January 2012

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There was a time not long ago when the only people who could sit in a chair all day with eyes glued to a monitor were video game players. Not any more.  TV show creators and licensors have found that if they sell box sets of TV shows, by season, there is a big market. 

I know — my daughter has been watching “Modern Family” for weekends.  Seasons of “24,” “The Sopranos.” “Deadwood” and “Breaking Bad” are making the rounds and being consumed in in fairly short timeframes across the country. People are binging.

Selling these box sets makes near-term economic sense but does not create the kind of traction serialized, once a week viewership does.  As a very young ‘un, strawberry shortcake was my favorite confection.  Until one was left in the refrigerator and I had my way with it. All of it.

Box sets kill water cooler time. They create burn-out. And even expose warts. I really want to buy the box set of Showtimne’s “Homeland” but will wait until I can have it meted out in smaller gulps.  Marketers should always leave custies asking for more. Peace!

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Over the last two weeks I’ve read some great stories on Apple and its production situation in China.  The writers of the stories, both appearing in the New York Times, are certainly not Apple haters, but their point of view appears set.  The loss of American jobs is not a good thing but is justified by the low cost of production in China.  Factory workers there make about $17 a day. 

Anyone who reads the story, including references to 4 deaths and 77 injuries, might come away pondering avarice, patriotism, the quality of the American education system, population growth.  This is wonderful reporting and might, were Charles Dickens alive, make for a fascinating novel.  Do I smell a Pulitzer?  Mabes.

But here’s the real deal.  People want iPhones and iPazzles. The way to make them available is to offer them at a low price.  Apple wouldn’t have sold 200 million iPhones if they had cost $1,000 a piece. So this was just good business. It is a flat world.  Chinese production is our new reality.  African production will be our next reality. Then Antarctica.

We have pocketbooks and brains.   We can boycott Apple or buy Apple.  Americans love an underdog and we tire easily of the Overdog.  Apple, for decades, was the underdog – not anymore. Tom Cook’s job is going to be a hell of a lot harder than Steve Jobs.  Clear eyes, full hearts, can’t what? Peace!

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I’m a man. Here’s how I shop: I go to a store, walk around, talk to a salesperson, maybe another shopper and I buy.  If the store doesn’t have what I want, I either go home or visit another store.  More often than not, it’s a one store and buy experience.  Price is important, but usually only when comparing choices in the store.  Convenience.

As technology wends its way more and more into the shopping process and the best price on a skew (product number) is only a click away, (#bestpricesamsungTV) many of the shopping choices we make will be made for us. And price variation will be minimized.

There will be Amazon for eshoppers and for those who want instant gratification there will be SuperRetailStoreCo or something.  Variability will be minimized in marketing. All that will be left, variability-wise, will be the brands. But marketers who spend too much on branding, will have reduced margins and will likely fall off.  Will it be a brand new marketing world in 2050?  Oh yeah. Should be exciting. Peace!

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When is a newspaper article finished?  Well, maybe never.  I’m was reading today about Apple’s new educational releases, e.g., iBooks 2, iBooks Author, iTunes U, in The NY Times paper paper and wanted to save the article to my OneNote document.  (Not many people know about Microsoft OneNote — but should.)  Anyway, in order to save the article I went to the NYTimes.com and while lighting up the URL noticed the article, first published at 10 A.M., had been updated at  9:02 last night.  Now that update may have made the paper paper but it may not. So why read the paper paper which may have old, perhaps, less than accurate news? The reason is the form factor.

When the accuracy of the content in news reporting out-weights the form factor (user interface, e.g. paper vs. screen, vs. Siri) the war will really be over.   

But back to the first question. When is a newspaper article finished?  Will publishers be interested in changing stories in a year because they know it to have inaccurate info?  Will it be legal to do so? If it’s on the web and accessible, shouldn’t it be the truth?  Now there are some more things to nosh on.  Peace!

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Google published a nice usable ad in the New York Times today, the visual for which is the oft used name tag with the line “Hello My Name is Dave.”  The copy started off with a little explanation of how cumbersome it would be if every time you met someone you had to tell them your name, age and where you are from.   So with heads nodding the copy goes on to suggest this would also be cumbersome every time you visited a website.  The solution, says Google, are cookies:  “tiny little crumbs of stored information to remember your previous visits.”  Doesn’t sound so bad.  And for those who don’t know what a cookie is, it’s a nice little explanation.  My mom would understand this (if she could find the URL bar.)

In a time when privacy (which rhymes with piracy) is extremely topical, this simplified, non-judgmental explanation of cookies is, as the Brits say, quite lovely. The copy explains cookies can be shut off and provides a link to other information about privacy.  (Google Chrome has some elegant solutions, btw.)

