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Innovations, Driven by a Monotony of Marketing

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

My job affords me a luxury. I have tremendous gratitude for the things I have learned over the years as we have led cross-industry brand initiatives for some of the world’s leading organizations. But at times, all it takes is a long walk in the city to observe new ideas. Considering this blog, which was intended to reflect the current culture or a snapshot of contemporary marketing, I’m seeing that there are many varied items of interest emerging lately — perhaps appropriate to the disruptive, seemingly haphazard business and communications climate we live in. I’ll share a brief note here that relates to a compelling trend I’m noticing on the streets of New York.

The User Experience
I don’t think it would be an irresponsible statement to say that a lot of consultants base advice to clients on their own perceptions as a customer. I do it. I’m human. I see advertisements, retail merchandising, integrated marketing, and digital or traditional direct campaigns, and I see and how effective — or at times, how ineffective — a particular practice can be.

IMG_20140905_162443Lately, I see great examples of innovation in marketing. Take my stroll down Columbus Avenue last weekend, where I stumbled upon an interactive experience in real estate outside the offices of Halstead, a real estate broker in New York. The touch screen display offers profiles of new properties available to anyone casually passing by. That’s west side Manhattan, but on the east side, the Halstead experience has a counterpart that is perhaps even more novel: The cupcake ATM at Sprinkles. Yes, I wrote cupcakes — available to pedestrians in an automatic, street-facing display. Each cupcake costs $4.25 and buyers can choose from among red velvet, cinnamon sugar, Cuban coffee, and banana dark chocolate. Served in a small pink and brown box, cupcakes are available at the ATM on a 24/7 basis, and replenished throughout the day by bakers inside the store.

What’s driving these types of experiential marketing innovations? Well, one explanation is that technological advancements over the last 25 years have created a mind-numbing, geometric growth in channels to reach the consumer. As a result, it all means less, and along with desensitized consumers comes more noise — or a different kind of noise. In brief, the constant drone of a billion messages across a billion microchannels is pushing marketers to discover to new ways to share their message.

The people who develop and activate brands realized that in order to be heard and seen, they have no choice but to create experiences that are disruptive, ways to engage weary customers with arresting and novel ideas. That provocative headline, offer for “free” or “discounted” product, those reward programs and that daring (is it even legal?) photograph? It’s no longer enough. Now, we need cupcakes dispensed to our waiting, sugar-deprived hands on the street — which, will also create a social buzz and gain lots of earned media to build the brand. In the weeks and months to come, look for this trend to get even greater traction. The digital marketing experience, in my opinion, has failed on many fronts to truly engage and earn loyal customers. Technology presents marketers with a new playing ground and new opportunities, but we have yet to tap the vast possibilities to engage, inform, and inspire consumers. But interactive pictures of houses listed for sale, and cupcakes dispensed on the street? Now, that’s a beginning.

IMG-20140831-00844The fall is an inspirational time and I have folders with dozens of clipped articles and saved links to share, so I’ll be updating this blog frequently. We also have a flurry of new prospects and leads in the hopper that are yielding interesting dilemmas and challenges for our clients, and our A-team of professionals. Is it possible to make a compelling print magazine that appeals to that ever-elusive Millennial? Are eBooks a thing of the past, or have they simply not been marketed well enough? What’s the best way to pique the interest of the affluent patriarch, or how can one best engage the corporate attorney? Solving these and other questions is a large part of my job, and I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

As part-hobby, I’ve also been photographing another trend in what once would have been called guerrilla marketing, and which now I suppose we can call experiential retail: A review of outrageous food trucks, which I’ll share in a future blog.

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90 days, and counting

Monday, August 25th, 2014

HEUER-STOP-WATCH-STH810As of today, we have precisely 90 business days left until 2015. In addition to fall being “back to school” season, it’s also “getting back to business” time as we begin the sprint to year-end and the promise of the new year ahead.

Bear Bryant famously said, “It’s not the will to win that matters. . . everyone has that. It’s the will to prepare to win that matters.”

It’s difficult to understand any company being satisfied with the status quo of their business. By now, many of us have learned that this isn’t exactly the age for complacency. The climate is volatile and shifting rapidly; every business market is disruptive and unpredictable. Things change and new opportunities — and challenges — arise. For the marketing industry, it’s the globalization of labor, but also the digital revolution, which has created thousands of new micro channels through which we build brands.

As confusing as it is, this is definitely not the time to wait it out on the sideline, or feel content with traditional practices. If anything, there’s an urgent need to assess the organizational plan, tighten or sharpen all messaging, and better define the most appropriate channels.

At our offices, we are in meeting several times each week to better understand the behaviors of buyers in those markets where our clients work, as well as the ones where we work. We ask, “What changes to value are driving their emerging needs, and how to be positioned more effectively to serve those needs?” It’s about practical, tangible business results more than it ever has been.

On the client side, it can be a daring, brave gesture for any leader in any organization to raise their hand and suggest that the brand can be challenged, that the modus operandi of marketing operations can be better. The inaction, however, is definitely the greater evil.

