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Suppliers and Distributors reported strong growth in 2012 which continued into December.

Archive for March, 2011

You know that Intel commercial where an awkward-ish middle-aged technology guru dances from room to room, turning on various electronic devices with nothing more than his presence? Well, I love that commercial. Great job, well done, bravo. That is not the point of this blog article.

The point is that, in reaction to the position of a person, technology can be triggered to change its state of being – namely, from “off” to “on.”

What if in-store packaging could accomplish the same? What if it could react to a person’s presence, position, movement?

Well, it can. And it doesn’t require LCD screens, cameras, sensors…anything. Mark Changizi’s Forbes.com “Illusions that Sense YOU” (March 30, 2011 10:55 am) shows how simple, optical illusions could be applied to product packaging to give the illusion of the product changing its appearance in reaction to a person walking towards it.

Look at the illusions in the Forbes.com article – they are only “illusions” when you are moving.

If the packaging of, say, a new sports drink, was built on a foundation of a visual mirage, would it subtly but effectively grab the attention of someone walking through the beverage aisle at the local supermarket? Probably!

Used properly, optical illusions could help attract shoppers at the point of purchase. And who knows, maybe someday using LCD screens, cameras, and sensors to determine how hungry or thirsty a person is could be a reality!

Categories : Marketing
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A Liberated Mermaid and 40,000 Logos

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There are a lot of bad logos out there. I tried to pull up a good example of a bad logo and quickly realized that you don’t need to see an example of a bad logo. They are all around you.

The Gap, for instance, who recently introduced a new, well-designed logo that didn’t jive whatsoever with their brand image. (Side note: Gap has already pulled that logo from the shelf…) Or Capital One, whose “new” logo looks more outdated than their old logo. And they’re trying to convince people to stop “banking old school.”

Starbucks Coffee has also introduced a new logo, and while the marketing running in conjunction with the launch of this new corporate mark is questionable at best, the logo itself is applaudable. A simple facelift to their old logo, the new one eliminates the actual words “Starbucks Coffee” and focuses on the visual representation of the coffee conglomerate. As Chris Nurko writes in the FutureBrand article Starbucks’ New Logo – A Storm in a Coffee Cup? “it is not so much her ‘liberation’ but rather the recognition of the value and importance in symbols for companies, products or brands separate from the words or descriptors that may have first accompanied them at a brand’s inception.” It is a recognition of the importance of siren as a representation of the Starbucks brand. The siren stands alone.

While I feel there is a place for words in logos, and on many occasions the logo IS word or typeface-based,  a company’s logo must Truly represent the brand’s image and essence; it must aesthetically communicate the brand’s core message.

The reason the Gap’s new logo filed is because it didn’t resonate with people’s preconceived notions of who the Gap was. There was nothing wrong with design of the logo, per se. It was the meaning behind it.

I came across an article about the MIT MEDIA LAB’s brilliant new logo – talk about a logo with meaning! Some MIT MEDIA LAB geniuses developed an algorithmic logo using processing that can generate 40,000 logos in 12 color combinations – that all look “the same” enough to be a representation of the same company. Check out this FastCoDesign article and see what I mean. There will be enough permutations of the MIT MEDIA LAB logo to give each new and existing employee their own logo for 25 years. The theory behind it is that “people come from many different backgrounds – they’re engineers, scientists, artists, designers – and have very different ways of thinking, seeing, and working…at the lab these people cross paths, collaborate and inspire each other, and that’s the magic of this place.”

Developing an algorithmic logo that can process 40,000 unique logos is incredible. But that it is actually indicative of the brand and its message?


Stop for a moment and think about your company’s logo. Does is do your business justice? Is it professional, consistent, succinct and suggestive? The price tag on a logo may be higher than what you’d like to see, but it’s an investment in your brand that will pay you back tenfold in recognition and loyalty.

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The PR component of a business’s strategy is decidedly the best way to generate a “buzz” around a promotion. Folger’s Coffee transformed NYC manhole covers into what look like steaming cups of coffee (literally, the steam pouring from the manhole covers gave the appearance of the steam coming off a cup of coffee). A municipality in New Zealand trying to promote “green” living gave residents “pretty” green trash bags, which looked, well, pretty lining the streets of the city. Subway station stairs have been transformed into working piano keys. A Bahamas billboard in Miami has a real-live mannequin slingshotting himself to the tropical isle, helping to communicate just how close the Bahamas is to the panhandle state.

Now, L.L. Bean has done it, and they’ve chosen Boston as their most important market. The famed outdoor clothier is now offering free shipping from its website, and, to get Bostonians to listen, they’ve not only wrapped MBTA buses with their packaging, but they’ve picked up the tabs for commuters getting onto those buses.

In other words, free shipping to promote free shipping.

