Monday, January 31, 2011

Strachan on Surveys Offers “Tool” and “Fuel” for Thought Leadership.

How many of you think a good survey lets your company uncover stakeholders’ issues or answer key questions like how does a physician select one wireless medical device and provider over another. Hold up your left hand. C’mon, raise them up there…left hand only.

Now. Whoever thinks that a good survey can provide you and your marketing team with data that can itself be subjects for marketing, raise your right hand.

On the left hand, research (and particularly, a good survey) is a tool your operations or marketing teams use. On the right hand, survey answers can provide the fuel for building marketing programs. The correct answer of course is both hands raised.

Using surveys in thought leadership applications was what Thomas Strachan, vice president at eCardio, talked about last week at the American Marketing Association-Houston’s B2B SIG about “Thought Leadership Marketing.”

In Strachan’s view, the idea that surveys provide both tool and fuel in this kind of marketing starts as soon as you envision the survey, by creating criteria for analyzing, and then using, survey results.

Is data or aspects of the data interesting to our target markets? Can we build a marketing program or event around the overall results or any aspect of the data? Are there PR opportunities – will aspects of the data be attractive to key media outlets?

Purposing surveys for Thought Leadership means answering Strachan’s questions in the affirmative and then executing on those answers. First, gain an understanding of the concerns that your company (and only your company) can address. Second, create an external and internal Thought Leadership Marketing program around your key results. Strachan continued:

For your external stakeholders, consider all options to communicate value-add results: white papers, “survey” pages on your website, email links to download the survey. Invent and deploy web-based and live events. Advertise the report results and use them in sales collateral; build a PR initiative around them.

For internal groups – employees are critical and very often overlooked – Thought Leadership Marketing can raise the company’s profile inside, plus generate internal interest and support.

I take this last point to mean that the more you involve employees with expert knowledge in the creation and maintenance of Thought Leadership materials, the more you will get inside buy-in.

One expects eCardio is practicing the Thought Leadership Marketing that Strachan is preaching. The Houston-based company aims to be a leader in “remote cardiac monitoring products and services,” an intensely competitive market.

Frost and Sullivan reports:

Technological advancements such as wireless technologies and algorithm advancement also provide growth opportunities for those who utilize them...This coupled with the high degree of competition restraining potential market growth is causing market participants to look for other methods of gaining a competitive advantage.

And in fact, Mike Damon of Damon Medical Communications, who works in the cardiac pacing field, feels that there are a lot of at least regional and maybe even smaller providers in this ECG and Cardiac Monitoring Products market. So eCardio needs every tool at its disposal – and all the fuel available – to gain and retain its competitive edge.

Here’s where Thought Leadership Marketing ought to pay dividends. To build such a program and run it successfully, Strachan on Surveys has one revelatory piece of advice:

Start at the place you want to be at the conclusion of your survey program and work backwards.

Leadership calls for foresight. Planning ahead is its secret ingredient.

Monday, January 24, 2011

Less Tiki, More Southwest: Matching the Drink to that Mad Gringo Shirt.

Have I led you astray in the previous post, where I mentioned “a tiki-themed alco-beverage?” Didn’t mean to. What I ended up drinking was El Amanecer de Xalixco, better known as the Tequila Sunrise*.

“Tropical” is really more Southwestern since the figure in the pattern of the new shirt is Kokopelli. Fertility god of the Anasazi. Three thousand years old. Looks good on that shirt, don’t it?

There’s nothing of Polynesia here, though. I also didn’t have any pineapple juice. What I did have was orange juice. Grenadine. Fresh lemons. And Xalixco Reposado Tequila from Guadalajara. So this is a post about liquor brands and marketing. Yay!

Along with the monster tequila marketers there are dozens if not hundreds of craft-made tequilas that are sold at different price points: plenty of entries in a marketplace that’s changed in several significant ways since the last time Signalwriter blogged about tequila, in 2005.

The reviewer nchoward made some interesting observations about the tequila market just a few years ago:

…88 percent of all tequila…is consumed in one of two ways: Shots or margaritas. By the age of 25 the average man has cut his shots consumption by 20 percent. The target consumers…are men 25 to 34 years old evolving to sophisticated drink choices. Now these consumers are drinking whiskeys, rums, and vodkas, usually mixed with cola. For leading brands, about 60 percent of consumption is with cola. Compare that to tequila where 60 percent of consumption is in margaritas.

