Sunday, October 31, 2010

More Packaged Goods: Is Personalizing Your Oatmeal Experience…Better?

This is probably the kind of post that will make the brand marketing people at Malt-o-Meal and Hunter Public Relations cry – or laugh out loud. When they introduced a complete new product line – Better Oats – they did everything “marketing” that could be expected of them. And still, I only noticed the products when Signalwriter’s personal shopper saw a “good deal” on a box at the supermarket.

The Better Oats parent is Malt-O-Meal which has been around since 1919 and it’s pretty well-recognized these days as the value brand in most stores’ breakfast cereal aisles. Now they’ve put their thinking caps on to revolutionize the instant oatmeal category. (Yes, one of the new sub-brands is “Oat Revolution.” Sigh.)

It’s possible they’ve succeeded – and I almost missed it. But I’ve got to say that I’m really happy they didn’t try too hard to position it on the “personalized oatmeal experience” idea. That line’s in the introductory press release:

With 34 different offerings, Better Oats provides consumers with the ability to personalize their oatmeal experience with varieties like traditional Oat Revolution™, Oat Fit™ for the weight-conscious, mmm…Muffins™ for a sweet start to the day, Lavish™ to satisfy chocolate cravings and Oat Revolution™ Thick and Hearty for an old-fashioned oatmeal experience instantly. Varieties of Mom’s Best Naturals® – which include Plain Grain Organic and Dark Chocolate – are found exclusively in the natural food/organic aisle in supermarkets nationwide.

It’s not like America needs more kinds of instant oatmeal (or maybe, right before a contentious election, it really does). But my ad guy’s porkpie hat is raised to the entire Better Oats team because every launch detail is right, in my opinion. There’s fine packaging and an interesting collection of sub-brands, plus some useful waste-reducing ideas. There’s the quite-alright website…clean and simple and attractive.

The Better Oats brand line has gone on the road with a “Grains of Change” tour* and that’s connected to a Facebook fan page and trial stimulator, complete with a coupon (which I have downloaded and used). And I have kitchen-tested the “oatmeal experience” by consuming servings of the mmm…Muffins and Oat Revolution varieties. They are good and there isn’t much in the way of unnatural ingredients in ‘em.

Missing the introduction is a question of noise level. This is a crowded category. And do Americans need another complete line of breakfast cereals? On the other hand…breakfast is good for you. If you eat breakfast, you’re likely to promote healthy eating habits. And oats – oats are good for you, too. So if a company can actually make a successful additional entry into this category, it’s worth a lot for us as consumers to try something healthy and…novel (which the Better Oats lines are). And Malt-O-Meal can take over more of a grocer’s shelf with packaged goods that deliver excellent margins, thank you very much.

Maybe making instant oatmeal more personally tailorable is exactly right for the second decade of the 21st Century. After all, breakfast cereals are the third most popular grocery story category, I have read. Better products and more comprehensive marketing will always gain new products (like Better Oats) a place at the table. Go for it, oatmeal guys!

*I know it’s tongue-in-cheek but shoot “Otis Wholegrainer – Oatmeal Czar” anyway – that idea is…unrevolutionary.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

When to Market American Success? “Mission Accomplished” in Chile.

In the wake of the rescue of the now world-recognized Chilean miners, there’s no doubt about the immense dedication and bravery shown by the people and the government of the Republic of Chile. Well done, that nation!

From the point of view of global marketing, I am repeating a post which has been traveling round the Internet. I have tried to add links to the companies involved. Let’s start with...

Schramm Inc of West Chester, PA built the drills and equipment used to reach the trapped miners: “…a Schramm T685 rig drilled the hole that located the miners, and that our T130XD rig is being used for Plan B to expedite their rescue.” Center Rock Inc, of Berlin, in the same state, built the drill bits used to reach the miners.

UPS, the US shipping company, delivered the 13-ton drilling equipment from Pennsylvania to Chile in less than 48 hours. Then crews from Layne Christensen Company of Wichita, KS, and Chilean subsidiary Geotec Boyles Bros SA worked the drilling equipment to locate and reach the miners and then enlarge the holes to ultimately rescue them.

Jeff Hart of Denver, CO came from his job drilling water wells for the US Army’s forward operating bases in Afghanistan to lead the drilling crew that reached the miners. And Greg Hall of Houston-based Drillers Supply International provided additional planning and expertise.

Atlas Copco US’s Construction and Mining Technique, Milwaukee, WI consulted about the integration of drilling equipment from different sources, so the pieces would work effectively together under differing pressure specifications.

Central California Video Engineering and Manufacturing Co of Fresno, CA designed the special cameras that were lowered nearly a mile into the ground to send back video of the miners. Zephyr Technologies of Annapolis, MD made the remote physiological status monitoring (PSM) devices that the miners wore during their ascent.

Engineers from NASA designed the “Phoenix” capsule that carried each miner to the surface: and provided medical consulting, special diets and spandex suits to maintain miners’ blood pressure as they’re brought back to the surface.

One more thing: sunglasses maker Oakley “…provided the $400-a-pair eyewear that protected the miners’ eyes from the sun they hadn’t seen in months.”

Adam Hanft, CEO of brand strategy firm Hanft Projects, has talked about the Chilean miners and marketing. The best way they can mine their 15 minutes of fame, he said, is “by being humble and letting the world fall in love with them.”

