Tuesday, July 31, 2007

When smaller works out to be something bigger

Jack Odell died last week.

Mr. Odell was a man I never met or never knew his name. But I knew his brand very well. In fact, I spent many afternoons as a kid with his products.

Jack Odell was founder and chief designer of Matchbox cars. He understood the connection between boys and cars - even at a young age. Every little boy I know loves cars. Toy cars are the perfect metaphor for rough and tumble tykes. Full of motion and noise, they glide through life, sometimes running into walls, often wiping out.

Though his Matchbox cars have been absorbed into the Hot Wheels brand, the legacy of his innovative concept lives on.

Both Hot Wheels and Matchbox brands work on so many levels, both conceptually and functionally. They are great toys for kids, and lend themselves perfectly to marketing, allowing a range of companies to provide designs for vehicles and car graphics alike (car companies actually provided plans to Matchbox in the early days to ensure accurate designs). They also work well to sell tracks and playsets (you need somewhere to drive all those cars, right?). And amid all of this possibility, they remain highly affordable, especially relative to other toys (you can still get the real thing for a buck).

So here’s to Jack Odell and his very impressive versatile miniature cars!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Putting the commune back in communicate

We all know the lion's share of communication is based on non-verbal signals. So, consider the implications of emails which are totally devoid of anything other than words. Given that, it would seem obvious to take extra care in considering the message of an email. Not only who you send it to, but also what you are sending takes on a heightened importance.

Beyond the potential for personal misunderstandings, did you ever stop to wonder about the ECONOMIC effects of bad email communication? How much time have you wasted each day reading emails that don't pertain to you? How many clarification emails did you have to send to get the right message?

A recent study done by consulting firm Best Practices linked electronic miscommunication to sales force productivity losses. (To read more, go to our homepage www.stinsonbrandinnovation.com and click the Pharmaceutical Executive widget; the article posted June 20.)

So, it's not only the time it takes to read excessive emails -- or even the miscommunication issues of a poorly worded message -- but also the lost opportunity for a real connection that comes from routine emailing.

The idea here is to develop a culture of contact. My Chicago office is an open one, and I encourage my employees to interact with each other more person-to-person. Why send an email when you can as easily pick up the phone? And why make a phone call when you can walk across the office? This culture extends to our clients as well to make a personal connection whenever possible. Call to personally verify the receipt of a package rather than relying on the automated package tracking. Congratulate your clients for important milestones or life events.

Thursday, July 26, 2007

Wired is putting your face where their cover is

Did you ever want to see your face on the cover of a magazine?

Wired Magazine offered 5,000 lucky subscribers the chance to do just that. Giving customers the ultimate narcissistic opportunity may be open for some social commentary, but the part of this that provides fodder for my brain is the innovative partnership between Wired and Xerox that makes the whole experiential stunt possible.

Just yesterday, we had about 15 of our staff in a training session in which we discussed a key element of our Forward. Fast.® model. This element was brand ASSOCIATION. In the case of the magazine cover promotion, it provides an opportunity for both Wired and Xerox to create some association with each other. The tactic links the two companies with a coolness factor neither could fully achieve alone. Plus, it can carry beyond this single project.

Both companies get to provide an example of a quality offering to customers. Xerox gets to showcase its newest uber-high tech press, and Wired gets to show their willingness to champion new technology.

Branding is scientific, but it is mostly emotional. Making the switch from simply brand memorability to higher brand loyalty is what our company strives to accomplish. Let’s keep this search for great associations going. Post your ideas, comments, questions.

In the meantime, create your own novelty Wired cover at www.wired.com/promo/xerox

Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Capitalizing on the power of group problem-solving

The concept of "swarm intelligence" refers to the ability of a group of individual creatures (such as ants or bees) to perform complicated problem solving using cues from each other. Individually, each member may be unintelligent. Yet as a group, they act with an intelligence that far exceeds that of each unit.

According to the July issue of National Geographic, scientists are studying the possibilities of swarm intelligence as applied to robotics or even human organizations.

The power of group thinking has been a known commodity for a long time, but the possibilities of systemizing the cues sent by individuals in a group to each other -- well, that could revolutionize the way we organize meetings, brainstorming sessions, or even focus groups.

We've developed our own version of swarm intelligence to help companies generate ideas, though we've found that a group size of eight individuals makes the most effective size. We have also developed a sort of cue system: a set of tools that accelerate idea generation and capture action steps. N-of-8® is our way of creating a hive with the target purpose of idea generation from the customer's point of view.

