Wednesday, June 29, 2011

“I Have Seen the Future and It’s Square.” Also Comes with Its Own Missionaries.

Square is the simplest way to accept credit cards. It’s easy to use and comes with a free credit card reader for your phone or iPad. Sign up is quick. When you swipe cards with Square there is just one fee: 2.75%. No complicated contracts, monthly fees, or merchant account.

Fifty words – and a straight-to-the-point picture – make the USP behind Square brand mobile payments as clear as day. Yet because I don’t work with credit card payments I wasn’t immediately aware of the power of this idea that comes from the company headed by Jack Dorsey, who was also the founder of Twitter.

It sure has power, along with key appeal points that have created a dedicated band of missionaries for the new system: convenience and cost containment.

I looked Square in the face at a lavender festival in Blanco, TX. I wanted to purchase some panoramic photography greeting cards from Revealing Light Photography’s Bill Brockmeier, working from one of the many small artists’ booths there. Nice cards. I asked if he took the American Express card; that’s when Brockmeier pulled the Square card reader out of its pouch and attached it to his iPhone.

Transacting – my AMEX, his reader and iPhone, photographing me holding the cards for the receipt, my signing the iPhone screen – took about four minutes. Another 25 minutes passed in the presentation of the whole micro-retailer concept between Brockmeier and me.

Brockmeier is a convert to Square benefits – one of its righteous missionaries for maximum convenience and lower transaction processing fees; much lower than could be obtained with any merchant bank-card program. There’s complete transparency, too: the cost-per-transaction rate is a major selling point featured on the Square website: 2.75% per swipe. You better believe that the app itself is free.

Square has been featured in so many “Best of” lists and write-ups that the only excuse I can make for not having been aware of it sooner is that I’m not a retailer.

It is precisely this small-retail enabling power that is such a game-changer, in my opinion. Its concise, benefit-driven narrative makes it easy for people like Brockmeier to proselytize for new believers. Founder Dorsey has already been credited for fine-shaping Square’s go-to-market story: “Everything we do here is design,” he’s noted as saying in a TechCrunch piece. “It is about the importance of telling good stories through your products and editing them down to their core narrative.”

A good story makes for a good brand; plus makes for easier fund-raising: Square has just finished raising $100 million in new financing. VCs believe in it, too.

PS: The difference between WOM and mission work is probably passion. Thanks and a tip of the marketing mob-cap to Bill Brockmeier for the passionate marketing missionary experience.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Sharp-Edged Beverage Marketing, The Red Bulletin Is a Product Worthy of Its Product.

The new “modern lifestyle magazine focusing on sport, people, art and culture” arrived in the Sunday edition of The Houston Chronicle and I’m real thankful. Otherwise, I would have missed Red Bull’s launch of the US edition of The Red Bulletin.

It’s the second month the sports-and-party drink has put more than a free million copies of the excellent publication in major metro newspapers like The Chron; the intro also included the Chicago Tribune, the Los Angeles Times, the Miami Herald and the New York Daily News.

I wish I could report that I’m squarely in its demographic – I’m not. But The Red Bulletin comes with a terrific range of people-oriented articles that are cleanly written: the edge doesn’t come from a fakey-hip style but from excellent copy. Add vivid photos and a powerful European design concept…this is an arresting property.

As mentioned in the AdAge launch announcement: Red Bull already publishes the magazine in countries including Great Britain, Germany, Poland, Austria, South Africa, New Zealand and Kuwait, with distribution totaling 3.4 million before the U. edition. Red Bull plans to add further editions later this year and in 2012.

I stopped an Outside subscription years ago as the quality of its writing (which was exceptionally high) fell off and the publication turned to full-time product flackery. My sub to Wired will be allowed to lapse because it has become an all-out product-sales hype machine with muddy direction and too many easy, smarmy articles.

The distinction I am pointing to is honesty. The Red Bulletin has been frank as well as smart in publicly owning its mission: support of global marketing efforts for the world’s best-selling energy drink (2010 saw a 15.8% increase in sales, worth US$1.5 billion).

Find and review a copy for yourself. The Red Bulletin is not going to drive me to buy the drink but my already deep interest in its marketing programs has taken another big jump. And the thinking part of Red Bull’s demographic will love it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Can Radio Still Power Product Sales? When You’re Rush Limbaugh, Absolutely.

There’s some cognitive dissonance seeing Rush Limbaugh dressed up as Paul Revere – even in a cartoon. Yet that’s him on the back of that horse on the front page of his new Two If By Tea website.

If you like, you can forget what I said about radio in the previous post about Pandora:

isn’t radio, no matter how enjoyable or cleverly wrought, ancient history, biz-wise?

