June 2011

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So you’are standing at the store, say in the frozen cookie dough aisle, trying to decide between Sweet Loren’s and Fat Boy’s. One has butter, one has no dairy. The pictures of the cookies look great on both boxes but one package feels a bit more “healthy.” You are debating wheher to buy healthy but can’t make up your mind. What do you do? You break out your smarty and take a picture of the QR codes on the package and twitch over to a website for an in-depth look at the product? Sure, why not.

QR Zombies

I’ll tell you why not, retailers would spit the bit. Good stores are crowded enough, can you imagine what they’d be like with zombie-like consumers consulting their phones in the aisles watching 110 second product videos? Talk about shelf-talkers! This is not what retailers want, trust me.

Packaging needs to sell. It need to close the deal. Great designers know people will only read so much on a package. It’s an art. Designers will include less copy and more picture if there is a QR code on the pack – and it will cause a retail revolt. On resets will QR code containing products be put on lower shelves, get fewer endcaps, loose facing strength? I love QR codes. They are awesome. That said, POS (point of sale) is where you buy not where you do homework. Peace!

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J.C. Penny has hired Ron Johnson, Apple’s head of retail, as its new CEO. The goal is to capture some or Apple’s retail magic in s bottle and pour it on the top floor of J.C. Penny stores and hope it dribbles down the escalators to the main floor. Past the jewelry counters, bread mixers, faux leather jackets and J.C. Penny house brand jeans. Don’t get me wrong, I am an optimist by nature.  Brand planning is all about positivity and change.  Even heavy Domino’s Pizza type lifting, but this one feels like it will need Microsoft money to accomplish.

Michael Dell who also practiced his marketing ju-ju in Plano, TX, but has had a hard time of late, would agree.  A J.C. Penny retail makeover is quite a challenge. The articles about Mr. Johnson’s hire talk about innovation…but innovation is not a word that can be slapped on a product label. Apple’s innovation began in R&D, in the labs, in the culture and resulted in some fine-ass products.  Penny’s innovation can’t come from pricing, or salespeople, or the merchandise sets – it has to come from something much deeper.  I suspect Mr. Johnson, as excited and smart as he is, may be the wrong tool for this job.  I hope he proves me wrong, because it would be exciting to watch.

A while ago I suggested Sears reposition and become El Sears, catering to the Spanish and Latin communities. (They didn’t listen. Give them 7 years.) J.C. Penny needs to focus on innovation it has a stomach for…and its consumers have a stomach for.  This move may actually be “the idea to have an idea,” but not the idea itself.  RIP Dick Kerr. Peace!

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There are a lot of smart people out their explaining how to make your marketing better.  How to make more sales, more clicks, more inquiries?  Thanks to the web and the algorithm whole new cottage industries have grown up around the more-more.  The speaking circuit, conferences and webinars are growing like a dookie thanks to the new tools.  But they are only tools.

My shtick is all about finding your brand idea and organizing it with the right planks so that when you pick your tools the job is easier.  “Here’s a canvas, now paint a picture.”  Or, “Here’s a canvas, now paint a fall landscape.”

There are some wonderful tenets of marketing that are not very often preached or practiced but, when followed, have a powerful impact on efficacy.  (And we overlook them because we’re trying to find the message in the dark, sans brand plan.)  Here are a couple of those tenets:

Surprise and Delight. Humans love to be surprised. And they love to be delighted.  But often, marketers are so tired and beat down they just default to selling — even if nobody’s buying.  Whenever you create something for a customer or prospect ask yourself “Is this surprising?” Or is it the same old, new color. Ask “Will this put a smile on someone’s face”?  And probe its toothsomeness.

Be Artful. I read today about Ben Wilson, a U.K. artist who paints pictures on discarded blobs of gum.  He brings his brushes and color palette and bellies up to the sidewalk and creates art. As Keith Haring did before him, Mr. Wilson creates wonderment and art for the people. The man and his work are beloved. If you want your marketing to outwork your competitors, it must possess artfulness. Find a strategy, then worry about the really important stuff.  Do it in didge, traditional, PR or whatever.  Stop poopin’ it out.  Peace.

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The new big thing in marketing is transmedia — the ability to carry a consistent message from media type to media type. A video on YouTube may be an extended version of a :30 spot from TV, using a music bed and voice over from radio, telling the same story told on an out of home billboard supported by a branded geolocation app on your mobile.  It takes planning and is not easy, but for those who do it, it’s tight.

Touchpoints are marketing parlance for places consumers come in contact with the brand.  They include all the aforementioned media intersections but extent to packaging, point of sale, customer care and, to an extent, curated community.  The goal at the touchpoint level is similar to the goal at the transmedia level: foster positive opinion, create bias toward your product and sell (Foster, Bias and Sales, the name of my next business). This must be done in an organized way that doesn’t create or even begin to create confusion.

Twitchpoints are my new thing. Mapping them and making them work to your brand’s advantage is the goal in a Fast Twitch Media world.  Fast Twitch Media is bursty media consumed in small chunks that supports our ADD habits. Texting, Tweeting, hashtags, landing pages, mobile apps, reality TV. When you read something in a magazine and Google it, that’s a twitch.   Marketers who can maps and manipulate the fast twitch media behaviors of millennials and the rest of us, will have an advantage. Let’s call it the third “T”.  Pah, pah pah Peace!

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Ford Huevos.

