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I’ve had the pleasure of working with a number of start-ups.  Some have done well, some not so well, and a few have been just brilliant, but before their time. In the latter case, there was pend-up market demand but the timing wasn’t right. Which is a euphemism for we f’ed up. 

In the seminal tech book “Crossing The Chasm,” author Geoffrey Moore suggests advancing from early adoptership to early majority is nirvana for start-ups. Most marketing planners (and everyone is a planner in the startup world) will say timing is key for this jump to happen. But honestly, two things are critical for startup success: pent-up demand, e.g., app-driven ride sharing, and near perfect business execution. If the product is hinky, all the demand in the world won’t help.  In fact, it can kill your product fast. Think being massively hungry and digging into a rotten tomato.  

On the business side, awareness is important. It helps if you have an ad budget — about $5 million to make a national consumer impression. Or you can go the viral way and target key “Posters,” those who Codeword (agency) would call influencers. First user experience needs to be right. Naming needs to be right. Internal vision has to be fixed so external comms are in synch. You need to develop your own language.  This ain’t no disco.

So startup entrepreneurs, don’t blame timing if your business doesn’t take — blame execution and lack of pent-up demand.



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Home delivery is becoming a retail utility. As we gobble up planetary resources and spit out carbon particulates, smart people are going to realize that multiple deliveries each day make no sense.

The US Postal Service, may pass the UPS truck, who drives by the FedEx van to your front door. The Pea Pod man may be in the driveway while this happens, tipping his hat the newspaper delivery lady, parked in front of Blue Apron meal service. And don’t get me started on the pizza kid.

I see a future where a smart companies like Amazon or Uber or TBD recognize the logistics opportunity of collapsing these deliveries into one.  When we to do a better job of consolidating deliveries, we might take 10% of the traffic off our highways.

44% of US homes subscribe to Amazon Prime receiving free shipping. But these are likely individual delivery shipments. Gas. Carbons.

Where the utility idea comes into play is, perhaps, at the post office. All inbound products are amassed somewhere for a one-time a day drop off. Let’s put some energy into this idea. It’s a planetary problem.



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I write a good deal about pent-up demand. It is a marketer’s best friend.  When Miller Lite was launched no one had ever successfully marketed a low calorie beer. Ergo there was no demand. The market had to be educated as to the value of light beer.  Once done, demand was there.  No pent-up demand.

Marketing and brand planners should always look for pent-up demand in the market. When it’s obvious, E.g., cheaper taxi rides (Uber), better tasting hamburger (Shake Shack), life is easy. When a product value is not obvious, finding pend-up demand is a chore.  For Excel Commercial Maintenance, a building cleaning service whose customers care most about low price, a brand strategy “The navy seals of commercial maintenance” met pent-up demand for fast, fastidious and proactive workers. Something purchasers rarely talked about.

Not every product or service offers a marketing with a deep undying demand for a feature or function. But if you don’t dig deep you are not doing your planning job.



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A next big thing in marketing will be distribution related. No, it’s not drones — that’s the next, next thing.  It has to do with the last mile of distribution.  A logistics solution is needed so multiple truck deliveries aren’t made to a single location on a given day. Two days ago all these boxes were delivered to my home. You can’t see it from the pic but each box was from Amazon. UPS and FedEx trucks aplenty dotted the curb. (My sister EJ has been going a little bit crazy this year, me thinks.)

All these random deliveries eat up a great deal of gas. Not to mention manpower.  Each package has a tracking code and delivery address. One piece of software and some colocation warehousing will cut delivery costs down to the bone.

This is a job for Amazon, Uber, UPS or an EPA code nerd (after Scott Pruitt leaves his appointment).

The 4Ps of marketing are Product, Place, Price and Promotion.  If we can get the Place right over the next few years it will positively impact the environment, price of goods and even U.S. manufacturing.  



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I bet if you parsed the records of Uber and Lyft you’d find that millennials comprise the lion share of users.  A good early adopter strategy. As their parents begin to see the value, they add accounts and the universe broadens. I, for one, have an Uber account but have not yet used it, yet a number of my friends have.  Do you know which market segment is really ripe for the picking? 80 year olds.  There are about 18 million US men and women over 75 years of age and they like to go places. They like their independence. Many are driving cars. Cars with door dings, abraded paint, and aching side view mirrors.

This senior market is perfect, but for the technology. How about a landline telephone interface? A special GPS chip, like a grocery store swipe? Cash payment options? Seniors like a deal, so perhaps Uber and Lyft might consider special blue plate pricing specials.

As the ride sharing category gets more competitive, players will be looking for low-cost ways to grow market universe. This one is a no brainer.



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The Future of Sales.

Does anyone want to bet the cars we drive today will be the same as those that will transport us in 30 years? I don’t. Apple is not taking that bet. Seeing the future is hard. Did medallion taxi drivers know UBER was going to upset their market and livelihoods? Did the railroad see airplane travel as a down-the-road disruptor?