The first wrapped buses hit the streets today, and I have been watching them pass by my office over and over again. I can’t help but wonder if people are clamoring to get onto the free buses while bypassing open seats on non-L.L. Bean buses.

To read more about the agreement between the MBTA and L.L. Bean, read the Boston.com article, “L.L. Bean, MBTA wrap up free ride deal.

Most small businesses don’t have the budget to wrap ten MBTA buses and bus fare for hundreds of thousands of passengers. Something as simple as a sandwich board, or an employee standing outside to pass out free samples or coupons, is not out of the realm of possibility for a small business. This Bankrate.com article will help  give you some low-budget ideas to steal the spotlight from your competitors and get your target audience talking.

Remember, the more integrated a publicity stunt is with your ongoing marketing outreach, the better. If you can, tie your PR stunt into social media marketing and in-store events to get the most bang for your PR buck.

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I used to get phone calls from one of my client’s sales representatives: “Hi, this is John Doe from John Doe Technologies. I noticed that you have been spending quite a bit of time learning about Virtualization on our website and wanted to see if you are interested in a free, no obligation consultation.”

Well, Mr. Doe. I had been spending time on the Virtualization page because, as the person who developed the page, I wanted to proof and test it.

I got these calls regularly from salespeople who didn’t realize that my company was hired by their company to handle their marketing and advertising. And every time I got one of these calls, I would wonder the same thing: does this actually work?

I found the same situation with a third-party SEO company that my company had partnered with briefly in 2007. Anytime I would download a case study or White Paper, I would inevitably receive phone calls to set up a free, no obligation consultation. Even though I was already a client.

When you see that a particular company is spending time on your website, or when someone downloads corporate collateral or other sales materials, you’ve captured a valuable lead. But downloading a White Paper is a long way off from being ready to purchase – especially when the purchase is a new technology infrastructure, which, frankly, is expensive enough to require a bit more information than “The Top 5 Ways to Leverage Managed IT Services.”.

No, a downloaded White Paper is not a green light for the “hard sell.” In fact, if I were an actual prospect for these companies, I would have felt overwhelmed. And I definitely wouldn’t have gone back onto their website – I felt like they were stalking me! Another website visit and they would be peeking in my bedroom window!

You need to nurture your leads – not bombard them with a free, no obligation consultation.

The ClientBridge article “5 Steps to Getting Started with Lead Nurturing” offers some very useful information on this technique. Setting up a lead nurturing strategy isn’t difficult, but having one in place is key to converting “cool” leads into “hot leads” and “hot leads” into customers.

I recently helped a new technology client develop a lead nurturing strategy; a series of emails, postcards and higher-end promotional items, distributed at specific “triggers” along the sales cycle. And while not every aspect can be 100% automated – you need a flexible strategy that can be custom tailored to address the needs of each unique lead – it can come pretty close to automation.

Holding off on the “hard sell” and opening an informative dialogue between your company and the lead might not have an immediate return on investment. But scaring them off with premature phone calls generates no return, so have some patience and put a lead nurturing strategy in place.

Categories : Marketing
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What’s your take on using QR codes in marketing? Because I feel like it’s a potentially very powerful technology that just hasn’t found a perfect fit in this industry.

For those of you who don’t know what a QR code is, here is Fast Company’s definition: a 2-D barcode that can be scanned by a smart phone’s camera and transfer information. Based on the type of code it is, it might direct the viewer to a website, make a phone call, deliver a vCard or more.

I scanned my first QR code today. It brought me to the company’s website, which I could have just as easily gotten to by typing in the URL manually. But it would have been lacking the inherent “cool” factor of the QR code.

While QR code technology is surely on the cutting edge, and I can identify about a million different marketing opportunities in which this technology could play an integral role, its viability has yet to make itself evident. According to New’N’Hot only 28% of people with a smart phone have scanned a QR code. But, there was a 1200% increase in scanning between July and December 2010.

So will there be a tipping point for the QR code? Will there be a point where QR code scanning catches fire and sets the marketing world ablaze? Is “being cool” reason enough to overthrow the regime of the printed URL?

If QR codes and scanners become more ubiquitous, then yes. If they are automatically built-in to smart phone cameras instead of being available only as an app, then yes again.

But until then, it’s a great technology to use if you’re targeting the right technologically savvy, younger audience. I don’t know if it will change the landscape of the marketing industry forever, but with the right creative minds behind it, it could change the landscape of the industry at least for today.

The Fast Company article “13 Creative Ways to Use QR Codes for Marketing” has some obvious and some not-so-obvious ways to make QR codes work for your business’s marketing plan, and it can also help you decide if QR code marketing is right for your business.

