Friday, June 29, 2007

For those of you who think Martians are controlling the airwaves

The Register, an online news source based in the United Kingdom, recently ran a story about a Mars mission reality show being produced. The show will pit a crew of six against 500 days in a sealed simulation environment meant to duplicate the conditions of a real mission to Mars. This sounds like Survivor meets Big Brother with a sci-fi twist.

So where is the innovation in this? How does a television show get props for making a difference? The idea to leverage something that is immensely popular, i.e. reality shows, into something meaningful, i.e. scientific research on what might be the next big human endeavor is sheer brilliance.

If this project, funded largely by the European Space Agency, can skate the razor-thin line between entertainment and value, they will have the opportunity to learn a great deal of valuable information.

Thursday, June 28, 2007

How mighty is the pen? Part 2

To answer some of the questions I posed in yesterday’s blog, I located a specific example of a good use of the pen as a convenience device. The June 5, 2007 Wall Street Journal article “Insulin Pens Go Sleek, With Options” by Avery Johnson goes into details about the use of the insulin pen for diabetics. Interestingly, these pens are not as widely used in the United States as they are in Great Britain.

As we explored yesterday, pens and the fast food society of America go hand in hand. So why the American reliance on tried and true needles and vials instead of the more easy to carry/easy to use insulin pens? Are we less adventurous when it comes to early adoption of new medical technology than the British?

I think the bottom line for why insulin pens were slow to catch on with Americans comes down to options. We are open to trying new ideas as long as the new idea adds something to the equation. If we can get the same results without changing, we are less likely to try the new thing.

When attempting to make a product switch such as this, it can be helpful to consult our Change Agent® tool, which will:
• Define the need/reason for chnge and Relevance for key internal and external audiences
• Create communications strategy, timetable, messages, measurements and tools
• Delineate Risks, Roadblocks, and Rewards
• Mentor managers through the current change event and prepare them for the next
• Train and motivate audiences to embrace and execute their specific change event responsibilities, and
• Prepare for new change opportunities

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

How mighty is the pen? Part 1

The May 7, 2007 Brandweek article “Pen Proving to Be Mighty For Brands, Consumers” by Constantine von Hoffman explores the rise of the pen as a packaging/delivery system. Because we are so on the go, the pen seems to be a pretty useful a vehicle as a convenience device.

Pens are highly portable. They are small, easy to use, and travel well. Clorox has recently begun marketing a bleach pen, a convenient way to wipe away the stains while you are on the go. But is this what things have come to? Are we so engaged with our lives that we can’t stop to do the laundry? What’s next, water that turns our sweat into detergent?

Is this fascination with pens as a marketing device being responsive to consumers’ wants and needs? Or is this product innovation, leading customer attitudes by analyzing their lifestyles? Is this type of product a good idea or an example of doing something just because we can?

America has become a fast food society. As marketers, we need to recognize that, and keep in mind the needs of the customer. At the same time, pandering to bad habits may not be the best way to go. I think the concept of convenience is highly responsive, but I fear some of the specific applications.

Monday, June 25, 2007

If you know who to talk to, a whisper in the ear can be heard more clearly than a shout across the room

I got a postcard in the mail the other day advertising the direct mail capabilities of the US Post Office. It raised an intriguing thought: with the demise of the 30 second commercial to the internet and other new media formats, what place does direct mail even have?

Advertisers are faced these days with a difficult situation. It seems audiences have shorter and shorter attention spans, and this is coupled with a market saturation of advertising. Everywhere we turn, we see ads. Even in our recreation, now, we get bombarded. Stadiums are sponsored by companies, commercials take up as much time on television as the shows do, and even at the movies we are assaulted with not only product placement but outright advertisement mixed in with the previews.

We’ve taken a look at direct, and found that it works better. A couple of additional factors play in. Where it is coming from matters, for example. People are much more likely to react positively if they know the source, whether that is a particular brand that they trust or even better a specific person they already have a connection to.

The more specific you can get with your target, the higher your response rate. The key is to make a connection, rather than trying to disrupt what is going on around you. Using our C.H.E.M.® tool, we strive to make that connection by presenting an honest message in an easy format that motivates the target audience.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Seizing not only the day, but also a position

“Drinking with a purpose” is their product slogan, and they have created an entire cultural connection to their niche audience. From the makers of Red Bull comes the drink that claims to combine “Naturalness, functionality and drinking pleasure” into the beverage they call Carpe Diem.

So how does a company that made a product seemingly impossible to market through traditional means come up with such a concept? Red Bull, an energy drink famed for its word-of-mouth, buzz (no pun intended) marketing, has designed a completely new concept for Carpe Diem.

According to their website,, “the beverages of Carpe Diem are based on traditional methods of preparation and knowledge that is thousands of years old.” They even taste pretty good, too. But at 170 calories a bottle, they are not exactly in the diet category.