The next time you have ant guests at your picnic, think about the obstacles they had to overcome just to show up. How can the power of a group help you achieve your next goal?

Monday, July 23, 2007

Brand innovations of the past...

I came across these old brand innovations and thought you would enjoy...

Friday, July 20, 2007

Hey, look! My friend's band is featured as the artist of the day!

My friend Glenn Rischke's band, the Arks, is featured on Spin.com today as the artist of the day on Spin.com.

Thursday, July 19, 2007

Everybody gonna dance around tonight

Look......even the guy who helped create the modern era of music can stay open to the changing demands of the industry. I'm talking about Paul McCartney. He has remained a leader partly by being adaptive. And his latest album, Memory Almost Full, shows that the ex-Beatle is still rockin' at the head of his own pack.

But I am not speaking just of McCartney's musical innovation. In fact, I am referring more to the decision to release his album on iTunes and CD. The legendary musician also tied his star to Starbucks' new Hear Music label, breaking a 40-year relationship with EMI.

How might this move affect the future of the music industry? Well, it seems to mainly be a test for perhaps the most exciting thing to happen to music - the release of Beatles music for download. Would that be the signal for the start of a new era of music?

Now if they could just get Metallica to go download, we'd be set.

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

Not sure what killed it, but the radio star is dead

No one listens to the radio anymore. There are just too many other options available, and radio simply cannot compete.

It is long past time for the music industry to get the point, but perhaps the music industry itself is the problem. One of the benefits of modern technology is that the large-scale production capabilities of a big studio are not necessary. Garage bands can produce great quality, mixed music with a home computer and limited specialized setup equipment. And manufacturing CDs is cost effective for a home studio as well.

So the only thing lacking in the equation is the marketing and distribution.

And that is precisely where the innovation opportunities exist. Smart companies like Electronic Arts are tapping into this potential. They are bypassing the music labels and signing and promoting limited numbers of bands with breakout possibility. The medium for exposure? Video games.

Kids play video games. Video games need music. By linking the two and creating the potential to sell exclusive music through this innovative medium, Electronic Arts is tapping into a feature of our Forward. Fast.® tool. By linking the music with a popular game, they are creating a positive association. Kids like the game. Kids want the music from the game.

So maybe video games killed the radio star…

The first EA game to offer such information was "Madden NFL 2003," which featured new music by Bon Jovi, Good Charlotte and newcomers OK Go, whose single "Get Over It" owes much of its success to the popular football game.


Tuesday, July 17, 2007

A baby by any other name would smell as sweet… wouldn’t it?

Talk about niche marketing. The generation that has brought you soft-touch playgrounds has been driven by the most nervous parents on the planet. So scared that their children will get hurt, sick, made fun of, or held back in the world in some way, we are creating a neurotic environment that no one will be able to thrive in. If our kids don’t fall down and scrape their knees, how will they learn to be careful? If they don’t get picked on at school, how will they learn to get along in a world that, outside of their nursery environment, doesn’t cut much slack?

The latest pressure trend, which has been building for the past several years, is in the area of children’s names. According to the June 22 article “The Baby Name Business” in the Wall Street Journal, parents are reviewing countless books, utilizing online tools, researching social security name data, and even hiring naming consultants. All to ensure that their child has a name that leads them to success.

There is growing belief (I won’t say evidence or data) that a child’s name factors into how successful they will be in life. This is part based on statistical data of the names associated with successful people and part based on general name appeal.

From a marketing standpoint, I am a true believer in the power of a name to make a positive first impression. While ultimately a company’s performance is what gets linked to a particular name, there is a first impression factor that comes to bear. The specifics of a company’s name bring up emotional connotations, and those can be powerful tools to acquire a customer base or to reinvigorate existing clientele.

But should we really be marketing our kids in this way? And is all of this hyper attention to children’s names really effective? To me, it seems like the money, time, and energy would be better spent taking a class on how to teach your children to handle themselves.

Monday, July 16, 2007

Keeping up with the Jones’ isn’t what it used to be

Are we finally learning to proceed along our own individual path? Or are there simply too many new products to keep up with?

A survey I recently read in Brandweek showed that the percentages of individuals to whom it is important to keep up with the latest technological trends, fashions, and styles has shrunk compared to 1999 data.

What does this mean?

