs and wants with what the school has to offer. On many levels, both rationally and emotionally. Isn't that what being a brand is all about?

For me and my daughter, the entire Penn State experience has been incredible. The smoothest of all the schools we looked at, and I would likely say the most consistent. The school knows what it is, and knows the types of kids that will succeed there. Sounds like a brand to me.

And the marketing throughout the process has been consistently Penn State as well. Clear communication step by step, and help when we need it. Impressive.

As my daughter looks to embark on her own college experience, I can't help but reflect on what were the most amazing four years of my life when I was in college. And I can't help but feel confident that we picked the right "brand" for her.

Best of luck to all the kids looking to start their college careers next Fall.

What's your experience? Jim.

Friday, April 1

SAT Question

Maybe I am a bit sensitive to this because I have two teenage children. Or maybe it's because I am a lover of reality television. Or maybe it's because I just love pop culture. Probably all of the above.

There was a bit of a debate circling in academic circles about a recent question on the SATs. You remember those, right? Still brings chills they're multiplying.

The question centered around reality television and the issue of scripted entertainment. Many flew off the handle. They got all up in arms about the implication that reality tv is worthy of literary commentary or they got upset that we shouldn't be encouraging our children to watch reality tv. What's wrong with a little Snooky (kidding).

C'mon people. First of all, television is a part of pop culture and reality tv has had major influence. Look at Oprah's new network, it's virtually all reality tv. Bravo, case in point. You don't have to watch it or encourage it to know that it's there and to have an opinion.

Secondly, this is pop culture. Our children probably know what's going on in pop culture and they should be able to talk about it. They should be able to write about it. They should be able to pose an argument around it.

The SATs test for analytical skills and deductive reasoning. The fact that the test givers gave the students something relevant and current to analyze is wonderful. Maybe even making the test a bit more contemporary.

I see no difference than asking a question about "Grapes of Wrath" - I'm not comparing the literary merit, just the deductive reasoning. Here's a journalist's take if you'd like to read about it.

What do you think - what's your experience? Jim.