Saturday, February 28, 2009

The 3 legged stool

Wisdom from Seth this week:

Three things you need if you want more customers

If you want to grow, you need new customers. And if you want new customers, you need three things:

1. A group of possible customers you can identify and reach.
2. A group with a problem they want to solve using your solution.
3. A group with the desire and ability to spend money to solve that problem.

You'd be amazed at how often new businesses or new ventures have none of these. The first one is critical, because if you don't have permission, or knowledge, or word of mouth, you're invisible.

The Zune didn't have #2.

A service aimed at creating videos for bestselling authors doesn't have #1.

And a counseling service helping people cut back on Big Mac consumption doesn't have #3.

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What Cha' Drivin?

Folks are hanging on to their cars longer, but take a look at this prediction:

Japanese May Top Detroit 3 in February Sales

Sure, the auto industry is navigating new waters these days. But here's an uncharted inlet we didn't expect to find ourselves in -- at least for a while.

In January, Japan's automakers came within a smidgen of topping the Detroit 3 in U.S. monthly sales for the first time. And they may get the job done in February.

The Japanese sold 278,366 vehicles in January, just 1,165 fewer than General Motors, Ford and Chrysler.

"It is very likely that the Japanese automakers will outsell domestic automakers in February," said analyst Jesse Toprak of "If the domestic automakers continue with their decision to cut fleet and rental sales into February, that may have the deciding impact."

Last year the Detroit 3 held 47.5 percent of the U.S. market (sliding under 50 percent of annual sales for the first time), while the Japanese stood at 39.5 percent.

In January, the Detroit 3 advantage was considerably narrower: 42.6 percent to 42.4 percent.

But Toprak figures the Detroit 3 will hang on to their lead for the full year.

"It's likely that they are not going to have this low of fleet and rental percentages for the rest of the year," he said. "I think at the end of the year you're going to see the domestics ahead of the Japanese, but not by very much."

(Source: Automotive News, 02/16/09)

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Grandpa is online....

50 year olds on Facebook?

Are Facebook And MySpace Becoming Uncool?
Advertising Age
Almost two years ago now, Mom and all her friends started signing up for Facebook. From there, colleagues, bosses, neighbors and others started creeping into the social networking site, once the exclusive playground of the Web's young. For better or for worse, Advertising Age's Michael Learmonth says, social networking is no longer a youth phenomenon. In fact, he says, Facebook, with 52 million U.S. users and 170 million worldwide, is starting to look "like America."

As of January 2009, more than 50% of Facebook's users and 44% of MySpace's users in the U.S. were over age 35, according to comScore's estimates. The researcher also claims that the single biggest age demographic in the U.S. on both MySpace and Facebook is now between 35 and 44. And Facebook's fastest growing demo is 55-plus.

To a certain extent, that has to be expected, as both Facebook and MySpace don't have a lot of growing room left among younger demos. According to the Pew Internet and American Life project, 75% of online adults 18-24 already have a profile on a social network. Says Learmonth: "Generally, somewhere between growth and ubiquity is when uncool usually starts to set in." College kids are usually a great barometer for what's cool. According to Anderson Analytics, Facebook is still the No. 1 Web site on college campuses. MySpace, however, has fallen from second last year to No. 4 this year. - Read the whole story...

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Marketing Wrap-Up

From the Thinking Blog:

Dusty Archives - February 2009 Edition

Posted: 20 Feb 2009 07:04 AM PST

From time to time we sort through the archives of THINKing to resurrect gems that you may have missed. Here are a few that we recommend.

It’s The Relationship, Stupid - I don’t care how you slice it, when it comes down to fundamentals, business is all about relationships. Ignore this truth at your own peril.

What Customers Want - Here’s the truth: Your customers don’t know what they want. And to assume otherwise is folly. When you begin relying totally on customers to be your product development department, you are asking for serious trouble.

Patience? No, Let’s Kill Something - There’s the old joke about the two buzzards sitting in a tree overlooking a highway. One responds to the other, “Be patient? I’m hungry. Let’s kill something.” Just like that buzzard, it is not in the nature of most marketers to be patient for business to grow.

Great Employees = Happy Customers - Companies spend millions of dollars each year identifying their brand, and then communicating their brand promise through various media. Employees are the primary “media” in the majority of brand contacts. Raise your hand if you think a majority of your employees understand your brand promise well enough to live it and articulate it clearly.

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Better than Cold Calls

What's better than making cold calls? Check out this advice from Steve Clark:

Sometimes it’s difficult to ask for referrals, whether as the sales person you don’t feel comfortable, you don’t like putting the pressure on to get referrals, maybe you haven’t worked with the person long enough to establish the relationship of being “referable”, or the customer/client may blow you off telling you “if I know of anyone, I’ll let them know about you”. Either way, you walk out without any names.