Remember when PDAs hit the market? It was a cool technology, and it sorta took off, but it was also an inconvenience since, at first, you still needed your separate phone and separate computer. Once the PDA was combined with the phone, the value of that technology became very clear.

Well, that’s what I am waiting for on the QR code. Maybe it will be marriage of the QR code to another emerging technology. Or maybe the QR code will evolve into something more viable. I see a lot of opportunity here, but there is always the threat that this technology will never be adopted by the masses. So, please, someone give us a reason to adopt!

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Cho·ddy [chah-dee]  noun: those formulaic commercials where celebrities and civilians stand in front of a bland background and advocate issues from starving children to chicken sandwiches.
This is the stopthechoddy.org definition of all that is wrong and evil in advertising. The Choddy.
If you still don’t understand what a Choddy is, watch this video on AdAge.com. This is stopthechoddy.org’s Choddy to stop Choddies. Get it?
I’ve been responsible for the development of a few Choddies, myself, ashamed as I am to admit it. But, like they say, admitting it is the first step towards change. And change is upon us.
It would be an understatement to describe Choddies as plentiful. They dominate the airwaves. They’re inexpensive to produce, easier to edit, and very straightforward. BMW is guilty of the Choddy. Taco Bell is guilty of the Choddy. Bank of America, Miracle Whip, Nike. Choddy, Choddy, Choddy.
But is overpopulation any reason to stop producing Choddies?
Apparently so.
But will they stop? I doubt it. Like I said, they’re inexpensive, easy to produce and straightforward. And, admit it, if the only other alternative is poorly edited and sadly uncinematic amateur video productions, taking our chances with the Choddy is the better of two evils.
There is a time and place for the Choddy. But that time is not now. Unless it really is the most effective creative direction for your brand and its message, get creative and find a videographic solution that will catch your audience off-guard.

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The environment at my office is such that, if my boss were to walk into my office to see that I was watching a YouTube video involving salami, electric guitars and a swimming pool, he’d probably ask me if he could watch, too.

But, still, if I’m checking my personal email, updating my Facebook status or, well, watching a YouTube video involving salami, electric guitars and a swimming pool, and I hear my boss working his way down the hall, I generally flip over to my email inbox. Or, if I’m feeling really crazy, I flip back to the work I was supposed to be doing in the first place.

Today, I was actually working on what I was supposed to be working on when I came across the “boss” tab. Go to www.buffalowildwings.com and look midway down the left-hand side of the site. There is a little tab that reads “BOSS.” When you roll over said tab, it reads “ALERT! Activate cloaking device.”

When you click said tab, it opens a half-empty (or maybe half-full?) Excel spreadsheet.

It took me a minute to understand the genius here. In fact, I thought it was a mistake on first glance. “Oh my God!” I said to the boss man, “The Buffalo Wild Wings site has a serious glitch!”

We quickly realized that it was a defense mechanism to protect against those bosses who don’t realize that the Internet is a giant yet necessary distraction.

We quickly fell in love, though if my boss walked in on me editing a scary-looking Excel spreadsheet he would probably be more confused than if he just saw me exploring the Buffalo Wild Wings site.

It’s nice to see a website feature that really accomplishes nothing more than being, just, really cool. I’m not being sarcastic, either. It seems that in today’s day and age, every component of every website is just another step in the sales cycle. But the value of a pointless-but-cool feature is that it gets people talking – it gets people sharing! – and doesn’t scare people off with a “hard sell” approach.

And if you think about it, most iPhone apps are pretty pointless. Apps like the Kissing Booth and Hang Time are cool. But completely and utterly useless.

Leo Burnett has a giant pencil you can use to draw on their website. I’ve seen sites that have images that interact with the position of the mouse as you navigate.

There are a whole slew of pointless websites with technologies that could easily migrate to anyone’s site. See the top 5 useless websites here.

The “BOSS” tab is cool. No more convenient than clicking on your Outlook icon, but cool nonetheless. Unfortunately for me my boss could care less about what’s on my monitor.

Or maybe that’s fortunate…

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I like French fries with Balsamic vinegar. I like them with Ketchup, too. So I can only assume I would like French fries with Heinz’s soon-to-be-released Limited Edition Balsamic Vinegar Ketchup.

There are only 1,000,057 bottles in existence. Get it, one million and FIFTY SEVEN bottles. Clever little devils.

But 3,000 samples are being released via the product’s Facebook page. “Like” their page “and all will be revealed.” Then, you have the option of paying a small sum of money for a sample. Read the BrandChannel.com article “Heinz Squeezes Smarts into Facebook” for more information on the F-commerce promotion.

A Facebook promotion both clever and compelling is rare. But if anyone was going to push so successfully for publicity and word-of-mouth, it would be Heinz. They have been highly-ranked for brand equity for almost 28-years, largely due to their ability to create buzz around their products.