Railroad_Trestle_(Old)Closer to home, do marketers and ad agents see what is coming in the world of selling? Do they recognize software, devices, location and databases will make it easier for sellers to find, meet and incentivize buyers than ever in history? Presumably with less mark-up.

I may be wrong, but as our future selling tools and conveyances change (advertising, distribution channel, and overhead) one thing that will remain will be brand strategy. That means name, design, position, and the organizing principle that binds it all together. Of course, that’s what the railroad tycoons said, so I/we must be on alert. On high alert.



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B2B Futures.

An Ad Age article headline today reads “B-to-B E-Commerce Sales to Reach $1.1 Trillion in 2020.” That’s a pretty big number. In 2015 B2B e-comm is expected to amount to about $780B so that is a pretty big jump. Who, pray tell, do we think will be a big beneficiaries of that revenue?

I’ve written before that Amazon Wholesale will win a great deal of that business. I’ve warned a comfortable local company industrial distribution company, MSC Direct, that Amazon is coming, but they don’t seem to feel the urgency. Probably because they are growing at market rate. Another local B2B distribution company is sending Google checks for $30M every year to help improve their position in search so as to sell their $1B in annual goods.  Again, not a plan.

To all those who look to the future of opportunities I ask “Who will win this B2B ecommerce business?” Delivery and shipping companies will earn a great deal. Internet device and hardware companies will win. The consuming B2B companies should win, with prices coming down.  Will ad agencies earn? Doesn’t sound like it.

If you were to build a start-up to take a cut of this vast amount of resource, what would it be. Can you UBER-ize B2B commerce? Segment it? Localize it? Let me know.





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charger strom trooper

UBER is doing a really neat promotion in NYC, tying in to the new Star Wars movie. It is making 8 Dodge Chargers, painted to look like Mattel Hot Wheels Star Wars Storm Trooper cars (white with distinctive black striping), available for free for the day, providing you use the appropriate promo code. It’s really cool for Dodge, whose cars become roving brand billboards, and it’s a nice way to get UBER some excellent pub.

The promo made me wonder though about UBER’s brand strategy. I’m not sure I know what it is at this point. And that’s often okay for a first-to-category company. Your Is-Does becomes the brand claim a la “Your Ride, On Demand.” But without a brand strategy (1 claim, 3 proof planks), it’s hard to decide if a promotion is making a deposit in the brand bank or a withdrawal.  So this seems to me a promotion for promotion’s sake, not for strategy’s sake. Though I don’t know the Dodge Charger brand strategy, I’m feeling a proximity to it with this promotion. Storm troopers charge, no?

Start-ups and category pioneers need brand strategies. VCs should encourage this. It helps everyone make decisions about product, experience and messaging. UBER should have one.



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There’s a nice piece in the NYT today by Farhad Manjoo about the evolution of luxury apps to apps that end up being affordable over time once scale is created. One example cited is Munchery, who with enough orders and resources, hopes to deliver healthier food to consumers close to the cost of junk food. Ish. The ability for scale to reduce cost is a promise of the interwebs.

In this world, we resource and massify what is produced, yet individualize what is delivered. At scale. Logistics, as Uber likes to say, is a nice living.

Mass communications have for decades been produced and sold in bulk. Direct marketing tried to individualize, but really only segmented. The creators of advertising have never really tried to individualize marketing communications, yet today data collection and analysis and digital content are bringing us many steps closer. The individualized creative product is still pretty awful and way too expensive. Even at retail, belly to belly selling is static; a couple of selling points used for every customer.

We have a long way to go. With new tools like NFC (check out the promise of Invisible Media) and single user identifier not too far away, personalized selling will improve greatly. Then, so will creative. Ad agencies will have to become more fluid.

As this happens selling will atomize – and brand strategy become more important. An organizing principle for a brand built upon what a product does well and what a customer wants most, will be the only staple.



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Behavior change start-ups (as opposed to technology start-ups) are really moving the VC market. Twenty years ago if you wanted to start a new commercial venture you needed real estate, manufacturing equipment, people to run stuff, a banker, insurance and office equipment. That’s where the money went. These days, a smart entrepreneur can develop a behavior changing business, using apps and software, in his/her home. (S/he doesn’t even need to move to the garage.)

uberUber is one such behavior-changing company. It doesn’t own cars or a drivers. Sure it has insurance and some office workers, but the “there there” is pretty thin. It’s all software. People bring the demand for cheaper transportation and they use their own devices. It is a logistics business, as Elon Musk says.

The best new products and services meet pent up consumer demand. When marketers find the pent up need and can use apps to deliver it, it doesn’t require a huge up-front cost. All you need is an idea, a couple of football fields worth of code, some Rackspace or Amazon cloud services and a VC with a little love.

Behavior changing start-ups are the haps now. Just ask Netflix. When you a launching one of these companies, ask yourself the marketing question “Who is going to lose the sale I am winning? And better yet, “What behavior am I changing that consumers are desiring?”Behavior changing start-ups are the haps now. Just ask Netflix. When you a launching one of these companies, ask yourself the marketing question “Who is going to lose the sale I am winning? And better yet, “What behavior am I changing that consumers are desiring?”


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