Or in Tequila Sunrises made by considerably older guys in, say, suburban Houston. There’s more – from a recently published global tequila market review:

Tequila has been displaying high volume growth across a broad spectrum of international markets over the last few years. Indeed, some 13 out of the top 15 global Tequila markets posted gains over the 2003-2008 period. The US and Mexico remain the key markets by far. The most successful part of the US Tequila market in value-growth terms remains the super-premium sector – albeit at a reduced rate of growth.

That Xalixco Reposado from the Signalwriter liquor cabinet is an apparently middle-of-the-pack tequila with a history. Unearthing some background, you can read that Jesus Hernandez founded the original distillery at “the beginning of the XIX century.” Three Hernandez generations owned the distillery named La Invencible until 1962 when it was sold to the Orendain family.

In ’71, Roberto Orendain sold it to Bacardi which subsequently added new technology, expanding the operation (now called Tequileña thanks to another merger) to a daily production of 10,000 liters of tequila; and intro’d the Xalixco brand in the domestic Mexican market.

Forgive the pun, but by 1987 the worm had turned for Bacardi so it sold part of the plant to Mexico’s Vergel Brandy which lost still more market share so in 1990 Vergel sold out to Enrique Fonseca, Sr.

Are you keeping up? Fonseca is noted to be one of the largest agave farmers in the state of Jalisco. He’s credited with reinvigorating the Xalixco formula (with blue agave) and brand, and building exports to the US.

This Xalixco is warm and smoky – none of that burning, numbing sensation you get with cheap tequila – with an aroma of a pinewood fire and a taste of delicate creosote and sugar. It’s a sipping liquor, too good to mix with orange juice. But it’s sitting on the shelf at $18-20 bucks a bottle and will probably never be noticed because it’s not a “super-premium.”

Fonseca doesn’t need another super-premium; the company has a number of aficionado brands like Asombroso that it keeps introducing.

Too bad that consumers have no brand story to grab onto but I think Xalixco is a more of a distribution play: a shelf-filler. Tequila’s a huge big market. The brand has its role to play. Enough, then, about marketing - let this liquor’s value be our little secret.

*Low-grade the tequila and keep it simple. Here’s a recipe from Esquire.

Friday, January 21, 2011

How Crowdsourcing Put a Mad Gringo Shirt on My Back – and for a Great Price.

What if you’re a tropical clothing etailer trying to sell stuff from your HQ in wintry…Nebraska? (“I wish it was sunny here today in Omahahu, cold with a high of 13,” Mike Markowski wrote me; then…“Yes! Please blog about the contest.”)

So here’s a post about lust. And also combining Facebook and website and email. And crowdsourcing. It’s the Mad Gringo Facebook “Like” contest.

Greg Chambers, the Mad Gringo himself, boosted the use of social media to promote his lines of “Go Slow” clothing. Because I have bought a shirt or two from him, I’ve kept up – as you can see from Signalwriter posts like this one. He announced back at the beginning of January that he was going to offer a limited-time low price on the Mad Gringo shirt that topped the “Like” chart. I of course went right to the loudest shirt I could find on the site, the El Chapin, and clicked that Facebook button.

Participatory marketing is fun. On a discrete scale it’s better (for me, at least) than a giant retail push. So I sat back to await results. But whoa! Midway through the contest period, Mad Gringo’s report on the voting indicated that my fave shirt was running a poor second.

(Here’s where the lust comes in, I wanted that shirt. For 11 bucks.) What to do, what to do? El Chapin needed more votes.

I crowdsourced the problem. You have read about crowdsourcing on Signalwriter. I don’t have thousands upon thousands of people to call on but I do have some friends on Facebook myself. So I sent ‘em a note. Asked ‘em to do just what I did: Go to the specific Mad Gringo web page and click the “Like” button.

They did (thank you!) and a week later, Mad Gringo announced the results via Facebook and email:

…The people have spoken. (Well, they clicked on the Like button a bunch of times on our website.) El Chapin takes the prize and will be on sale today for the low, low, low price of $11 from 10am CST to 4pm CST.

Mad Miguel (the above-mentioned Markowski) filled in some blanks thisaway:

For the contest we had two styles in the running…El Chapin and Jade Scorpion. El Chapin won with 36 likes and Jade Scorpion came in second with 24. We had a total of 39 orders. Which is funny to us because El Chapin is one of the older styles and Jade Scorpion is one of the newer styles. But the public spoke and we put the winner up for sale.