To me, I see a marketplace filled with diversity. This is a beautiful thing. But when change comes so fast that people are incapable of keeping up, keeping up ceases to appeal to most. Customers need time to absorb changes and to get comfortable with the new product or feature.

If you apply our Change Agent® tool to this boom in technology, fashion, and style trends, you can see why customers aren’t rushing out the door to stay at the cutting edge. The need/reason for change is not always clearly defined (do we need to watch TV on our phones?) and rewards for early adoption to the change is not readily obvious.

• Define the need/reason for change 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.

I guess the bottom line is that change takes some time to get used to. Remember that next time you are implementing a change in your organization or product line.

Friday, July 13, 2007

Candy sells kids and Dunkin’ wants them hooked early

Is it really in the best interest of society to attract teens into the Dunkin’ tribe? Using a fruity energy slush to get teen customers into Dunkin’ Donuts seems akin to Camel cigarettes using cartoons to hook kids on smoking.

With the latest attention on obesity and its link to numerous health-related issues, we are already hearing rumblings about tobacco-like legislation and litigation targeting fast food enablers like McDonald’s and Dunkin’.

Kids are already consuming too much sugar and exercising too little. Teens are already drinking all the carmelly, chocolatey, frozen, whipped creamy caffeinated goodness from Starbuck’s. Why are we pushing energy drinks on kids to begin with? Don’t kids already have too much energy? I fear we are setting up a buzz generation that can’t get out of bed without their morning java.

Maybe it is an example of good marketing to create brand loyalists when they are young, but linking loyalty with substances that have addictive properties just scares me.

Thursday, July 12, 2007

Dialing down with Dial to clean up the message

You’ve gotta give your customers a product they want. This may seem like a no-brainer, but this concept sometimes seems like an elusive one in the marketing world. Relying on the field of dreams mentality (if you build it, they will come) simply doesn’t work.

Take soap. It gets you clean. Everyone needs to be clean. Simple, right? But it is not enough to be that general. How can this product become innovative and reach a specific audience? First it was the battle between bar soap and liquid. Now it has come down to targeting health-conscious and clean-conscious women and men.

Dial for Men has already been a popular line, and now they are marketing a hydrating scrub version (that’s exfoliating to those of you who don’t speak “guy-talk”). The strategy Dial took for this line was to find some specific features that men wanted in their soaps. It seems like a novel concept to actually talk to the customers, especially about a product as basic as soap, but the truth is there are numerous nuances to the soap decision.

Dialing down the message to target a specific person (in Dial’s case finding out what men are looking for in their soap) is exactly what our Persona model does. You put a face with the brand, and get very specific for the audience.

Marketing is communication, and the better you speak the language of your audience, the more effective you will be.

Wednesday, July 11, 2007

Making a difficult thing just a little bit easier

We’ve come to expect a certain lack of control and a certain discomfort when it comes to flying these days. What with Amber Alerts, quart size zipper bags, and security check points, not to mention endless lines, limited seating, and tedious delays, it is a wonder we still patronize airlines. But it is what it is, and despite the lack of comfort, it beats driving.

Delta is working on changing all that, though, to the tune of examining the entire travel experience and taking suggestions for things to change (check out delta.com/change to pitch your new idea, or leave me a comment and I’ll send it along).

Can gourmet cocktails and HBO in the seatback make that much of a difference? And will these new frills mean higher fares? It seems to me that most airlines already offer First Class. Is Delta planning to expand that level of service to all tickets?

It is an exciting time to watch airlines. With the challenge of making (and keeping) customers happy amid all of the inherent problems and rising prices, it is good to see someone taking a stab at real change.

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Which came first, the iPod or the marketing?

As a big fan of Apple, I’m yet again impressed with their marketing savvy. Steve Jobs’ has managed to keep his company ahead of the ever-intensive technology curve, and the latest offering from the company that brought us the Apple/PC commercials is the iPhone.

So what is this miraculous new device from Apple? And why does Apple seem to be able to offer the same functionality that other products offer in a package that people devour with voracious appetites?

One of the secrets to Apple’s success can be summed up with our Evangelist Effect® tool. The effect turns users of the products into mouthpieces touting the benefits of the product. By generating a buzz surrounding a product, the users themselves do the marketing. The Evangelist Effect(R) results in:
• Increased credibility of messages because they are delivered by experts, friends, or news media
• Strong two-way connectivity as evangelists share information using new tools and technology
• Increased brand "market" and "emotional" share

For example, the iPod is not the only portable music player around. It doesn’t do anything that other media players don’t. But what do you see everyone listening to on the street? And that presence becomes self-perpetuating marketing. Because everyone has one, everyone wants one. Because everyone wants one, everyone has to have one.

