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Fast forward 12 years to a time when Amazon is an online geezer and Wal-Mart is the young, hip tech retailer.  Am I tripping? Nope. How can it happen? Through strategy. Only through strategy.

What can Wal-Mart do to trump world-beater Amazon in online retail? First, it must look at customer care-abouts. Customers want fair prices. They want good value — products that will last. They want product accessibility: same day, same hour, delivered to any address. They’d like to be rewarded for loyalty. Predictive refills would be nice. Lastly, they’d love to remove some carbons from the earth’s footprint.

If Wal-Mart wants to out-Amazon Amazon, it needs to start thinking about these strategies. While Mr. Bezos is playing media mogul, cloud jockey and Steve Jobs, Wal-Mart should focus on the above care-abouts and blaze a new retail trail. Create a new retail equation.

The future is up for grabs. For everybody. Always has been.



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NYIT is running a new print campaign encouraging people to get into the hi-tech fields. A worthy undertaking indeed. The U.S. is falling behind the world when it comes to educating students in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). Especially women. So reminding students what lies ahead at colleges and universities that provide these programs is a good idea. Making fun of — no, insulting — people who work in retail, however, is not the way to do it.  Not cool. NYIT has used just such a ploy in its latest ads.

NYIT ads


The largest company in the world is Wal-Mart. NYIT makes fun of them. One of the most powerful brands on the planet is McDonald’s? NYIT makes fun of them. Not by name, by association. But more than just tweaking companies whose riches abound, NYIT makes fun of their employees. And that’s two clicks from vile. Fun is fun. A joke is a joke. Belittling hard workings employees in the retail business…not something a well-educated institution should be doing. Peace.


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The words “achievement gap” are often used when discussing education. When discussing poor schools or the allocation of federal funds in order to fix the societal ills. Pols and social scientists often suggest underachieving populations are so because of class, race, geography, and social perception. I can’t disagree. John Wannamaker’s famous line about advertising (“I know only half my advertising is working, the problem is I don’t know which half.”) could also be said about marketing. And follow similar causative logic.

There is a mad achievement gap in today’s marketing landscape.  The larger companies are more likely to achieve, but it’s not always the case. Mid-size and small businesses (SMB) are more likely to underachieve.

In mid and small companies class equates to budget (amount of money to be spend on marketing). Race equates to diversity of background and thought; mid-size and particularly small companies are more likely to be homogenous. Geography dictates the pool of marketing and creative talent. The burbs don’t index high for brilliant designers, writers and coders.  And when it comes to social perception, mid and small companies often don’t have the luxury to invest in or understand the complexities that are marketing – so they do it themselves or shop for marketing partners at Wal-Mart not Macys.  Perceptually, they undervalue marketing; thinking it’s advertising or a website.

Margaret Mead while working at the American Museum of Natural History made psychotherapy mandatory for her direct reports. Her belief being that people who better understood their own psyches were more healthy.  Small and mid-size businesses can minimize the achievement gap, but they can’t do it themselves or on a shoe string budget. They need to better understand marketing to reduce the achievement gap. Peace.     


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Office Depot, according to Stuart Elliott the ad writer for The New York Times, will be conducting an anti-bullying, back to school campaign this summer, using a boy band called One Design (or some such, JKJK). The grab-all idea is: “Live. Love. More” — as in “Live kind. Love everyone. Move together against bullying.” I’m not into 3 word taglines or ideas and the ones that require 8 more words to explain are even more perplaxing but I do love causes. Unfortunately, using causes as a way to break through with your advertising is a fairly common mistake.  They are easy to talk about, easy to surround with quotes, advocates and a powerful narrative. Often though, they are off the brand plan and only slightly tethered to sales — if at all. Plus they are kind of transparent.

That said, bullying is bad so let’s hope this campaign works. The creative idea is a montage too far. It’s almost ad-silly. The idea would be best boiled down to “Live Kind.”  I don’t think Lance would mind (not Lance Stephenson).  You see, if you “live kind,” then you probably try to love all and shun bullying. Live kind is memorable. Familiar, yet unique. It’s also a baby step, not the whole enchilada.  

This campaign is more for parents then kids, I get it. And like aroma therapy, it may provide a nice glow for the brand.  Were I the brand manager, however, I’d do this through the PR group and use my ad dollars to de-position Wal-Mart, Office Max and Amazon.  With a kick-ass, 360 retail effort – trotting out some mobile and twitch point planning tricks. Peace.  

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Many moons ago there was a fairly famous advertising campaign that asked the question “What in the world isn’t chemical?” The question sticks with me and as a marketing consultant, and I often ask myself “What in the business world isn’t marketing?” 

In many companies, marketing is a silo. “Marketing is sales support,” some say. Well it’s that. To others, marketing is “material.” Things to distribute to customers, e.g., collateral, samples. That too. And these days marketing is heavy online – the web, social media, search and data collection. Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Best Buy is tanking.  Until May of this year, its CMO Barry Judge, was famous for his oft-quoted stance “customers own the brand.”  A big early proponent of social media, he advocated ceding control of the brand to customers.   And he was not alone in this belief; in fact, he created a lot of pop marketing fantasies. Though while spreading this nonsense, the rest of his marketing kingdom seemed unattended. 

Marketing is everything. Distribution (Amazon), pricing (Amazon, Wal-Mart), promotion (Target), and product (retail CRM, store experience, data).  I would never suggest listening to customers is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s called research. But customers do not own the brand. Marketing does. Not sales, not finance, not the product managers and certainly not customers.