Not everything worked out right for Signalwriter as Markowski relates:

I am sorry that we had to switch out the Kokoberger shirt for you. We didn't expect an older shirt that we didn't have much left in stock. Well I hope that is enough info for you.  We will be running more contests in the future: naming tees, tattoo prints tee, polos and fleece contest as well. All good stuff.

No fear, Mad Miguel and Mad Gringo. Here’s me enjoying a tiki-themed alco-beverage in my new 2X Kokoberger from Omahahu. Lust temporarily assuaged.

I’ll reward my crowdsourcers (see Warning No. 1) with a tiki drink of their choice too, redeemable at our next bar outing. And here’s to the guys and gals on Nebraska’s big island. Oddly, they all want to retire to someplace warmer.

You could support that plan by purchasing a great shirt or even two. Think of it as your own crowdsourcing experiment. Tell them Signalwriter – or if you prefer, Mad Tex – sent you.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Better than a Pointed Stick, Houston METRO Sends Big Message Down-Track.

I’ve got to go downtown to watch the new red train.

After seeing it pictured in today’s Houston Chronicle, the appeal is irresistible. In fact, for the first time in METRORail’s existence, according to the METRO blog, an entire rail car has been wrapped up with a safety message that’s kinda hard to miss.

Safety’s clearly the point here and the great design helps METRO make it. Stop. Think. And a vertical traffic signal on the red wrap as a visual cue on the exceptionally strong, fire-engine-red-colored background.

You’d think people will see this coming a mile away. But then, you’d think that something as big as a train, even a light rail train, would be hard to ignore in the first place. Drivers do it all the time, though, so Houston has a lot of “highway-rail grade crossing collisions.”

I will also get to see advertising history on the move. Bus, train and rail car graphics are still alive and rolling 100+ years after they started. Even now, transit advertising is widely regarded as one of the most effective forms of outdoor. Steve Strauss, writing about transportation posters in his book, Moving Images, said, “…people are gonna see your poster every day, year in, year out, but only for a few seconds at a time. Let’s get your points across in a glance.”

Coupled with great design, transit advertising can deliver larger-than-life impact at the point of use (or anywhere along the line); build great recall in heavily trafficked urban areas; and put big messages right in front of key demographic groups.

This execution qualifies as larger than life – and it’s great design too. I’ve sent a note to Mary Sit, Manager of Corporate Communication at The Metropolitan Transit Authority of Harris County, asking about the designer or designers of the new rail wrap. When she tells me, I’ll tell you.

Credits: Johnny Hanson photo from Houston Chronicle. Houston METRO superintendent Stephen Land walks past the new wrapped rail car.

Friday, January 14, 2011

From Bland to Brand! Eight New Branding Rules to Rock Your 2011.

With the new year kicking off so much consumer and business branding/re-branding activity, now’s the time to look at some new rules – all focused on a single thought:

Be bold – it makes selling stuff easier.

That’s not just my opinion: some ideas* here are based on a four-year-old blog post I’ve been saving. When you read ‘em, though, remember what Hector Barbossa (Disney pirate captain and MTV “Best Villain”) said as regards the Code of the Order of the Brethren? It’s “more what you’d call guidelines than actual rules.”

1] Stand-tall branding sells better. So make a stand. A brand with no P-O-V has no point. Whether you hate Fox News or love it, you do know where it stands on the issues. Ben & Jerry’s is more than just ice cream; it’s a company (even though owned by giant Unilever) that stands for a cause. Younger consumers – even IT pros and refinery managers – have grown up in a consumer world. I think they want their brands to stand up and be counted.

2] Feed the leaders. Consumers are more selective, more experimental, more interactive…and they lead from the front. They have strong opinions on brands, and a lot of brands are getting consumers involved. Even with engineers: check out the Emerson Process Management blog for superior customer-generated involvement. Adopt the leaders as your brand stakeholders.

3] Customization is today’s thriller. Customize whenever you can, whether it’s for iPod tunes or oilfield control systems. Consumer-wise, the power of the Internet has all kinds of customers wanting something all their own. Customers say, ‘I need just what fits my life.’ The best examples are Apple’s iPhone app store or Starbucks.

4] Deliver clarity directly. Quicker information, literally. Tell customers (or website visitors) as concisely as possible what you are selling. Anything that simplifies understanding for customers is a big thumbs-up. Strong brands recognize you have to be concise about what you’re selling at the point of contact; even complicated Athens Group is pretty direct, for example.

