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Friday, October 29, 2010

Enjoy the good news, and then keep working

It is nice to arrive at work this morning to find that the economy grew 2% in the third quarter. Details will be seen in most national news reports today, but here’s one version from the Washington Post (click to link).

Implications: My enthusiasm for this good news is tempered a bit by the reality that these are “overall” numbers, and might not be felt by all consumers nor all companies.

Working with colleague Stephanie Downs and a team of marketing pros at the Palm Beach Post, we conducted an Elm Street Economics workshop for a few dozen companies in the Palm Beach/West Palm Beach area on Wednesday of this week. And that group agreed with this consensus: Just as the recession impacted every household in different ways and to different degrees, not every household will benefit from the recovery at the same time or in the same way.

We were also reminded, through man- and woman-on-the-street interviews with actual consumers, that some of the habits people picked-up during the recession might stay with them for some time to come. And that while most people think they are more frugal now, they are still open to making "exceptions" to their generally more prudent lifestyle.

Embrace this great news, and carry on with the work of understanding the customers you have, the additional target consumers you seek, and the benefits they deeply desire when they purchase the product or service you sell.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

On the other side of the mortgage meltdown: Thrifty folks benefit from low rates

A recent story from the New York Times put the mortgage meltdown in a different light, by focusing on people who had not participated in the land rush of the early 2000’s… but who had stayed put, and paid-down debt on a less extravagant home. Click here to read the story.

Implications: I was struck by this particular quote from one of the folks who stayed in their modest, affordable house, rather than buying a bigger or more fancy home during the real estate rush: “There were times during the housing boom when I felt I was missing out on a big party,” the homeowner said, “Now I’m getting my reward.”

This is further evidence (if you needed any) that not everyone suffered through the same recession.

Mike Anderson

Monday, October 25, 2010

Many banks cashing-out of free checking (and other free services)

Banks make money, generally speaking, in one of two ways: Net interest income (the difference between the lower interest they pay on deposits and the higher interest they charge on loans), or fees for service (ranging from mortgage origination fees to paid investment services). One of the more lucrative service fees they’ve been able to collect, until recently, is the penalty for an overdraft. But with the recent passage of new banking regulations, a banks’ ability to charge for overdrafts has been significantly limited… so they’re looking for new ways of creating revenue, as well as new ways of reducing expenses.

As this recent article from USA Today points out, free checking accounts will be way that banks accomplish both higher revenues and lower expenses. Click here to read the story.

Implications: Free checking was, in a way, the same kind of “lost leader” that a grocery store might offer when it’s having a sale. The grocer doesn’t want to lose money on the sale item, but realizes that other products will be sold at a profit when the grocer uses a lost leader to coax the customer into the store.

The same principle held true for “free checking.” Banks never wanted to offer it, but knew that in doing so, they’d be in a position to build other more profitable relationships with their customers. And when overdraft fees were allowed, it made sense for the bank to have as many open checking accounts as possible.

Now that the “deals” on checking accounts have been ruled-out by regulators and legislators, how will the consumer feel about paying for things—in other ways—they used to think of as “free?”

Mike Anderson

Upscale unemployment: The new face of job hunting

The extent to which economic turmoil still exists in parts of our economy was revealed to me in a recent email, which came from a friend who was attending a media conference back on October 1 in our nation’s capitol. His note explained that he had, “…picked up a copy of the Washington Post this morning, and noticed that there were foreclosure notices for more that 400 properties. A quick check of the Employment classifieds page found just one.”

I had to respond to his note for clarification: “One page of employment listings? Or do you mean just one job listing?” The answer was: One job listing.

Another reminder of the severity of the current unemployment picture was broadcast last night on 60 minutes (CBS). I found the piece compelling because it gives a face and a voice to an issue that is too often viewed as a statistic. See it by clicking here.

Implications: It’s easy to think of “the new frugality” as a decision that people have made. But in households where incomes have dropped due to the loss of one or more paychecks, frugality is a behavior which has been imposed, not selected.

It is critical for companies to realize this. A significant share of the population is trying to make ends meet under very difficult circumstances. The value shopper should be treated with respect… not like a person who is simply trying to be cheap, but as someone who is trying to reconcile their budget with a very harsh new reality.