Thanks to this event in Chile, the world has seen genuine American know-how in (successful) action. We have a lot more of it than most people credit these days; now’s a pretty good time to market it all more aggressively...but humbly. Thanks to the President for pitching in.

Note: I didn’t create the bones of this post; I don’t know who did. It’s been thought-provoking, though – many thanks. Photo of the T130XD heavy-duty, heavy-hoist, carrier-mounted drill rig from Schramm. All rights reserved.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Speaking of Beer, Product Sampling Is a Time-Tested Way to Market.

Today’s post is driven by several elements, not least of which is an article in this morning’s Houston Chronicle business section. You’ll see it offers important facts on which I have based this…argument.

Then there’s the well-recognized technique of product sampling, a long-honored method of capturing the attention of would-be consumers.

Finally, there’s the note from an anonymous Facebook correspondent (alright, it was Donna Collum) which said, “Dang, u drink a lotta beer, dude!”

Starting from back to front: Frequency, yes. Recency, yes. Quantity, no. I have undertaken the consumption of beers out of a pure desire for marketing efficiency. I’m completely focused on sampling beers I haven’t tried before, on the theory that I am [a] determining which brands and styles of beer are…worthy…of future drinking; and [b] supporting the growth of an industry which is important locally, regionally and nationally.

Lofty goals! I don’t drink a lot of beer – I try a beer a day or every couple of days, usually one I haven’t tried before. I go back and “repeat sample” a beer whose various complexities are not firmly fixed in my mind. Sometimes, this takes two or three tries but you get the point. It’s all about discrimination and moderation.

Then, because mine is a scientific evaluation using this particular marketing tool, I carefully record each sampling on, one of several on-line beer-rating groups which allow true “crowd-sourcing” of beery experience. I am a minor sipper compared to other RateBeer colleagues. Virginian BeerandBlues2 has 3,700+ beer ratings, for example; the doughty product-tester has been hard at work since 2003.

When possible, product-sampling can play a big role in branding and marketing. Here’s sampling researcher Cindy Johnson:

Product sampling can often work on its own to convert a targeted group of consumers. If the trial experience is strong and consumers are convinced to purchase the brand, no further spending is necessary to win with that target…There’s no advantage to layering marketing tactics and spending more against the same target, if trial alone convinces them to buy your brand.

Micro-breweries and regional craft brewers put product sampling to use because they don’t have the tools (read: buckets o’money) that the national and international brewers do. It’s an underlying factor in “Swimming in Beer” by Chronicle writer/blogger Ronnie Crocker. He reiterates the point that craft-brewed beer business is booming, while the “major producers are hurting and sales of imports are down…”

Generating attention and “drinkership” via product sampling is the best way undercapitalized local brewers can gain sales and market share. Brock Wagner is taking St Arnold Brewing Company to a production capacity to 50,000 barrels a year through missionary marketing and pour promotions, not classic media advertising (which Wagner has historically disdained).

I started out to have some fun with this topic and have ended up more aware of a couple of key marketing points. One, I hope, is reinforcement of the idea that there are very many marketing tools and we – as marketers – ought to be familiar with most of them.

Thanks to friends and colleagues for highlighting and supporting my beer-testing. I doubt I’ll ever get to 3,700 beers. But I expect to enjoy those that I do try and do some brand-marketing good along the way.

PS: Will blog for beer!

Saturday, October 09, 2010

In the Sun Chips Bag: a Lesson in Marketing Innovation and Demand Generation.

Is there anyone out there who doesn’t know Sun Chips is getting out of the eco-bag business? In another high-volume “end of the world as we know it” outcry, the eco-pundits have already massively condemned Frito-Lay, from the local (Lauren Marmaduke, Houston Press) to the national (Kate Sheppard, Mother Jones)

Marmaduke is a blaster: “…the morons at Frito-Lay.” Sheppard’s more balanced: “I don't necessarily blame Frito-Lay. It’s a corporation and its job is to keep customers happy (and make money), so I can forgive them a little timidity on the issue, given that Sun Chips sales were apparently plummeting.”

Let’s take this single paragraph as a guide to seeing where perceived social good and marketing intersect, and what happens then. The Wall Street Journal’s Eric Felten exposes pundits’ contempt for American consumers while defending the market process: “You can add the Sun Chip bags to the pile of eco-virtuous products that consumers found less desirable than the traditional products they replaced.” (This sentence, I believe, is key.)

Felten’s must-read article fairly describes the market process and how it works, when it comes to consumerism. Eco-products have to work better than the items they aim to replace. Or the marketplace will drive them out.

Frito-Lay, like many consumer companies, is superb at introducing new lines: I wrote about its Flat Earth Baked Veggie Chips here. And when these Sun Chips biodegradable bags were introduced, Frito-Lay was a hero yet again. This week, it’s a goat.

To build a Matt Ridley argument, the introduction and marketing of biodegradable Sun Chips packaging with its subsequent glowing praise; the bags’ elimination with its screaming (and one-sided) condemnation; and the company’s pledge to find a more consumer-friendly replacement are all part of “the perpetual innovation machine that drives the modern economy.”

Now will you please stop whining about the damn bags.