Although the iPhone offers essentially the same functionality as a host of other devices, it seems to already be seeing the benefits of word-of-mouth buzz. It remains to be seen if the product will catch fire like the iPod, but it seems to be positioned to do just that.

Monday, July 09, 2007

Breaking into banking the Wal-Mart way

Did Wal-Mart beat Bank of America to the punch? Maybe the retail giant is the one who is going to innovate banking first. The June 20 issue of Business Week includes a story by Pallavi Gogoi about Wal-Mart’s entry into the banking category. Competitors don’t like it, of course (who wants to compete against Wal-Mart?) but industry experts think it might just add something new to banking.

Mostly the offerings look like the same services you can get from check cashing companies and wiring services. From Wal-Mart’s perspective, this is good for their bottom line – it allows them to sell more to the same customer base as these are services a large portion of their customers are already buying elsewhere.

The lesson here is one of enhancing your offerings. Finding what your customers are already using and then finding a way to offer the same service with more efficiency and at a better price than your competitors is a great way to increase your own value.

I’m not saying Wal-Mart is going to change the way we do our banking, but they do seem to be shaking things up a bit.

Friday, July 06, 2007

Seeking innovation in the wisdom of the past

They don’t make them like they used to. Well, the trend to do it like they used to is coming back. We are entering a phase where it is becoming trendy to look to the past for a glance at the future. Call it nostalgia, retro, or whatever else, but companies are realizing that in some cases the old ways are still the best ways.

I tried out an innovative concept in tea the other day – Mighty Leaf Tea. Why are they innovative? What can tea do differently? It is leaves in hot water, right? The secret to this innovation is going back to an artisanal concept for tea-making. Instead of shredding the tea leaves, which produces something tea-makers call “dust” (bad for tea), Mighty Leaf uses whole tea leaves.

What is really interesting about this tea, though, is the package design. First, due to the larger size of the tea contents, the package really makes itself a presence in your cupboard. By being bigger, they increase the chance of consumption. The greatest thing about this package is in the way it folds together. It combines graphic presence with shape and some ingeniously placed (and curved) folds to fold together in a three dimensional design that seals with a tab – reminiscent of the classic paper folding method of origami.

It is both simple and complex, and creates something that is functional and elegant. Like with origami and tea, great innovation can sometimes be found by getting back to the raw essence of a thing.

Thursday, July 05, 2007

Tales from a Traveling Innovator, Tuesday, July 3

The following entries are a collection of some notes from my drive from Chicago to Boise...

Usually my rule about driving (and life for that matter) is that you don’t turn back. But this afternoon, we made an exception – and I’m sure glad we did.

After seeing all these towns along I-84 with the name “Falls”, we kept wondering why we saw no water falls. Where are the falls?

So at the Sinclair gas station we asked, and they said there was an incredible view in Twin Falls, just off the interstate. So we backtracked about 10 miles to discover the gorgeous Snake River Canyon.

We came upon the Perrine Bridge, which the only manmade structure in the US from which BASE jumping is allowed year-round without a permit. And just as we arrived, five jumping enthusiasts were preparing. They set up sort of a diving board over the side of the bridge (which they called Potato Bridge). Then, just literally jump off. With our amateur camera, we captured the few seconds as best we could. Read more about BASE jumping, including what B-A-S-E stands for, at http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/BASE_jumping

Now, as Paul Harvey says……here’s the rest of the story.

To the east, along the south rim of the canyon, lies the dirt ramp used by Evel Knievel when he unsuccessfully attempted to jump the canyon on his motorcycle in 1974. If this brought back some great memories, then click http://www.evelknievel.com/bio.html

Tuesday, July 03, 2007

Tales from a Traveling Innovator, Monday, July 2

The following entries are a collection of some notes from my drive from Chicago to Boise...

Well, we’re on day 4 in the car. While we haven’t had any meltdowns yet, we are definitely “ready to be there.” When you see a sign that says Boise is only 118, a sigh of relief comes. Plus, the speed limit has been 75 mph for most of four states, so we’re really movin’.