Yes, for a significant number of consumers, “frugal” is a new fashion statement. For others, it is a survival tactic. How can you help?

Mike Anderson

What do you mean by "sustainable," exactly?

This morning, a story from Marketing Daily cites Mintel online research to explain that many people haven’t the foggiest idea what some eco-friendly advertising claims mean, much less why they are relevant. Click here to read the story.

Implications: It is easy for marketing folks to get caught-up in the fashionable language of the day… not realizing that they’ve been exposed to a lot of environmentally-friendly nomenclature for much longer than most consumers. While there is a vocal minority who understand what you’re talking about when you say, “fair trade,” a majority of consumers might appreciate having you explain specifically what you mean by that, and why it’s important.

Mike Anderson

Friday, October 22, 2010

Gen Y: You had your reasons, and I have mine

I’m cleaning-out the newsletter inbox this morning, and glad I caught this story before deleting yesterday’s Marketing Daily. There was a story about some research by Levi’s designed to better understand Gen Y. Click here to read the piece.

Implications: Maybe we should stop calling it Gen Y, and start calling it “Gen Why.” Because this is a cohort that seems to do very little with the justification that, “this is the way people have always done it.” They seem to want a personally relevant reason for every decision they make and action they take. Not why something has been important for years and years… but why it is relevant now.

(This group is different. Sound like a group of folks who came of age in the 60’s-70’s?)

Mike Anderson

Trend watching with J.D. Power

The headline on the Marketing Daily story was about minimalist tendencies, but the story actually covers other trend topics, too, such as cost/quality priorities and shifts in the way people expect to move through life stages. But it’s a strong article about emerging trends, so I thought I’d share a link to it at Media Post Marketing Daily. Just click to read it.

In fact, I thought the MD teaser was strong enough that I chased-down the original press release at the J.D. Power Associates website. Here it is, if you'd like to review it.

Implications: I particularly enjoyed the way this story articulated opinions about life stages, particularly that many folks have begun to re-define retirement. With the biggest consumer generation in history moving toward retirement like a pig through a python right now, that trend will impact a lot of companies sooner rather than later.

Mike Anderson

More on innovations from credit card companies

Another story on credit was published this morning, this one in the New York Times.

Implications: This industry seems to be putting all the bells and whistles they can think of—literally—into their effort to woo customers back to credit cards. The advancing use of wireless devices and other tools to engage in credit activities (mentioned in the story) lead me to wonder whether the plastic card, itself, will ever return to the prominence it once had. Another fun issue to watch.

Mike Anderson

Sears tries a new credit plan, and Target tries a new reward

This morning’s Media Post Marketing Daily offered a story about the new 48-month credit program from Sears. The piece also mentions a recent decision by Target to give customers a 5% discount when they use the Target red card to pay for their purchases. Click here to read the story.

Implications: The Sears plan should help us determine (at least for Sears shoppers) whether people have an aversion to credit, or simply an aversion to credit cards. Credit cards are perceived by many as a debt that is too easy to never get paid off… whereas a credit plan with a finite end lets customers see the light at the end of the tunnel. It will be interesting to see whether that is enough to get people to carry retail debt again, something many have been trying to pare down since the onset of the recession.

The 5% discount could be a tie-breaker for Target, where similar gift items are being considered at similar stores across town. But again, it will be interesting to see whether this reward can overcome the “let’s just pay off our credit” attitude that has been the prevailing mentality among many consumers over the past few years.

Worth noting: The Sears plan seems intended to drive appliance sales (with a minimum purchase of $750), and the Target discount applies to any purchase using their red card.

Mike Anderson

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Trends related to 2010 holiday season offered by NRF

Studying consumer trends has to be one of the most fun parts of my job. (As I often say, humans are fascinating people.) So it was fun to review this list of 2010 Holiday Trends from the National Retail Federation. (Click to link.)


Implications: If this set of conclusions turns out to be correct, this holiday season could look different than the past two. The trends suggest that people are still feeling the effects of the recession, but they’re tired of it and will indulge in some “want” gift items instead of sticking to the “staple necessities” like core clothing and other common-sense items. Also, it would seem that people will take advantage of holiday sales to pick-up a little something for themselves… a trait that, if it returns this year, will be ending a conspicuous two-year absence.