5] “Brand” is the promise of an experience. It’s a simple mandate: find the best way to give consumers a brand experience. Manage the whole experience. Consumer brands like Coca-Cola and Coach have done it. Forget the transaction, even forget about the logo or the tagline; deliver an experience and sales will follow. Can big industrial brands say the same? Compare Apple and Schlumberger websites.

6] Innovation is still a boardroom favorite. Brands are inspired by Apple more than anyone else. They continue to transform the computer business, the music business and the telephone business. Smart branders watch them like hawks. Procter & Gamble, 3M and GE drive this too – they have made innovation the core of their corporate strategies as well as their brand.

7] Do be responsive. Are you getting bad comments about your most recent brand change? Boo-hoo. We live in a world where everyone not only has an opinion; each one feels free to express it online. Participate with your brand’s stakeholders, let them vent. Take it like Starbucks recently – in good spirit. (and see Rule 1.)

8] Know what’s happening to your brand. Our instant-on culture isn’t forgiving. More people know instantly when a brand makes a mistake or if a website isn’t good enough. Negative PR will stick no matter what you do to correct it. Brands like Nike and Walmart still suffer (somewhat) from negative PR about alleged abuse of workers outside the US; BP is still hammered by Macondo. Use marketing research to find out where you’re vulnerable. Be open about fixes.

Bottom line (IMHO) – being bold is good. When it comes to branding, though, be smart-bold. Try to avoid the stupids in 2011. Now feel free to share your own “rules of branding” with the rest of us, eh? And that’s your pieces of eight for today.

*Based in part on “New Rules of Branding” by Derek Day, Branding Strategy Insider. Day deserves all the credit for the good ideas; the bad ones are probably mine. Or you could read the McKinsey version. “Hector Barossa” is © The Walt Disney Company. All rights reserved.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Walgreens is Back in Beer – Big Flats 1901 Priced to Move.

America’s largest liquor retailer? Used to be Walgreens. Its alcoholic beverage sections accounted for close to 10% of the chain’s sales and the inventory included beer. Then, in the mid-1990s, booze was phased out, mainly for inventory reasons: too many SKUs for the retailers’ managers and employees to handle.

Starting about a year ago, though, Walgreens’ second thoughts began to resolve themselves. And this past June Fox News (among others) reported:

The nation's largest retail drugstore by store count has reintroduced a limited beer and wine selection in about 3,100 of its roughly 7,500 stores. The drugstore has plans to stock the alcohol in about 5,000 stores by the end of 2010.

Wine began to show up on the Walgreens shelves in this part of the country. Maybe the move was also driven by increased competition from CVS, which offered wines from that chain’s appearance in Houston.

Now there’s…beer. Here! And there and everywhere.

The displays went up here right after New Year’s and what’s being sold is a private label brew called Big Flats 1901. It appears to be a national rollout; blogger Jake Parillo, for example, spotted it in downtown Elmhurst, IL.

From Houston, let me offer a closer look. The beer’s trip to market is modestly complex but that’s not so unusual today. Winery Exchange out of California created the brand for Walgreens. The packager describes itself as the “leading corporate brand beer supplier for premium quality beers from the USA, Latin America, and Holland.” It is, in fact, a creator for retailers; some of its beers have been award-winners.

Next comes Winery Exchange’s partner in creation: Genesee Brewing Company in New York, a long-lived brewer with 400+ employees. Not only does Genesee brew its own brands, including its famous Cream Ale; it contract-brews like crazy. Maryland’s Hook and Ladder Brewing company and Dundee Brewing in New York have their beer recipes executed by Genesee.

I’ve already purchased the “premium American lager” and posted a review. The price point/taste combo can’t be beat. But it is merely okay beer, not great beer. The brand story is weak: “big flats” supposedly describe river flatboats which don’t appear on the label.

At this time, it’s all price. The wines and (now) beers don’t appear on the Walgreens website but they are in this week’s sale flyer, and that includes the Big Flats 1901.

I can’t see “America’s drugstore” making a big push for its new brew. Maybe the drugstore chain will report on how it goes. I hope so. Marketers learn their world one brand at a time – at least I often do. Following the progress of Walgreens, Winery Exchange and Genesee could be instructive and tasty, too.

NOTE: Thank you to Walgreens Store 5536 in Houston.

Friday, January 07, 2011

Coffee #2: “Bringing the Siren to Life” at Starbucks.

This was the project of a lifetime. The designers here at Starbucks have such a love for this brand – it’s what drives our creativity.