We’ve had some great gourmet meals on the trip – since with Fremont we could not go inside any place to eat. Only the finest McDonald’s chicken strips, Dairy Queen burgers, and Sonic Drive-In. Even though it was on special, we just couldn’t imagine eating the Extra Long Cheese Coney in the car.

Wow, dinosaur branding is not extinct yet, huh. This is the third example I’ve seen lately. We have Bronto, the email blast service (does that mean big and slow). There’s the dino bone sculpture in the United terminal B (clearly the symbol of a dying airline). And now I see Sinclair gas stations are not dead yet. How ironic to see them on a cross-country road trip, because I remember them from our family station wagon trips in the early ‘70s. You know, when gas was about 25 cents and thought the OPEC countries were ripping us off.

Monday, July 02, 2007

Tales from a Traveling Innovator: Sunday, July 1

The following entries are a collection of some notes from my drive from Chicago to Boise...

Patriotism nearly overwhelms you as you approach Mt. Rushmore, especially the week of July 4th. It’s bigger than I expected, not to mention more accessible and visible. Read more about this national monument at http://www.nps.gov/archive/moru/park_history/carving_hist/carving_history.htm

The story of the sculptor is even more inspiring. (When you think this job of “brand innovating” is tough, read this.

The thrill of a driving trip outside the confines of the city and the flatlands of the Midwest. Here’s a couple of highway features we don’t see much: sharp curves and a tunnel.

It may cliché to say that “pictures don’t do it justice.” But the mountains, lakes, rivers, and trees of Yellowstone are indescribable. Artists and photographers better than us have tried to capture it. John Steinbeck attempted it in his travelogue “Travels with Charley.” So in my travels with Fremont, we simply tried to take it all in.

Tales from a Traveling Innovator: Saturday, June 30

The following entries are a collection of some notes from my drive from Chicago to Boise...

It used to be that every little town had a “welcome to…” sign with all the Lions and Rotary clubs meeting times posted. Now, if you don’t have a big granite block and a statue, you can’t even be called a real town.

We also crossed over the biggest brand of rivers: the mighty Mississipp. However, being from Louisiana, we did find this to be a rather small version of the great river. But maybe this is like our company – starting small and growing as we get in the flow.

Highway 61 Revisited. After seeing this sign and realizing we were in his homestate, we plugged in the iPod and listened to Bob Dylan a while. How many highways can you name that are featured in songs? Reply by posting a comment below.

What would a great car vacation be without stopping at the tourist traps. The Spam Museum in Austin, MN pays tribute to the greatest brand of…of…of…whatever Spam is. And the Corn Palace in Mitchell, SD is the World's only building covered with Corn. “An outstanding structure which stands as a tribute to the agricultural heritage of South Dakota.”

All across southern Minnesota we saw these huge wind power generators. Some were operating. Many more were being erected. And we even saw some propellers being carried by truck to their cornfield home. With as much wind there is across the plain States, I wondered why Illinois, Wisconsin, South Dakota, and Wyoming don’t have more wind power.

The Badlands of South Dakota are surreal. One minute you’re driving through grassy prairies, then all of a sudden the terrain looks like Mars. It’s definitely a scene out of Star Trek or Star Wars. Two thoughts: 1) if they did fake the moon landing, they could’ve done it here; and 2) if the aliens ever picked a place to land, they’d feel right at home here.

Custer State Park is just west of Rapid City. We really enjoyed the wildlife and gorgeous views. The burros walked right up to the car (probably because people feed them potato chips; can’t they read the signs). We experienced a HERD of buffalo, including dozens of young calves. It was a scene from “Dances With Wolves”. Big horn sheep were sitting just a few feet from the road. And we saw the biggest rainbow – an entire arc over the whole sky.

Tales from a Traveling Innovator: Friday, June 29

The following entries are a collection of some notes from my drive from Chicago to Boise...

Starting out the cross-country trip on the Illinois Tollway. I think the I-Pass is a great idea that could be made even better. What if you could use it to make purchases at the oasis – like gas, food, snacks?

Sometimes you feel like a nut, and sometimes you feel like a lot of nuts. But I really don’t think almonds belong in a Snickers bar. What do you think? – post a comment below.

Listening to the radio as we drive, and we find Delilah. With all the negative buzz about Howard Stern, Don Imus, and Rush Limbaugh, it’s easy to forget that Delilah has ruled the nighttime airwaves with positive messages. And she is everywhere. Quite an enduring brand of radio.