Mike Anderson

The economy's anticipated impact on holiday spending

This week, the National Retail Federation released survey results about how much consumers plan to spend this holiday season. While still not back up to pre-recession levels, the research indicates a rise in spending compared to last year. (Click on the image to the right to see a larger version of the graph.) To see the online version of the NRF release, click here.

Perhaps more importantly, the NRF is developing some ideas about what kinds of priorities will drive purchase decisions this year. (See the follow-up article posted immediately above on the Elm Street Trends blog.)

Implications: The words, “pent-up demand” come to mind. If the recession officially started in December, 2007, then folks will have had about 36 months worth of news about economic turmoil just as the holidays approach this year. Perhaps folks are just tired of denying themselves a little fun… and the holiday season provides just the rationale they need to enjoy life a little.

Mike Anderson

When you work hard for the money, is your purchase priority saving time... or saving money?

A story in this morning’s Media Post Marketing Daily seems to suggest that convenience is still key in the American kitchen. Click here to see it.

Implications: Under difficult economic conditions, people like to save money. But one should not infer that to mean they don’t like to save time. The two are not mutually-exclusive.

Would your customer rather save time, or money? Does your company, product or service force them to choose one or the other? Does your marketing message?

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

UPDATE: More details on investigations into foreclosure practices

Yesterday, I offered some thoughts about unintended consequences related to the moratorium on foreclosures [see this posting dated Tuesday, 10/19/10]. Within that story, I shared reports suggesting that investigations into the improper execution of paperwork would likely continue.
This morning, the New York Times offered an article that gives more clarity as to the intention of those on-going investigations, both by the federal government, as well as state attorneys general. Click here to see it.

UPDATE 10/21/10: More Times coverage about the emerging legal conflict.

UPDATE 10/21/10: Another Times story... this one about assurances from the U.S. that the foreclosure mess won't impact wider economy.

Mike Anderson

Modest but surprising spike in new housing starts

Yesterday, Bloomberg reported that new construction of single-family homes took a bit of a jump last month.

While at depressed levels compared to pre-recession activity, the spike is seen by some as a sign that the builders’ market could be beginning to stabilize. Click here to see the story.

Implications: I’m thinking about two factors that could be influencing these nice numbers. First, new home construction might be seen by some as an attractive alternative to shopping the cloudy waters of existing home sales (foreclosure or short-sale buyers can find the routine tiresome, and many “great deals” turn into a bidding war with multiple buyers and even real estate investors). Second, more people are buying a place to live (rather than looking at their home as a real estate investment)… making new home construction a more attractive way to get the custom attributes the buyer really wants.

Mike Anderson

The great recession: Not an equal-opportunity event

As we have suggested in numerous postings here, not all Americans experienced the same effects during the recent recession. This morning’s Research Brief cites Pew Research that agrees with that stance; you can click here to see it.

By the way, I found this briefing to be compelling enough that I found a URL directly to the Pew Research Center, where I found more comprehensive details. You’ll find that link at the bottom of this posting.

Implications: There were few exceptions to the impact of the Great Depression; it was literally a singular, global event. That is turning out not to be the case in the recession of 2007-2009. Don’t get me wrong: The economic decline was very severe (poverty numbers are way up and the number of foreclosures since 2007 is stunning) and very wide-spread (roughly 55% of respondents report being impacted directly, in some way, either through job loss, a fall in household income, or missing at least a few house payments).

That having been said, 45% of respondents report faring reasonably well through the recession. And for that unfortunate majority, there are varying degrees of impact… and people who are in varying stages of financial restructuring right now. For some, that restructuring could mean establishing a new, more lean family budget. For others, it could be as severe as starting over.

Who is your target market in 2010/2011? How do these consumers differ from the customers you served in 2006? Are they different people? Or are they the same people, but with different habits and purchasing priorities? Is their desire for low price critical (probably true, to some extent, for the 55%), or is their move toward low price simply “fashionable?” (Probably true, to some extent, for at least some of the 45%.)