Mr. Judge has learned an amazing lesson. As the center of gravity for the social media in marketing movement, I suspect no one has learned more about its effects on all the Ps (of marketing).  Now he needs to take that learning and share it with the rest of us.  I smell a book.  This is America and we are all about turn around stories. I’ll buy one. On Amazon. Peace!     

PS. Mr Judge, if you’d like to disabuse me of these observations, please weigh in.

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As the economy moves away from manufacturing toward service, which it has been doing for 25 years now, the number of people who are actually making things decreases. Desks across America are filled with people whose jobs it is to make decisions and manage others. Sure, iPhones are being manufactured, and cars are being constructed. Sure, food is being processed, packaged, sold and served.  But the number of companies doing it has decreased and the scale of those companies hugely expanded. It won’t be long before Wal-Mart has a house brand that takes over the world.

All these people at desks, tasked with making decisions along the chain of command and trying to add value, can create a leadership nightmare.  Add to that the web offering up the ability for people to collapse the 4Ps into a single P (platform) and one can see why brands are becoming more and more important.  Branding is an organizing principle for marketing.

The best brands are culture. The best brands lead companies. Strong brands show the way.  And align the desks.  If you have a strong brand get to know it.  Peace!   


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Let’s talk about brand planks.  Brand planks, like political planks, are areas of discussion important to the people. In the case of marketing it’s the people who buy products. Across all categories price is important, service is important, so is availability – but these are prices of entry. A brand plank, all afore mentioned being equal, is a care-about that predisposes consumers toward your product. It’s a reason to buy or a reason to prefer.

Wal-Mart over the weekend was dinged for smearing Mexican government officials with cash to improve its move into the country.  Yesterday its stock took a 5% dive. Money traders felt the news would have an adverse effect on company earnings.  Brand planks, well managed, have the opposite effect.  They create value for a brand. 

Research, brand planning and science – the ability to predict outcomes – are what smart marketers concern themselves with.  Find the perfect troika of brand planks, message and demonstrate them daily and sales will happen. The tactics can change, the campaigns can change, but the planks are sacrosanct.  If the brand planks are right, it’s even possible they can survive a change to the brand strategy. Peace it up!

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Stop the presses! I saw a Wal-Mart commercial last night that had some personality. It made me, dare I say, laugh out loud.  A mom was putting on some facial cream in front of a mirror with her children splayed at her feet. “What are you doing mommy?”  “Trying to look a little younger, kids” was the warm response.”  They type of truthful, self-effacing response you rarely see on TV.  As kids do, they sponge up the info and do something with it — applying the same lotion to grandpa’s sleeping face in the den.  In big gobs. Doing a really good job.  “Grandpa is going to be so happy when he wakes up!” giggle the children.

Wal-Mart needs a makeover. The class action case against it. The big box coldness.  The smell of bad pizza wafting through the check-out lines.  Not that all these things will drive shoppers away; shoppers need Wal-Mart. But the company just lacks a special connection with its audience…something that advertising can foster.  This ad is a step in the right direction.

If Wal-Mart could be a bit more like Costco, it would do even better. The YouTube videos of Wal-Mart shoppers folding out of their clothes do not help.  Those videos probably have more views than the TV ads.

Wal-Mart is the world’s biggest anything. And growing.  You’d think they could grab hold of a powerful brand idea and build their image. This spot may just be the start – the idea to have an idea. Peace!

PS. Anyone know who did the work?

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“I love free shipping” was my wife’s response when I mentioned Wal-Mart’s newest offer on all website purchases this holiday season. 

eCommerce is propping up the shipping business (US Postal Service, UPS and FedEx) and dinging the oil business.  Some economics student should plot U.S. online sales increases growth to barrels of oil consumed as a thesis topic.  When a consumer says “I love __________ (fill in the blank)” you need to pay attention. The wifus loves free shipping and she loves free returns – especially so, when the return label is already in the box. 

This is how the return thing works: Outside in the garage is a second refrigerator.  On top of the fridge, spilling off in all directions, are boxes. The boxes are a few steps closer to the kitchen than the car.  To return a product, she walks to the garage, grabs a box and some Amazon bubble bags or newspaper, then returns to the kitchen where she assembles the box, labels it, grabs the packing tape out of the cupboard in the butler’s pantry – zip, zip and to the front door.  If it’s UPS or FedEx she may have to dial a telephone number or click-to-pick. Could that be any easier?  Easier than say, driving to a store, standing in line and doing the whole credit card thing?  

This “I love free shipping” behavior, even as a trial at Wal-Mart may, as The New York Times declares, deliver a “knock-out punch.”  Not to Amazon, but to a number of smaller retailers with inelastic margins who can’t play this game.  Oh, it’s here to stay. So watch out.

eCommerce makes every day Christmas day (insert your holiday here).  In store shopping, for its many positives, has more than its share of negatives; especially around the holidays. Wal-Mart is paying attention. What a marketing juggernaut. Peace!

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Think Bigger.

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that 1 in 3 American adults is obese. Excuse the pun, but that’s a huge market.  Are airlines doing anything about it?  Yep, seatbelt extenders.  On a plane in coach when the person in front of you puts back their seat, if you have a big belly, you can’t open your laptop. You can’t open your laptop if you have a medium belly.

Besides clothing there are a ton of products that can be redesigned to fit the big form person. Beach chairs, lawn chairs, living room chairs.  Moving theaters should provide adequate seating for larger adults. Big is big business…just ask NBC.

Wal-Mart or JC Penny’s would be smart to create a store brand catering to the big. Peace! 

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