Huevos. Pronounced way-bose.  For my non-Spanish friends that means eggs. It was reported today that Ford Motor Company has decided to drop plans to re-enter the minivan market in the U.S.  Instead, it’s turning a Detroit plant loose building small hybrid cars with the silly name C-Max. Small cars.  Hybrid only.  Let the other knuckleheads build the minivans. Huevos!

My daughter drove from Long Island to Baltimore to see her boyfriend and the EasyPass bill just came in.  It showed about $50 in tolls round trip. Sans gas.  During rush hour, the Long Island Rail Road from Babylon to NYC (about 40 miles) costs $27 round trip.  The gub-ment is charging us healthily for transport.  Why?  Because it’s hemorrhaging money, thanks to bail outs. Who did we not bail out?  Ford. Why? Huevos.

If you follow this blog (Google whatstheidea+Ford or GM), you’ll know that I’ve been ranting about gas guzzlers and large cars for years.  Adapting and adopting are American traits. Pioneering traits.  I Tweeted this morning that as a nation if we put as much collective energy into clean tech and green tech as we put into Anthony’s Wiener, we might actually become the nation of pioneers we once were. Peace!

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Bing may be a better search engine; it may not be.  If you listen to Microsoft insiders it certainly is. If you listen to SEO nerds it’s a toss-up or a no.  If you try Bing, it appears to be a new skin with better pictures on the same algo.

Bing’s initial advertising straddled the fence on 2 ideas: the decision engine and information overload. The latter was fun and made for great advertising and a great launch. It set the stage for an implicit benefit: make better decisions. The benefit was not explicit, though the tagline was. Microsoft recently moved the Bing business to Crispin Porter Bogusky from JWT and is running a new TV ad talking about Facebook integration. (Integration is a word techies use when at a loss for other words.) The new work is cute and will appeal to fast-twitch media consumers (millennials) but it feels idea-less.  I’m not getting information overload or decision engine.

Though not everyone who searches is looking to make a decision, decision engine is a good strategy. Tying the wagon (Could I be more of a geezer?) to Facebook or Project Glee is a borrowed interest approach to marketing. It’s a tactic. The nerdiest softies in Redmond know their search algo is better than Google’s. Someone just needs to find out why. And how.  Then take that how and wrap it English — with song, pictures and video and sell some clicks. And the real softy nerds know this. “Why are we singing, when we should be saying?” Decision engine is the idea.  Organize the proof. Peace!

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The cloud is the cloud.  Apps are the software we all use. Many apps are free, others are pay-for. What the cloud and apps have in common is the internet.  Apple was always a wonderful design company. First and foremost the designs were physical – about the device.  Also the designs were logical – about the software and usability. But physical design is the tangible evidence of what makes Apple graet..

As Apple moves its center, its core, away from the wonderful designs it has created over the last 8 years towards more cloud-based designs (read iCloud) will the luster come off?  Clouds are pretty to watch, but don’t offer the luster of slim, shiny touchables.  I would almost prefer to see Apple go into the car or refrigerator business than the cloud business. But that’s moi. Peace!

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As the role of marketing director gets more complicated, owing to all the new tools and arithmetic available to sellers and selling agents, the brand plan grows in importance.  I met with smart strategist Noah Brier a while ago and he asked me “How do you define a brand plan?”  Everyone has a different definition, he added.  Truism that.

My brand plan is quite simple: One claim, three proof planks. The claim embodies or pays off the Is-Does (what a brand is and what a brand does) and the proof planks (or supports) organize the story – into 3 telling and impactful reasons to believe.  A brand plan is an organizing principle for selling more.

I wrote a consultant this morning telling her how most companies can save mad money by investing in a tight brand plan. Rather than pay a marketing person $150,000 a year, a company can pay $90,000 per year if the brand plan is definitive.  And if the KPIs (key performance indicators) are correct.  And beyond the annualized salary savings, don’t forget the money spent on wasted tactics each year by marketing organizations — money that could be saved with a brand plan. John Wanamaker’s famous suggestion that only ‘half his advertising was working, he just didn’t know which half,’ can also be applied to marketing tactics today.  We are living tactics-palooza. More cowbell, I mean, more social media!

My business is called What’s the Idea? for a reason. Most businesses don’t have an idea (a brand strategy) they can articulate without going all mark-babble and tripping over their tongues. One idea, three selling planks.  Pieces!

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Everybody in the world of marketing wants to go viral. Ea-sy money.  “More video upload contests.  More Fothcbook  programs. More Twitter followers.”  Well, as web marketing gets more social, people are finding out big hits are not so easy. My first big viral memory was of the guys in white coats putting aspirin into hundreds of Diet Coke bottles and watching them spew in syncopation.  That type of magnetic content, though, is few and far between.  That’s viral marketing. Virus marketing is different and it can be found today in many SEO programs.

It started with black hat cheating and has migrated to white hat bleating. Either way the SEO practitioners doing the dirty deed promise they can get you in the top 5 search results on Google for as little as $5-10,000 a month.

And they can do it.

How?  By ghost writing content and using off site partners to link to that content.  Scores and scores of them. Some call it link baiting.  I call it a virus. Welcome to the machine. It doesn’t sound that onerous to some…everybody’s doing it.  But to a brand nerd, it’s disastrous.  Rampant content writing and serving — on behalf of your brand — handled by onshore, off-shore, unsure? People who don’t know the brand culture, the brand idiom, the brand plan? If this isn’t a brand virus, what is?  It will take years to clean up this mess. Plus, as Google gets wiser to the practice and makes algo changes (as they did recently), baiters will lose key word rankings and ecomm revenue can tank in an instant.  This practice will spawn a new industry of SEO companies called “no hat search.” Peace.

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