To see a more comprehensive analysis of this Pew Research, click here to visit Pew Research Center Publications.

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

New secret weapons in holding on to bank customers: Humans (and smart phones)

I can’t be the only person who thought, “No kidding!”... as I read this story from Research Brief today. It suggests that when customers can contact a human being to help with a banking problem, it is less likely the bank will lose that customer. (Click here to see the story.)

The story also seems to indicate that few customers, as yet, are using mobile devices in their banking transactions. That maybe true for now, but…

Implications: There was also a time, not long ago, that people wanted their music to come in a box or sleeve with some clever artwork on the cover, and a list of songs on the back… even after it was possible to buy songs online. I would not assume that people don’t want to bank via mobile device; I would assume that option is in its early stages… and that greater adoption will happen very quickly. (The prudent action here is not to assume at all... but to talk with your customers to see what they would or would not appreciate.)

By the way, how many banks even offer strong banking options via mobile? Relatively few now, but more every day, and just like ATMs and electronic banking… it’s only a matter of time before saving/spending via smartphone is a common occurrence. Your job, if you're a bank, is to make sure you're just ahead of the tipping point.

It’s interesting to contemplate these two questions: What attributes make your company relevant to your customers today? What attributes will keep you relevant tomorrow?

Mike Anderson

Bigger is better. And smaller is better, too.

Last week, you may have read a story in Media Post Marketing Daily about Walmart’s plan to introduced smaller stores. (If you missed it, click here to see it.) Well, this morning, we were reminded that earlier this year, Target also announced a smaller-format store initiative, according to another story from Marketing Daily (click here to read the story).

Implications: When people had more money than time, superstores were a great idea… and there will always be a segment of the population that is drawn to the large selection of discount and big-box stores. But in an era where people are as cautious with their money as they are with their time, the smaller format stores just make sense.

Picture a consumer that’s thinking, “I only need a couple of things, not forty aisles of impulse purchasing temptation.” Or a consumer that’s working harder than ever to earn that paycheck: “I’m too tired to walk through a coliseum… I just want to grab a couple of things at a reasonably-sized store.”

These issues, plus the fact that small stores can fit into urban areas and small towns where supercenters don’t make sense… might just lead one to believe these folks are listening to their customers.

Mike Anderson

Unintended consequences in foreclosure moratorium

A story in today’s Washington Post offers one perspective on how the moratorium on home foreclosures backfired: People at risk of foreclosure—or those who are already in-process—could assume that no consequences exist if they simply stop making their house payment (or at least, that any repercussions would be deferred.) Click here to read the story.

The moratorium—not mandated by the federal government but voluntarily adopted by Bank of America, and on a limited scale by some other lenders—was designed to provide time for investigations into improper foreclosure practices, such as having paperwork signed “in bulk” by staff members without the documents actually having been read by bank employees.

Bank of America said today that it would end its ban on foreclosures in 23 states, and begin efforts to seize properties beginning next Monday (October 25). That’s according to this story in the Los Angeles Times (click to link).

Implications: While there were apparently procedural errors in the way some bank employees were handling their foreclosure workload, I’m not hearing anyone say that the eventual outcome in these foreclosure cases would have been different. So a mandated delay would have only extended an already painful problem.

For as long as foreclosed homes remain on the market, the real estate sector will still face a supply-and-demand problem that prohibits that category, and perhaps the entire economy, from healing. Perhaps a smarter way to deal with this situation (IMHO): The White House announced today that it is considering a criminal investigation into the way some mortgage lenders were handling their foreclosure process, according to this story from today’s Wall Street Journal (click to link).

Consumers need to feel confident in both the real estate and mortgage industries before the recovery can gain any real traction. As an example of the turmoil that can keep the market unsettled, see this story from last Friday’s New York Times (click to link).

Consumer confidence starts with transparent transactions… and a consumer that feels like they know what to expect. What can you do—regardless of what you sell—to help customers “connect the dots” about how and why you do business the way you do?

Mike Anderson

The wide impact of socio-economic change

Usually, I will use this space to share an observation culled from a news story or headline, and follow that tidbit with a potential implication—or questions—which might result from that issue. This day, I have a number of headlines competing for my attention, and it occurs to me that they’re all related. So I’m putting them together.