It’s what the Starbucks Senior Creative Manager wrote about on the company blog January 5. It’s what’s exercising the profanity of hundreds – if not thousands – of Starbucks brand loyalists who hate it: the spanking new 2011 Starbucks logo.

I vote in favor of the change forthwith. It (the change) is pretty dramatic for a strong, popular brand. It has far more cogency and thoughtfulness than the recent Gap logo misstep, to which the Starbucks re-brand has been compared. It’s more cohesive than the United-Continental re-brand which I wrote about here.

Steve Collier of Collier Graphica has a different take. He wrote me:

Like Continental Airlines, it was not the logo that needed changing, it was the management and core business structure that needed changing. Starbucks reinstated its original CEO and founder which was a great move but now it needs to find its footing and direction for the future business model and the logo is not the answer for a brand that is already established and accepted by their customer base…

The creative director at 2020 Exhibits, Marilyn Muller, is eyeing the Starbucks customer base too:

It seems a pretty bold thing to do to remove the name recognition and stand on the logo alone. There are so many knockoffs and emulators that try to mimic Starbucks as the kind of ‘generic’ coffee brand (like the Kleenex of coffees) that it would seem to blur the integrity of the initial brand.

Contrariwise, I applaud the company that pours a lot of my coffee. First is the immense benefit of proximity. Starbucks is everywhere I am (mostly) with the brews I want. They taste good, too. Second is “destination.” Rachel Parker, principal of Resonance, responded to another Signalwriter post:

Starbucks isn’t a coffee – it’s a destination. It’s where friends connect, where business deals take place, where solopreneurs set up shop to stave off cabin fever.

Third, Starbucks have taken evident care over the siren’s new look – I hope you’ll read the design details on the company’s blog.

So there are at least three great reasons I’m going with Starbucks on its logo. At the end, it’s as simple as what Upstream Marketing’s Brian Bearden Facebooked onto the Starbucks wall:

The new logo is fine. I knew one day that word coffee would be removed from the logo… because their business has grown to offer more. Just keep making good coffee…

Thursday, January 06, 2011

“D’oh!” Dunkin’ Donuts Launches a 2011 Campaign, Hold the Homer.

There aren’t many famous quotes about doughnuts but we’ll always have Hollywood. Perhaps you don’t recall Chevy Chase remarking, “A doughnut without a hole is a danish!”*

Then there’s – oh yes – Homer Simpson. The iconic donut consumer. The most influential everyday Joe in America, if not the world. So I’m wondering about the news that Dunkin’ Donuts released early this week. The company announced it’s launching a new multimillion-dollar marketing campaign for its coffee business because the competition for coffee-drinkers is heating up.

I mention Mr Simpson because the new retail campaign is being called “everyday Joes,” at least at this point. However…it appears that these particular Joes will be drinking the fairly well known Dunkin’ Donuts coffee rather than chow-hounding the chain’s crullers. Kim Conte, writing on The Stir blog, has already noted:

The commercials, which star ordinary people (firefighters, cops, construction workers, etc.) who are fans of the brand and auditioned for the spots last year, are accessible and relatable.

Dunkin’ Brands’ John Costello, chief global customer and marketing officer, is quoted as saying: “The love that our customers have for Dunkin’ Donuts is truly unique, and this campaign ties into that passion in a very personal way.”

I buy Mr Costello’s “personal” and – given the strong product identification in the TV spot I found online – there’ll be some gain in share-of-coffee-slurpers. The new commercials have been created for the campaign by Hill Holiday in Boston. I haven’t seen them running here, possibly because the Dunkin’ Donuts stores have all but disappeared from my neck of the woods. There’s a store northwest of me, 7510 Highway 6 N, which I’ll visit to see if there’s evidence of the new “I’m Drinking Dunkin’” campaign theme.

But I wonder: Can you truly separate the coffee from the donuts? It’s like calling the old Kentucky Fried Chicken by a new name, KFC, and hoping that everyday Joes won’t notice that you’re still selling the wonderfully sinful chicken. Or donuts, or whatever else is supposed to be bad for the American people this week.

Dunkin’ Donuts will probably do just fine. But here proximity tops brand: one of Dunkin’s few Houston stores is still 11 miles away. I’ll stick with Starbucks, thanks.

*That was in “Caddyshack,” look it up. Even with the revised logo. Actual illustration of “Homer Simpson” created by Matt Groening. Copyright ©2006 Twentieth Century Fox Film Corporation. All rights reserved.