Google knows so much and now they seem to have conquered the science of advertising. Simple is better. One idea at a time.  Engage.  Leaders educate and this ad demonstrates both qualities.  Another Google +. Peace.

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De-templatize.

As a marketer, I’m not a big template guy. In fact, I believe templates can be harmful.  At Zude.com, the world’s first drag-and-drop web community, the secret sauce was that everyone, grandmothers included, could design and create their own web pages. (No code required.)   By dragging and dropping or copy and pasting objects onto a blank Zude page anyone could have a unique web site.  But by providing new users with a large assortment of design templates  took that secret sauce and short-circuited it.  Fail.

PPT templates hinder presentation creativity. Marketing brief templates reduce output quality. And website design templates make for a Levittown approach to digital marketing. Formula TV shows (80% of Americans know who the bad guy is by minute 40), Googled business plan formats, and repurposed corporate documents and RFPs are infecting the creative side of our brains.

Tables and graphs and well-organized data are still important time savers. As long as there are organized inputs, there will be templates. But we must learn to stop repurposing stuff and create things anew.  To all templates, perhaps we should add the line: “If this template could talk, what would it say?”  Go forth and try to de-templatize.  Peace in the Strait. 

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1.    A brand is a set of consumer associations surrounding a product or service.

2.    A brand is packaging surrounding a product or service.

These two definitions make sense. It’s not an either/or deal.  The packaging of a product or service creates consumer associations.  One is the result of the other. In the packaging, if we are focused and consistent, appealing and important, meaningful and relevant, the associations will motivate purchase and retain ballast.

Brand planners rarely have the opportunity to create new brands. More often than not we’re brought in to fix or recast them. The tabula rasa approach (a clean slate) to brand planning is exciting and challenging; there is no past, only context into which one introduces the new product. But when taking on an existing brand, one must deal with lots of baggage. Some good, some bad. Using my stock pot metaphor for discovery, good ingredients and bad ingredients go into the pot. Liver, mustard greens, etc.  Planners have to deal with the entire lifecycle of associations. Old ad campaigns die hard. Brand recalls don’t die. Positives may lie outside the new sweet spot. Baggage.

In either case – new brand or old — the future is where the planner must look. In marketing wars the future holds life. The bravado, awards, metals and medallions of yesteryear or yesterday, hold no sway. There is only tomorrow in planning. (Look the word up. Hee hee). Peace.

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There are few things harder to sell than education.  I’ve done some brand planning for universities and the academicians who approve the work are often not equipped for the job. The budgets are also low so good agencies are rarely around and in many cases students, professors and recent grads in-house are at the controls.  Brand strategy is non-existent and everyone promises the same thing: a good life after graduation. The end benefit.  The how to that end benefit is also pretty much the same: great faculty, personal teaching environment, great courses, flah, flah, flah.

It’s ironic that college and university advertising is so poor because often the experience is one of life’s most powerful. That 4 years has the ability to create a loyalty few jobs can.  Who sleeps in their Met Life tee-shirt 20 years after working there? Two husbands later.

As we slide out of the difficult economy with new elections upon us and technology flattening the world, the moment is nigh for some serious focus on education.  There are lots of trivial bits flying across the web these days, but only a small percentage are focusing on education. We are already using web tutorials to help us clean bathroom pipes and shower grout, why not improve our SAT scores.  Perhaps things are changing. This morning I noted on Skype an organic chemistry teacher available for $40 an hour (first hour free) and high school math assistance at $.25 a minute. (Do the math.)  

Web-enabled academia is not the haps yet – not like geolocating your friends at Mary Carrol’s – but it’s coming. And along with that, in time, will come improvements in the branding of higher education institutions.  These times are exciting. Stay tuned. Peace!

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When I first heard of Chrysler’s purchase by Fiat my mind was filled with all sorts of meep meep images of sporty small cars darting around American highways – fun to drive and helping the planet.  I loved it and it was just what the country needed.   A year and change later, the Fiat 500 was introduced.  Zoooop.  (The sound of disappointment.) Como se ugly?  Como se out-of-touch? Add to that, J-Lo doing a 2006 shimmy on a street in NY and I felt even more let down.

Then I saw an Owen Mack video of Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Dodge, next to the amazing new Challenger and I was back on board. This muscle car, not what I had in mind for the combined company, reminded me that car design is still key.

Yesterday I got my first look at the new Dodge Dart. Reported to be around 40 MPG, this baby is fine. It’s a mid-size car with style, selling for around $16,000.  My daughter bought a used Honda Civic a year ago for the same price.

The jury is still out on quality, but the jury is back on design and mileage.  It’s the American way to fail a little bit before you hit big — and the Fiat 500 misstep will teach Chrysler/Fiat how we roll. And now Chrysler/Fiat is about to America how it rolls.  I smell am Harvard Business Review business case. Peace!

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