One in seven Americans is now living below the poverty line. According to this story from the Washington Post last month, the number of people living in poverty in the U.S. hit 44 million people in 2009. For the sake of clarity, a family of four is considered to be living in poverty if their household income is less than $22,000 per year. Click here to review that story.

Much of this fall in income is caused by unemployment, and many of the unemployed are older. During a number of Consumer DNA workshops this year, I’ve raised the issue that companies did not cut people during the great recession… they cut payrolls. Cutting headcount was not the goal, as much as cutting cost. So the more experienced and expensive workers were often the target. And now, those older workers are finding it difficult to find a job, according to this story from the New York Times last month. Click here to read it in full.

In 1976, the top 1% of earners took home 8.9% of all income. In 2007, the top 1% of earners took home 23.5% of all income. That’s according to another New York Times story, published on 10/16/10; click here to read it for yourself.

Implications: To say you should stay tuned to the changes impacting your target consumer is an understatement. These days, it’s almost like people in business should be also be students of socio-economics. Seriously, some people are starting to think very hard about how these tectonic, economic shifts could impact many aspects of society. Incomes, after all, seem to impact everything about a family... including how we define what a family is (according to this story from the NY Times).

It appears the number of wealthy folks is getting smaller.

It appears the number of poor folks is getting bigger.

It appears the chasm between wealthy and poor is getting wider (the classes have even less in common).

In my view, young people were the driving force behind electoral change in the 2008 election.

If older folks are being impacted harder by unemployment and income decline, do you think that will also be true of the 2010 mid-term elections?

If you cater to the luxury/upscale market, have you delineated your product line to serve the merely “rich,” and provided something even more remarkable that will appeal to the super-rich?

If you cater to the mainstream market, are you finding that the “regular price” of today looks a lot like the sale price of yesterday? Is that permanent, or transitional? Do you offer “bridge” products and services, which will help consumers get by until their paychecks start to gain both size and stability? Or should your target market be composed of different people than it included a few years ago?

Mike Anderson

Monday, October 18, 2010

UPDATE: Companies cleaning-up, continued

Earlier this month, I offered a posting about the sustainability efforts at P&G [see “Companies like this could clean up,” October 4, 2010]. Today, Marketing Daily offered another story about corporate sustainability efforts, this time from Walmart. Click here to read the story.

Implications: This seems like another example of a company that is fixing the inside of its operation before telling it’s “sustainability” story to the outside world.


Mike Anderson

The price of pollution edges closer to the consumer

California residents are facing a surcharge related to vehicle ownership… to help pay for the cost of air pollution. That’s according to a story in today’s New York Times, which you can read by clicking here.

Implications: I suspect that the closer pollution gets to consumers’ pocketbooks, the more likely consumers will be to embrace behavioral change related to their personal, environmental impact.

This may be a long-term trend, but absolutely one to watch.

Mike Anderson

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Benevolence is nice (Part Two)

I’ve been reminded of another issue that can be misinterpreted as completely benevolent (I wrote about another earlier today in the posting that appears two stories below). And that is the concept of “Local.” A recent Media Post Marketing Daily story might help you grasp why consumers see “local” as a true benefit worth buying, rather than simply an ideal. (For starters, think about things like the freshness of produce grown close to home, the environmentally responsible act of buying things that weren’t shipped long distances, etc.)

Implications: On a similar note, there was a story in the New York Times early this month which pointed-out that more local products are showing up in stores like Macy’s. (Click here to read the story.)

Sure, Twin Cities shoppers will appreciate seeing a Minnesota Twins cap in their hometown, but is that enough to make Macy’s feel like the hometown department store that Dayton’s once was? I don’t think so. And anyway, that hometown feel, alone, was not enough to keep Dayton’s alive.

Instead of simply touting, “Local,” tell the consumer why a product or service is BETTER when produced locally. After all, while many people prefer to buy local, the going-out-of-business hall of fame is filled with local companies who lost-out because the consumer—while preferring to buy local—decided to compare prices at Walmart or Costco before making a final decision.