Conservative talk radio, of which Limbaugh is the exemplar, is a broad exception to this thought. Love him or hate him, El Rushbo is one of broadcast radio’s driving forces. Introducing his own line of ready-to-drink (RTD) iced teas is therefore not just a retail play, it’s news. Two If By Tea:

…represents traditional American values of capitalism and the pursuit of excellence. Each bottle is designed to rise above the sameness and mediocrity that threatens our great nation. Just grab a 12-pack and join the fight to preserve the America we know and love. It’s worth it!

The product launch hit the trades big…and polarized yet another market segment. For example, Jeffrey Klineman, editor of Beverage Spectrum, put an announcement up first thing on the BevNet newsletter. Unfortunately, Klineman editorialized about Limbaugh’s “invective;” a number of industry readers came down on his post like a ton of teabags.

That’s the way the past week has gone – lots of hype and a lot more heat about the talk radio host’s political stances. But what about Limbaugh’s business model? Canned or bottled RTD tea’s a hot-and-cold category with a huge variety of packagers, flavors and sizes. Skimming stats from Mintel and Beverage World, new RTD tea product launches in the US doubled in 2009 alone; volume increased nearly 5% in that same one-year period. There are so many options for retailers, in fact, that the marketplace is overstocked; much product is value-priced, which means low margins.

And so what? Limbaugh has got, beside the right to be his own entrepreneur, his own broadcast vehicles. He’s has spent hours (I’m not kidding!) talking about and promoting these buy-online teas. Whether or not he’s paying rate card for the time – and he says he is – his unrelenting, day-after-day brand promotion has got to be moving cartons of iced tea.

Even if ratings research is right about Limbaugh’s audience slip, he still has an large number of loyal listeners (are they still called Dittoheads?) on 600 radio stations nationwide. Not to mention that live camera online.

Few advertisers can afford three hours of radio promotion every day – never mind Saturday and Sunday. Limbaugh is also executing a rather good marketing plan in support of his product launch, with the right stuff on the website, plenty of flanking action not to mention free shipping.

Watch the talking head e-market. He’ll keep generating controversy, maintain Dittohead loyalty and convert many of them to buyers of Two If By Team products. That’s power radio.

Tuesday, June 21, 2011

Without Panic, Pandora Peters Out – for Now. Can It Revive? Can It...Make Money?

This is an ad for Pandora, the online radio service. Part of its appeal, its money-making business model, has been selling advertising. I get that, looking at the page by Discover Marketing. But I ask you: isn’t radio, no matter how enjoyable or cleverly wrought, ancient history, biz-wise?

Although I’m no bleeding-edge visionary I could never figure out how Pandora was going to make money. Mike Damon of Damon Medical Communications suggested I try Pandora originally even as I told him, I’m not a music guy. “Free radio online” didn’t have the stink of revolutionary.

I read about Pandora’s music genome project – understood how it was supposed to work. Cool stuff, it is true; adventuresome. But how do you build a business model on that?

I couldn’t see the big money. Couldn’t make out the shared-user-experience excitement and participation that have driven other business models to success. For me, one ad-guy lesson is, beware of geeks bearing gifts.

Is there anyone in this spiral arm of the Milky Way who does not know now that the Pandora Media IPO cratered? (You can say, “Sure, I knew that!” and still sneak off here to give yourself some background.) As the post points out, there was a visible difference between the sizzle and the steak, especially when investors see cautionary statements revealing accumulated deficits of $92 million bucks.

So what has this got to do with marketing and advertising? Even with the best will in the world, I have found Pandora’s marketing and supporting advertising non-compelling.

In dot-com bubblicious days, the curiosity of geek-founders was hugely rewarded; so were the risk-taking investors of those days. Advertising and promotion, trade shows and PR all contributed to the hype. (We did, we did.) The bubble’s eventual collapse disappeared a lot of ad agencies, jobs and nest eggs.

Of the two different punishments at work in this month’s Pandora Media story, one is hubris – how can any team of entrepreneurs bring such a money-losing offering to market? Who the gods would destroy, etc.

But the leading-edge company whose stock symbol is P is by not yet destroyed. We need for it to reverse its course and succeed, even if it takes a few years. Because, as the author of The Last Olympian has the Titan Prometheus say:

Pandora always gets the blame. She is punished for being curious. The gods would have you believe that this is the lesson: mankind should not explore. They should not ask questions. They should do what they are told.

We need to keep that curiosity in the world. The marketplace will reward the venturesome and the challenging. Maybe all Pandora needs is a better business model. Plus adverts that don’t put you to sleep.