What actions can you take now to prepare to take your organization further, grow your business, and seize emerging opportunities in the market? How can you improve the performance of your brand and communications? What would empower you to compete more effectively than you have in previous years?

You can make 2015 as successful as you wish. All it takes is a commitment to make smart decisions, work hard, and build your brand with clear and compelling messaging that conveys your value proposition.

IridiumGroup can help your organization define the obstacles, set goals, develop your strategy, and create a strategic marketing and communications plan that will lead to a successful platform for your brand. Together, we can develop the tactical tools to engage and activate new business opportunities to enable positive change for your organization.

Some of our most successful clients have taken those steps; others are working to position themselves to capture emerging opportunities. There’s no time like the present for you to get started. Visit our website to learn more, or contact me to discuss how we can collaborate on your behalf – and make the most of the 90 days ahead.

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Game On: Influencing Behaviors

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

high-tech-lures-01-0413-lgnThe weekend edition of The Wall Street Journal features an article titled, “Traponomics.” It’s a fascinating essay, adapted from the book to be published, “Think like a Freak,” by Steven Levitt and Stephen Dubner (of “Freakonomics” and “Superfreakonomics” fame).

The title is unfortunate, given the potentially constructive power of thinking shared in the article. While it does not mention the words marketing or branding anywhere, the premise is founded on human behavior and economic “game theory.” As a model to explain the idea, the writers use examples of forecasting potentially destructive actions, or sorting through cheating, or lying, behaviors. The same predictive analytics and modeling could be used to encourage positive actions, like volunteerism, or donating for a good cause — and yes, purchasing products.

Incentivization is nothing new to marketing, but consider the somewhat indirect — even Machiavellian — way that it takes place according to this article:

David Lee Roth
By the early 1980s, Van Halen had become one of the biggest rock bands in history. Their touring contract carried a 53-page rider that laid out technical and security specs as well as food and beverage requirements. The “Munchies” section demanded potato chips, nuts, pretzels and “M&M’s (WARNING: ABSOLUTELY NO BROWN ONES).”

When the M&M clause found its way into the press, it seemed like a typical case of rock-star excess, of the band “being abusive of others simply because we could,” Mr. Roth said. But, he explained, “the reality is quite different.”

Van Halen’s live show boasted a colossal stage, booming audio and spectacular lighting. All this required a great deal of structural support, electrical power and the like. Thus the 53-page rider, which gave point-by-point instructions to ensure that no one got killed by a collapsing stage or a short-circuiting light tower. But how could Van Halen be sure that the local promoter in each city had read the whole thing and done everything properly?

Cue the brown M&M’s. As Roth tells it, he would immediately go backstage to check out the bowl of M&M’s. If he saw brown ones, he knew the promoter hadn’t read the rider carefully—and that “we had to do a serious line check” to make sure that the more important details hadn’t been botched either.

From biblical references of King Solomon, to employee orientation at the company, Zappos, to Middle Age judicial systems, this article goes into case after case to demonstrate how one can devise a “self-weeding garden.” Or in other words, how to create situations to our benefit through subversive planning.

Another example refers to the work of Dr. Cormac Herley, a computer scientist at Microsoft, who sought to understand the dynamics behind the ubiquitous Nigerian email fraud. Why, he wondered, would scammers in Nigeria always refer to Nigeria in their offers, when the world is so completely saturated with the scam, immersed many times over with the email experience and subject line, “Your Assistance Needed.”

All marketers are aware of the cost to earn new customers. There’s always a cost metric that takes into account the investment over time to solicit new, loyal customers from among a larger universe of broadly defined prospects. In the realm of surveying and speculation, the article refers to this as sifting out false positives.

As it turns out, even scammers have a cost-to-benefit analysis to consider. The Internet may serve as a low-cost environment to spam millions, but as soon as those hooks are cast, the ones that take the bait require time and attention — a cost to lure them further. So how can a Nigerian scammer minimize his false positives?

Nigerian Internet Scam
Dr. Herley, while modeling this question, identified the most valuable characteristic in a potential victim: gullibility. Who else but a supremely gullible person would send thousands of dollars to a faraway stranger based on a kooky letter?

But how can a Nigerian scammer tell who is gullible and who isn’t? He can’t. Gullibility is, in this case, an unobservable trait. But the scammer could invite the gullible people to reveal themselves.

How? By sending out such a ridiculous letter—including prominent mentions of Nigeria—that only a gullible person would take it seriously. Anyone with an ounce of sense or experience would immediately trash the email. “The scammer wants to find the guy who hasn’t heard of it,” Dr. Herley says. “Anybody who doesn’t fall off their chair laughing is exactly who he wants to talk to.” Here’s how Dr. Herley put it in a research paper: “The goal of the e-mail is not so much to attract viable users as to repel the nonviable ones, who greatly outnumber them.”

There is yet another example that I think is brilliant, which refers to a trick that Zappos actually devised as a way to ensure that they have made the right hires. It involves an offer to pay a bonus of $2,000 to new employees who have just completed their training — if they simply quit the company and agree to an exit interview. It’s a sorting process. The ones that do leave the company provide the confidence needed by management that the ones who are left have a deeper commitment to their new roles at Zappos.