Mike Anderson

No matter what you call it, it's reality

A story in today’s New York Times digs into the difference between a recession and an economic recovery… when that recovery is moving so slow, it’s hard to note progress. Click here to read the story.

Implications: Before this is all over, we could call this a double-dip, a protracted recession, a very gradual recovery… or my least favorite, the now-cliché “New Normal.”

No matter what you call it, this is reality. The prevailing consumer sentiment varies from one part of the world to another, from one region of the country to another, and indeed, from one neighborhood to the next.

Right now, the smart money remains focused on your micro economy, as a business: Who are the people around you that are still in the market to buy the product or service you sell?
Focus on that target consumer, the deeper benefits she seeks when considering your offer, and whom else she might talk to (your competitors) in attempting to satisfy that need or want.

Yes, we may be living in a period of austerity. But there are exceptions to that rule (items or occasions which lead us to indulge), and companies that profit nicely by appealing to the pragmatic side of consumers. Wise companies will stop defining “value” as the price a consumer puts IN to a purchase, and go back to defining “value” by the benefit she gets OUT of that purchase.

Mike Anderson

Commodity prices could head higher

A story worth noting: Commodity prices (grains, in particular) could rise in response to supply & demand, an effect of the extreme weather many regions experienced this year. Click here to see the NY Times story.

Implications: Consumers, already more cautious than they were a few years ago, might be seeing higher prices on grocery store shelves and restaurant menus in the near future.

Mike Anderson

Benevolence is nice, but benefits are even better

In case you missed it, there was an interesting story in the New York Times last week explaining all the perks received by early-adopters of the Nissan Leaf electric vehicle. Click here to read the story.

Implications: On a personal level, I would describe myself—personally—as a little more environmentally aware and active than most. Even so, my “green” pursuits know a limit. I do not have solar panels on my roof, nor a wind turbine in my back yard.

Nissan has demonstrated an understanding that “green” is not a black and white issue. There are shades of green… that might help illustrate the degree to which different people consider themselves, “environmentalists.”

Do we all want to save the planet? Of course. But it helps if there is a consumer benefit or payoff that is more immediately gratifying. Few families consider themselves non-profit organizations.

As you plan your next environmentally-friendly campaign... it might be a good idea to include very specific ideas about why the product or service offering is also "consumer-friendly."

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

A more perfect union: Looking at the world through the other side's eyes

Colleague Kim Willoughby shared an article that she had read in the New York Times last week. It had to do with an agreement between General Motors and the United Auto Workers union that included significant wage cuts for a part of the workforce that will help build a new compact/sub-compact car in the U.S. Click here to read the story.

Implications: I’m going to express this as an opinion, but bear with me: Both unions and companies have long thought that for one to win, the other must lose. At times, this prevailing attitude has resulted in harm to the company, the union, or both.

In light of another challenging month for the jobs market (click here to see the Bureau of Labor Statistics report, also from last week), it is not surprising to see unions and companies—finally—look at the world from each others’ point-of-view, and realize that they are mutually dependent entities… not archrivals.

Think about the participants in your own business cycle. Whether product vendors, service suppliers, customers or workers, have you ever looked at a person or company as if they were adversaries to be defeated, rather than partnerships waiting to happen? Review your negotiation/transaction process, and the answer will probably reveal itself to you.

Mike Anderson

Customer-approved clarity

A Research Brief story from last week suggests that up to three-fourths of Americans surveyed said they have been confused by a television commercial recently. Click here to read the story.

Implications: In my opinion, the same could be said of messages that are printed, served or broadcast in almost any media: Too much clever, not enough clarity.

Next time you’re proofing an ad for your company, consider getting some help from a customer. If your target consumer doesn’t get it, your approval or opinion of the creative is not all that relevant.

Tips: Start by knowing who the customer is that you're trying to target, the benefits they desire most when purchasing your product or service, which other providers they might be considering (as an alternative to buying from you), and what kinds of tactics might spur them to action now or very soon.

Mike Anderson

Good food they can have at home. When people go out, they want service.

A survey by Empathica is cited in a Marketing Daily story this morning, which suggests that consumers across the U.S. and Canada want great service, not just good food, when they decide on a restaurant. Click here to see the story.