The Facebook promotion has been a success so far – talk about people talking! Just one glance at their Facebook wall and it is beyond evident that the Limited Edition ketchup is a hit!

Even I’m excited for the release of the remaining 997,057 bottles! And I’m sure I’m not the only one.

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If you listen very closely, you’ll hear it – what your customers really want, that is. But hearing isn’t enough – you need to listen to, understand and address these “wants.”

The Small Business Branding article “5 Reasons a Listening Brand is Powerful” explains the benefits of actually listening to your consumers. It all makes sense, but I’d like to add a disclaimer to Reason #4: Not listening can lose you a job.

Delivering a service that, as the article describes, “is out of left field,” can leave your customers thinking, “Weren’t they listening??” A customer should never, ever, ever feel like that.

But, at the same time, companies are hired to perform services that the client does not have the expertise to carry out themselves. Some services, like replacing a furnace filter, are fairly black-and-white: it is hard to misinterpret a customer’s request when it comes to a services like this (though I’m sure it happens from time to time…)

Services like IT management and marketing, on the other hand, have some gray areas. Generally, companies know what their clients’ goals are, as well as the boundaries in which these goals need to be realized. But there is always more than one way to skin a cat.

For example, in marketing and advertising, we make suggestions based on goals and boundaries and restrictions and opportunities and feasible results. Clients have the final say in which marketing initiatives are put in place, and which ones are left on the cutting room floor.

The companies that recognize your expertise will often make only minor tweaks to your ideas before launching a plan. This is good – striking a delicate balance between your suggestions and the clients’ requests. Other companies, though they hired you based on your expertise, really just want a marketing company to implement their original ideas. These companies are the ones most likely to say, “Weren’t you listening??”

To avoid this, I like to show companies exactly what they requested. And a version that is what they SHOULD have requested.

Most times they choose exactly what they asked for. “And thanks for listening!” they say. But really, I want to scream, “Weren’t YOU listening??”

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Much to Howard Schultz’s dismay – he has asked his customers to “be kind” and “give it time” – Starbucks’ new Tribute campaign has (sadly) missed the mark.

I didn’t know that today was the coffee conglomerate’s 40th birthday when I walked in for my venti bold roast this morning. I rarely go to Starbucks anymore – the one near me has no drive-thru, and if I have to park and walk in, I’m gonna park and walk in to Flat Black for a real cuppa joe. But today I had a hankering for a trusty cup of Starbucks.

The new merchandising did catch my eye. I have been hearing about the anticipated Starbucks rebrand. The merchandising, which I’ve never had a problem with, looked clean and streamlined – much better organization, but no different than any re-merchandising that gets done at the start of a new season.  The new logo, meh, nothing crazy. It wasn’t like the Gap’s horribly misguided overhaul – this was more of a make-our-old-logo-new again facelift. More of a Pepsi thing.

To be totally honest, it looked nice. But not so nice that I was impressed enough to spend more than 15-seconds thinking about it.

To be totally honest, the signage that really impressed me was the point-of-purchase signage for Clover, a new brewing system in place at select Starbucks locations. It used die cuts and different media and just was a fantastic, high-end representation of a brand that wants to position itself as being “high-end.”

Unfortunately, today of all days was NOT the day to be outdone by Clover. In my inbox this morning was the BrandChannel.com article “Starbucks Turns 40 Today With New Look, Menu Items.”

I would NEVER have known about the new menu items – there was no word, no suggestions, no nothing. And trust me – I could have been sold on a Cake Pop (available in Birthday Cake, Rocky Road and Tiramisu…yum!). I would have NEVER known about almost all of the “newness,” except the updated packaging & merchandising. There was no signage or sales collateral in place whatsoever.

Que sera sera, I guess. But what really, deeply disappointed me was the Tribute commercial. Supposedly a tribute to the customer, it felt like a tribute to Starbucks, instead. Watch the commercial here.

I don’t know who the brad planner on the Starbucks account is, but there is just not even a dash of consumer insight at the base of this campaign. This campaign didn’t resonate with me – and it won’t resonate with many people because it doesn’t live at the intersection of the consumer and the brand. It’s well designed and clever, yes. Great music, too.

But to be frank, it didn’t make me feel special. It didn’t activate any sort of emotional connection with the Starbucks brand. And as someone who once religiously spent $2/day on drip coffee – as someone who worked at Starbucks for over five years! – I should have felt a connection at even a superficial level.

Starbucks. I was rooting for you. But this just proves that you have lost your identity. Find the people who love your brand and discover what it is that makes them choose you over McDonalds, or Dunks or Flat Black, even. Then, find a way to leverage those discoveries and communicate with us on a deeper level than “you’re important, now come spend money.”

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