Smart? Without question. Sneaky? Perhaps, but when applied with the right intentions, game theory would seem to be a vastly untapped methodology to achieve results for all kinds of successful business initiatives and even philanthropic, socially redeeming goals.

How to Trick the Guilty and Gullible into Revealing Themselves

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Branding America

Thursday, May 1st, 2014

made-america-logoThere’s been a lot published about the U.S. trade agreements lately, about the growing deficit in U.S. trade with other countries. President Obama realized a setback in Tokyo with the Trans-Pacific Partnership when Japan failed to commit to opening its markets in rice, beef, pork and poultry.

At the same time, McKinsey Global Institute (the think tank within McKinsey Consulting) just published a report that the view of global trade changes that we all have — cheap manufacturing in Asian countries landing on store shelves at Walmart, at the expense of more manufacturing jobs in the U.S. — is not exactly correct. According to Susan Lund, an author of the report, that image is less and less relevant with each passing year.  “In fact, the growing and larger share of global trade right now is about knowledge-intensive goods and services,” said Lund.

Growth in Global Trade Is in Ideas, Not Stuff

The report apparently details the full range of “global flows” which reflect interconnections of any type around the world. This means that it looks not only at the trade in goods and services, but also the flow of currency among countries, as well as information being shared through digital channels.

According to The New York Times, “What it shows is a world in which the fastest-growing forms of interconnection are not the ones that fit a lot of those preconceptions.”

In a recent opinion piece authored by the editors at The Times, the Obama administration and the U.S. should learn lessons from the North American Free Trade Agreement and use that knowledge to forge better agreements in the future.

This Time, Get Global Trade Right

Our country has lost about 5 million manufacturing jobs over the last 20 years, even as we all embrace the benefits of outsourced jobs through less expensive products. As we move more deeply into a truly globalized economy, it’s clear that we are truly ambivalent about the process and results. We lose jobs, and wages are much lower now as we work to compete with labor in other countries. But we also understand that we can reap tremendous benefits, especially if the U.S. is able to equitably manage the ratio of imports to exports, opening up new markets for goods, services — and yes, ideas and information — created here.

It has me thinking: How would my industry make a significant contribution to the epic, Goliath-proportioned challenge of trade for our country? It seems apparent that the U.S. is not at all well liked in some countries, and for reasons that require no research. A history of imperialism, military aggression, and a strong sense of nationalism has created a deeply entrenched image problem that no American company or industry could possibly weather.

★★★ We can talk all we want about putting America back to work, but no one will see much change until we manage to build a desire for what we make here. It’s a global economy, and our goods are not getting the best store placement.

It starts with creating a desire to want American things. What are the opportunities to correct global perceptions of the U.S.? Also, what can we build on, as we aim to package brands for products created in the U.S.? One can easily imagine a consortium of leading advertising, branding, and marketing companies playing a role to define and solve the problem. Like any large scale branding initiative, the methodology is the same: Baseline performance. Architect a global scale of research that would inform and guide the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and threats to U.S. brands. Execute and implement a system of solutions. To rally a strong sense of support, I would even create an internal label and communications to share the goal of the work, the importance of its success, the critical need for everyone to pitch in, back our nation as one collective interest, determined to make our own goods, services, and information all desirable in other economies.

How does all this get paid for? Simple. The U.S. Federal government is one source, of course. The other is an incentivized program for funding through industry associations who represent these trades. The American public and U.S. based businesses would also respond in an unprecedented way, given the opportunity.

A recent article even illustrated how U.S. hotel brands are being faked, or emulated in order to win customers in Asia. Hotels like the Haiyatt in China have nothing to do with the Hyatt brand, but the marketing is successful as customers are drawn to the impression of that kind of luxury. The Peninsula Hotel in Yangcheng has nothing to do with the Peninsula brand in the U.S., but also enjoys similar success.

Welcome to the Haiyatt. In China, It’s Not the Hotel It Sounds Like.

How can we best capitalize on the equity of our current image? Is there a mandated, common national label that could accompany every U.S. product and service abroad? Are there other “change-image” campaigns that could build interest in our goods? What ideas would the world’s best advertising minds generate, in order to change the fixed image of our country and its people? Unlike the impressions that many people have of advertising, not all of it is fake or finessed in some way. There are indeed successful campaigns that change a perception — opportunities to enlighten us, educate us, about the benefits of a particular product or idea.

The politicians and academics can and should look at policy and international agreements. As for me, I would welcome the challenge, even at a pro bono level, to contribute to the problem through enacting change of large-scale bias, empowering our country through affecting global impressions of our national brand. U.S products and services are indeed viable on the world stage. One idea can be a powerful thing, and the right endeavor would seem to transform a world of opinion, which is always an inspirational thing.

Obama Suffers Setbacks in Japan and the Mideast

 

 

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DWAYNE FLINCHUM
Founder & President,
IridiumGroup Inc.

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