Implications: During Consumer DNA workshops over the past several weeks, I’ve had more than one conversation with marketing executives about how sit-down, family-casual restaurants lost share during the great recession, and what kinds of tactics might bring those customers back, now that a recovery is underway. My position: Low price is what drew customers from sit-down restaurants to fast food, but low price is probably not what will gain them back.

What about candle-light dining and date night? What about the feeling of being “waited on” by someone who sincerely enjoys serving customers? What about the quality of the food (and health), not just an entrée at a sale price?

Talk to your customers to be sure—a little good research is better than a lot of speculation—but what customers want from their sit-down dining experience or upscale restaurant is probably not limited to a cheap price on a meal. A coupon might get them back in, but the way they enjoyed their evening will bring them back in again and again.

Mike Anderson

Monday, October 11, 2010

Twitter (and other modern-day Mad Men and women)

A story in today’s New York Times suggests that Twitter is making revenue a much higher priority than it has in the past, seeking to cash-convert the audience/neighborhood it has built. Click here to read the story.

Implications: What I enjoy most about this story is the hint that advertising agencies and even digital experts have not decided how social media is best used. It’s about time someone suggested that a lot of “best practices” have not even been invented yet. (Much less practiced.)

Have you seen the AMC television series “Mad Men?” I think one of the reasons for its amazing popularity is that we know how the story ends. The show focuses on a very young advertising industry, in an era when television was still this new, unexplored advertising beast. In the present day, we know just how large and important television became.

In 2010, we are all involved—at least to some extent—with the Internet, social media, mobile apps… each of which are already amazing media and advertising tools, but whose full marketing potential could still be described as unrealized.

And here we all are… participating, and in a way, influencing how those new stories will unfold.

Mike Anderson

Reconsidering your target

This is a grocery story, but its lesson could be applied in many other categories.

In this morning’s email newsletter, Phil Lempert (The Supermarket Guru) suggests that it might be time for food stores to start targeting lower-income shoppers. Often, supermarkets focus on middle- and higher-income shoppers because that’s where a significant share of revenue comes from.

Click here to see the video from today’s newsletter, or click here to read the text version that was sent out last week.

Implications: While profit margins might be better on premium or upscale products, some companies might be wise to re-evaluate all potential targets to see where fresh revenue could be obtained. Maybe your new “best prospects” are younger… or older. While your best “sale” opportunities may have come from homeowners a few years ago, perhaps renters are a group worth looking at now. If you used to court “blue chip investors” prior to the recession, maybe it would be smart to consider “emerging investors” these days.

What has changed about your target market in the past 36 months? It is quite likely that attributes of the people you sell to have changed; it might also be possible that you could/should be targeting an entirely different group of people, in addition to the target you once knew.

How has your most important target changed? Are the people different? Or are they different people?

Mike Anderson

Tuesday, October 5, 2010

Research informs the next marketing move

There was an interesting story in a recent issue of the Marketing Daily newsletter, announcing that Intercontinental Hotel Group had commissioned an extensive photography shoot for their hundreds of hotels. Click here to read the story.

Implications: The most important aspect of this story might be easy to overlook, when set beside the impressive number of hotels involved (approximately 3,500) and images to be captured (estimated at 100,000)… not to mention the 360-degree tours of hotel rooms and facilities.

The thing that caught my attention was the way consumers drove this decision: IHG did some research, and realized the importance of the web as a tool people use to decide on a hotel, and the importance of the visual representation those web sites provide.

Do you carry web-worthy digital camera with you frequently (or have one handy at your desk)? Have you done justice to your product or service in the way it is represented, visually, on your web site?

Or, have you listened to your consumers… to understand their consideration process, and how you can more effectively serve it?

Mike Anderson

Monday, October 4, 2010

Companies like this could really clean-up

Last week, an article from Marketing Daily touted the new “sustainability initiative” of Proctor & Gamble. It talks about making their distribution system (including trucks) more energy-efficient, reducing the amount of materiel that goes into their packaging, and powering their manufacturing centers with more solar and wind energy. Click here to read the story.