Friday, June 17, 2011

For Father’s Day 2011, “Baron’s Atlanta’s Answer To Italy’s Benevenuto Cellini.”

Anybody in Georgia who has a breakable treasure sooner or later finds himself paying a call to Paul H Baron, 951 Peachtree Street.
In the world of restoration, Paul Baron is Atlanta’s present-day answer to Italy’s Benevenuto Cellini. If the cherished object is chipped, nicked, maimed, frayed, faded, rusted or simply has given up the ghost from discouragement, Mr Baron can make it new again. Everything from Doughty birds to iron fountains, from Meissen to fragments of Inca rock ruins, from Imari chop plates to a Yak fat-rendering stove from Mongolia passes through his deft hands as a normal run of business.

With his own specially made glues, cements (guaranteed 120 years), paints, solders, moldings, lacquer, with silks, threads and golden filaments, he takes chips out of crystal, restores antique ceremonial services, reshapes and renews mirrors, reweaves tapestries, brings back old paintings with a matte finish that never checks or blooms, takes cracks out of doll’s heads with an air brush, braises and re-solders silver to mint condition.

Mr Baron’s customers, from two major department stores, once made a path to his backyard garage workshop when his postwar hobby was tinkering with the irreparable. Now his business comes from all over the world, direct from the nation’s principal express service, from international moving van companies, from museums, department stores, jewelers, antique dealers and interior decorators. His services as an appraiser of objects of art are in demand by such companies as Lloyds of London. Indeed, but for a Korean in Washington and a Japanese in Chicago who do mending, his only competition is a woman in Norwalk, Connecticut, who trained in his shop.

“We love nice distant competitors,” he says slyly.

Recently Mr Baron solved the aesthetic impasse between a decorator and his wealthy client who insisted on a television set in his formal French drawing room. Using a Fleetwood chassis, Mr Baron built a set into the chimney above the fireplace and covered its lens with a fine old oil painting. He rigged up a mechanism which moved the painting slowly upward at the flip of a switch, lowering it back gently when the set was no longer in operation.

“I have a field day with this kind of thing.”

Helpers for such a business are almost nonexistent. After trying several European artisans, Mr Baron found his best aides in an untrained man and woman from Rutledge, GA. Now Edna Broughton, her cousin, Ralph Wyatt, and a third woman, Flora Adams, can match any color, grinding it from Japanese lacquer, copy any intricate design, mold porcelain feet, hands, ears to restore crippled statuary – whatever is required. Their employer says they are all marvels of deftness and patience.

The most vital people in the word, Mr Baron says, come to his cluttered shop. The South has more and more collectors every year, some of them with acquisitions valued as high as a million dollars.

The Barons never catch up. “We could close our doors and stay busy for a year. But we don’t want to miss anything.”

…Transcription of an article appearing in The Atlanta Constitution in the early 1960s. It was written by Doris Lockerman. A very long-time reporter and editor, she died recently, on May 6, 2011, aged 101. Her obit is itself worth a read. Undated main photo credited to Paul Robertson.

Monday, June 13, 2011

In Fredericksburg, It’s Not about the Beer – It’s about Marketing and Selling the Beer.

I was in Fredericksburg, TX, this weekend – Barbara and I went for a wedding. It’s been years, maybe decades since I was last in this Hill Country town. It was crowded, a typical summer tourist weekend in F’burg…as with so many towns with their summer festivals.

Thanks to the Internet and the boom in craft-brewed beers, I knew enough to want to stop at the Fredericksburg Brewing Company (est. 1994); have a fresh beer or two. Did that first thing.

Barbara had a pint of the Pioneer Porter – smoked style, good. I coddled a glass of the brewpub’s Maibock which was very tasty. To my mind, it was the weekend’s best beer. The curious part: the same people who own Fredericksburg Brewing Company created the wonderful Hangar Hotel where we stayed overnight, 3.5 miles off Main Street at the airport. Lovely place, great room.

I was saddened to learn the hotel bar does NOT serve the beers from its sister company, the brewpub on Main. Strange oversight; maybe it’s regulatory. Kelly Ayers, Marketing & Events Manager for the associated companies*, confirmed it in a responsive email today:

We would love nothing more than to serve Brewery beers in the hotel bar; unfortunately laws for brewpubs are different than they are for microbreweries.

As a brewpub, we are only able to sell our beer on site; we cannot distribute to other retailers (even our sister businesses). We’ve been crossing our fingers that this law would be changed and have been watching closely Texas HB 660, which would allow brewpubs to distribute their beer.

You can follow updates on the bill on the Texas Legislature website. Right now it looks like it has been left pending in committee. If we can get a bill like this passed rest assured that we will not only have Fredericksburg Brewing Company beer in the Officers’ Club at the Hangar, but also in grocery stores!