The trick Carpe Diem is employing is targeting a very specific niche. Like in our Persona® tool, where demographics go above and beyond to target specific customer characteristics, putting a face to the customer, Carpe Diem has nailed the potential consumers of this beverage and focused their distribution accordingly. Rather than selling the product through convenience stores as they do with Red Bull, Carpe Diem is being distributed through specialty stores such as Whole Foods, the home of the niche of products that are good for you but not necessarily diety.

By scrolling through their site, it is easy to see that they are connecting to a particular customer. They have selected a niche that should be pretty receptive to this particular product. They have seen the face of their customer, and they are exercising their marketing dollars to speak as directly as possible to that customer.

Looks like Carpe Diem is positioned to seize their share of the beverage market.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

Creativity comes in packs of eight

Thinking is one thing, but action is something else altogether. What if there was a method that turned the ideas in a group’s heads into a forward-reaching directive?

No Ideas? You’re Not Alone, by Justin Ewers in the June 14, 2007 issue of US News and World Report got me to thinking about the issue of idea generation. I work in a creative industry. Ideas are my bread and butter. They are also collaborative things, and getting more minds working on a problem exponentially increases the number of ideas that can be generated.

But ideas are just ideas without a method to capture them and channel them into action steps. Which is exactly what our N-of-8® tool does. By gently directing the flow of idea generation (without stifling it) and continually keeping the process moving towards a specific goal, N-of-8® taps into the power of group thinking and turns it into progress.

The tool also carefully utilizes a couple of key boundaries that are ideal – a group size of 8, with participants who respect each others expertise (and differences), and an optimum timeframe to create productive group interaction.

The next time you are trying to come up with some new ideas, try grabbing a friend or two. More isn’t always better, but it sure does help.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should

We have already moved to a point where we never leave our phones behind. We have created cell phones that allow us to answer emails when we are not at the office or home. We can even surf the internet without leaving the palm of our hands. Now we are moving to taking our entertainment with us as well – television on our cell phones is simply going too far.

I think the image of Sponge Bob on a Motorola phone says it all: we have moved to a level of disruption in marketing that has breached the wall of good sense.

Imagine a crowded restaurant. The noise level causes you to raise your voice to be heard, which in turn causes those around you to do the same. The resulting cacophony is an environment which is not conducive to group communication. Raising your voice above the din of the crowd is not only impossible, but it is not advisable.

So, when considering your media options, you might use our C.H.E.M. tool:
• Connecting -- fit in their world, not try to disrupt it
• Honest -- utilize your best data, not distort it
• Easy -- simplify communications, not make it more difficult
• Motivating -- show customers how to take action, not demand it

We have the technology available to walk around with our lives in our pockets. I think we’d find the world a better place to live in if just because we can didn’t mean we did.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Banking could be in line to get its morning cup of java

Bank of America announced recently that they have hired Anne Saunders as brand and advertising executive. Saunders was previously senior vice president of brand strategy at Starbucks, which raises an interesting question: can Bank of America do for banking what Starbucks did for the coffee experience?

What was the latest innovation in banking? Online bill pay? Drive thru ATMs?

Starbucks has taken the concept of having a morning coffee, merged it with the popular trend of European gourmet coffee and espresso, and melded the two into a ritual akin to Sunday church. The simple act of starting one’s day with a cup of java is taken to an experiential level, and in the process of creating this ritual, Starbucks created loyalty.

Going beyond that created loyalty, the company itself has created a company culture in support of providing customers a unique and pleasant experience. One could argue that they homogenized what is essentially an artisanal product, but what they created was a consistency that customers can count on. Walk into any Starbucks in any state of the union, and you can rest assured you will experience the same thing.

Banking is largely the same wherever you go as well, but in this case, that experience is nothing to write home about. Will Saunders add a bit of Starbucks to banking? It could sure use the pick-me-up.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Spoonful of sugar helps the medicine go down, especially if it’s Domino® sugar.

In the ever-challenging bid to help patients take their life-saving prescription medications, drug makers are turning to fruity flavors. While making these drugs palatable has some problematic issues, why not add branding to the draw of the flavor and market the drugs in conjunction with famous flavor brands such as Sunkist, Jamba Juice, and even Godiva, Hershey’s, or Starbucks?

In the May14, 2007 issue of Brandweek, author Jim Edwards discusses the company Flavor X, which “produces 42 flavorings that in-store pharmacists can add to liquid medicines if patients can’t stomach the taste of their prescriptions.” The idea of adding flavoring to ensure medicines are taken is a good one, but why not take it a step further?

It comes down to Brand Associations and Likeability, as applied using our Forward. Fast.® model. Orange is a good flavor, but Sunkist Orange as a more effective association. Bubble gum flavor is attractive to kids, but Hubba Bubba Bubble Gum has a greater Likeability. Even if the flavors are the same, adding the brand association to the flavor itself brings something to the table and adds to the Quality Offering.

So maybe I am giving away a million-dollar idea, here, but it seems to me that associating flavors with brands would make drugs even more palatable than using flavors alone.

Starbucks Caramel Macchiato flavored aspirin, anyone?