Implications: Aside from convincing people to wash with cold water instead of hot, there did not seem to be a huge marketing focus behind this announcement (yet). Correct me if I’m wrong, but it seems to me that P&G is getting the back-end of their operation into good environmental condition, before shouting about it on the front-end of their marketing strategy.


I’m not at all opposed to green marketing. But I appreciate it when a company’s environmental policy is created by its leadership, rather than by a copywriter. (I suspect consumers will, too.)

[Also see: “Learning Opportunities,” posted 7/23/10, or other stories from Elm Street that are “Environmentally Friendly.”]

Mike Anderson

Sunday, October 3, 2010

In trying to clarify rules about children's product safety, only confusion results

A story from the New York Times this week explained how companies are trying to duck the new rules about toy safety—which have not even been completely explained yet. (Click here to read the story.) The Consumer Product Safety Commission will vote on the “definition” of a children’s product sometime soon, although it has postponed such a vote on three occasions already.

The impending policies are one one outcome of the wave of toy recalls that happened beginning in 2007.

Implications: It is not my intention to start a political conversation about new regulations (although that is a tempting proposition). But I raise this issue because… if it is confusing for policy makers and toy manufacturers, the regulatory process and outcome will surely cause confusion for consumers.

If you sell products that are intended for children’s use, can you be a of clarity, as well as reliability?

Mike Anderson

Saturday, October 2, 2010

Healthy thinking about why people still don't eat their vegetables

“But they’re good for you.” Remember when you first heard that phrase, in support of eating your vegetables. According to this recent story from the New York Times, a lot of people probably know, but don’t care. (Click here to read the story.)

Implications: Is your product or service “good” for people? Do they care? This story focuses on things like quantity (for a reasonable cost) and convenience as benefits that are more important to consumers than the healthy attributes of eating vegetables.

You know the various benefits associated with your product(s) or service(s). But do you know their order of importance, in the mind of the consumer? Even if what you sell is “good for me,” that might not be good enough. Know the benefits that resonate most with your customers.

Mike Anderson

Friday, October 1, 2010

Are women still hitting a glass ceiling? (And can that last much longer?)

Earlier this week, there was a story in the New York Times about a GAO report that women are still not on equal footing in terms of holding management jobs. Click here to see the story.

Implications: Sorry to hear that the playing field has not yet been “leveled” effectively, according to this report. But I think the next couple of years are going to be very interesting to watch, in terms of employment.

Men, after all, took a bigger hit than women during the recession, at least in terms of job loss (according to this story from the NY Times back in February). I’ve heard from a lot of business owners during the past few years… and I’m also under the impression that companies did not cut people during the recession, they cut payroll. (Companies were not targeting people, they were targeting paychecks.) If that assertion is reasonably accurate, and if men were earning more as we entered the recession, it would only follow that men were a more attractive target in management reductions during the great recession.

Could the recession have served as an equalizing force, in terms of gender balance in the workplace? That might be important to think about… because employees (whether line-level or C-suite) are also influential consumers.

Mike Anderson

Why consumers have hang-ups about buying a new phone

According to this recent story from Marketing Daily, consumers might have some hang-ups about spending money on a new phone right now. For one thing, money is still a bit tight. For another, many consumers are unsure about the impact of data-use payment plans on their pocketbook. Click here to see the story.

Implications: Quick, answer this question: How many bytes of data did you use from your phone last month? Most people haven’t the foggiest idea.

Some phone company marketing is not as smart as the phones they’re designed to sell. If you think about it, whether you’re talking about apps or GPS or communication management… the reason smart phones are so beloved is the way they intuitively respond to the needs of the consumer.

Few consumers think in terms of data bytes used. We think in terms of text messages and emails sent or received, music or videos streamed, or photos uploaded to our favorite social network. Wouldn’t it be great to receive an invoice at the end of the month that said, “This month, you sent ____ messages, compared to your average of ____ messages. You uploaded ____ photos, at an average file size of _____; this compares to your typical monthly average of ___ photos per month over the past year.”

If we started to comprehend how many photos, songs or messages were involved with a 5 GB data plan, we might start grasping the value of ever more functional phones.

The fast food industry does not promote a fixed quantity of protein and carbohydrates for $5.99. They advertise a combo meal.

Mike Anderson