By the way, I entirely agree with your review of the Maibock, it is one of my favorite brews!

Now one serious lapse is mine: Why didn’t I leap into the car and speed the 3.5 miles back to Main Street to buy a growler of the Maibock? And get back to the hotel lickety-split with that brew all fresh and cold? Well, I didn’t. My bad.

Passage of Texas House Bill 660, which Ayers mentions, is the consumers’ best hope for allowing craft-focused brewers to more effectively market and cross-sell their beers.

We can all help. It doesn’t even have to include drinking the beer – though that sounds strange. First, get your social media caps on. Go to Texas Beer Freedom on Facebook and sign up. Friend your local microbrewery or brewpub while you’re at it.

If your favorite bar or pub doesn’t carry fresh Texas microbrew, try a few encouraging words to the manager or the bartender. Because this post isn’t just for Fredericksburg and its tourists…it’s for all of us.

Think of this as our summertime “Freedom to Market” mission.

*To complete the set, let me mention that Ayers is also responsible for marketing the third of the sister companies, Fredericksburg Herb Farm. Photo courtesy of TripAdvisor.

Monday, June 06, 2011

“Ripped from Today’s Headlines!” Can Fat Be a Strategy for Healthcare Marketing?

I always wanted to use that famously trite RfTH screamer. Now’s my chance, because if you read Sunday’s Houston Chronicle you may have noted the sub-head in the Charles B Parks Business-section article:

Area hospitals are expanding their services to meet the needs of an older and increasingly obese population.

This article’s whip-round of some Texas Medical Center talking heads reveals how some hospitals are focusing their marketing on their targets – which would be us.

Thankfully the American Marketing Association is on the job! Come to the Houston chapter’s Healthcare SIG event this coming Friday and you could learn if diet is your marketing destiny. Maybe it’s genetics or economics. Or policies coming out of Washington and Austin.

The event panel’s brief: to discuss and present actionable insights into marketing strategy-setting and execution. The panelists come from hospitals, medical technologies companies and healthcare informatics, to help attendees explore “which audiences to target” and what “business segments are ripe for marketing.”

As attendees of previous Healthcare SIG events know, bariatrics (the study and treatment of obesity) can be one very effective marketing strategy. Managing diabetes is another. It does seem as though more flexibility is required today.

Be driven by opportunity – the chance to hear from Jackie Dryden, Jean van Soelen, Bruce Blausen and Kristeen Jones. The chance to participate with other healthcare marketing colleagues. Even the chance to ask why Signalwriter can’t take a decent photo with his first-ever iPhone, since I will be moderating the morning’s panel.

I’ll have a copy of the Parks article with me at Houston Baptist University on Friday. I’m big enough to say thanks to the Chron for providing me with this timely crib. I hope you will join us (because otherwise it’ll be lonely in the Dillon Room…with just five of us). Sign up right here, right now.

Friday, June 03, 2011

A Decent Graphic? From the Government? (Unbelievable but True.)

Here’s my two cents. The new plate icon for the US Department of Agriculture’s 2010 Dietary Guidelines for Americans is pretty good. I suspect that there’s going to be flack from some quarters over the new dietary representation. The USDA press release said:

MyPlate is a new generation icon with the intent to prompt consumers to think about building a healthy plate at meal times and to seek more information to help them do that by going to

In fact, I have included the url in the ‘graph above so you can explore what’s going on for yourself. The plate is (IMO) better than the old 1992 nutrition pyramid; bushels and pecks better than MyPyramid, the most recent 2005 iteration of that shape.

There are already disgruntlers; the “literalists,” for example, are represented by Andrew Weil on The Huffington Post. I suggest that the new MyPlate icon is intuitive and straightforward. It’s fresh and it’s got a budget!

According to William Neuman in his New York Times article, the USDA funded the new effort to the tune of $2 million. That covers developing the graphics, plus research and focus groups; and marketing efforts, including the web site and going-forward promotions.

The introduction is fresh so it will be a long time before anybody knows if the icon really works. Literalists aside, I call it a well-focused effort, info-graphical enough to deliver messages but not on the bleeding edge of design. Way to go, Ag.

Wednesday, June 01, 2011

“Comic Verse Composed in Irregular Rhythm…Badly Written or Expressed.”

Making bits of rhyme improves the time.
It isn’t doggerel but catterel.
There’s insouciance for you, and subtlety.
There’s quirk for you, and some for me.
Is Hello, Kitty societally sly or merely wry?

Improve the time. Make bits of rhyme.

Copyright © 2011, Richard Laurence Baron.