One of the best and easiest prospecting ideas is the opposite of the referral or the reverse referral. When you want to solicit similar businesses, for example, hardware stores or computer stores in the same vicinity of the customer you already have, this tip will apply.

Rip out the yellow pages for the type of business that you want to solicit in the same vicinity of your customer. If you are in a hardware store, show the hardware store yellow pages to your customer, which most likely would be the owner if this instance, and ask him which hardware store owners that you shouldn’t call on, either because they’re not as nice as you are. they’re difficult to work with, they have no money, they’re not progressive thinkers enough to expand their business, whatever the reason.

Give him a big black magic marker and ask him to cross off the names of the businesses that you shouldn’t call on. As he’s crossing off names, ask him to mark the names of the people you don’t know. Now there should be only a few unmarked names left. Discuss these remaining names with him and ask questions about the people’s personality, etc. At the end of your fact finding, ask your customer if you could use their name as you call on the remaining list. For the most hesitant referral, this normally works. Especially if you use the magic words, “I’d like to ask you for your help”

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Friday, February 27, 2009

Friday Night Marketing News

Clickables from Mediapost:

by Karlene Lukovitz
Brands could benefit from more compelling Facebook pages, perhaps incorporating surveys, polling and a restaurant locator, Vitrue's Reggie Bradford says. Providing franchisees with the tools to tap their online social circles to market local events is another opportunity, as is capturing event RSVPs to go back to individuals with coupons and other loyalty-building offers, he adds. ... Read the whole story > >
by Karl Greenberg
"We like this program because it immediately spurs consumer spending on efficient appliances, since they get both a rebate and the efficiency savings," says Jill Notini, VP communications and marketing at the Washington, D.C.-based AHAM, says the Energy Efficient Appliance Rebate Program will jump-start a market frozen by the housing crisis. ... Read the whole story > >
by Aaron Baar
"Compared with the cost of most of these devices, it's the first time we've seen applications exceed the cost of the phones," says Jeff Orr, ABI's senior analyst for mobile content. The level of spending is even more considerable when taking into account that many of the applications come at a low cost--as low as 99 cents apiece in Apple's iPhone App Store, ... Read the whole story > >
by Les Luchter
Companies plan to increase marketing efforts that highlight their social responsibility and what they are doing to minimize environmental impact, the study found. The study's author also says there has been a significant shift in reasons for such marketing--what once was just good publicity has now become key to earning consumer trust. ... Read the whole story > >
by Sarah Mahoney
Categories tied to housing fared the worst: Home and household goods, appliances, and lawn and garden. Margins declined, as the company cut prices to stay competitive, which were partially offset by lower expenses, including $94 million whacked from its advertising and display expenses in the fiscal year. ... Read the whole story > >
by David Goetzl
A well-known researcher is projecting that the local ad market will continue to experience revenue dropoffs. More startling: the forecast covers the next five years, during which, some experts have predicted, the economy will presumably begin its turnaround. ... Read the whole story > >

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What's for Dinner?

Check this out from CNN:

Fast-Food Chains Going After Sit-Down Diner Dollars

Fast-food chains are targeting cash-strapped patrons of casual-dining restaurants with premium products that are blurring the line between the two dining categories.

One chain boosting its high-end offerings is Burger King Holdings Corp. The No. 2 burger chain has installed a new broiler at over 60 percent of its stores in the U.S. and Canada that can cook foods like thicker burgers, ribs, kebabs and a host of other items that could give sit-down chains like DineEquity Inc.'s Applebee's, Brinker International Inc. Chili's or Ruby Tuesday Inc. a run for their money.

"The lines between a QSR and a casual diner, from a product standpoint, are starting to blur," Goldman Sachs restaurant analyst Steven Kron said, referring to quick-service restaurants, jargon for fast-food chains.

In the same vein, Jack in the Box Inc. soon plans to roll out miniature sirloin burgers, which Chief Executive Linda Lang on Wednesday said are intended to rival the mini burgers sold at casual-dining restaurants.

While premium products can give a tasty boost to sales at fast-food restaurants and can help them stand out among their direct competitors, introducing them during an economic downturn may seem counterintuitive.

Consumers, strained with mounting job losses and dwindling wealth, are responding to low prices right now, with chains like Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC and Sonic Corp. trotting out national value menus for the first time. Higher-priced items could change the perception of the chains offering them, and send value-seeking customers elsewhere.

But Burger King is drawing a circle around the subset of the dining public that can no longer afford the casual-dining experience. With its latest product, a "Steakhouse XT" burger set to hit stores equipped with its new broiler next month, Burger King is hoping a thicker burger patty at a lower price could reel in some new customers.

For "someone who was having a premium burger at an Applebee's or a Chili's that's paying $9 to $11 dollars and can come to Burger King for a Steakhouse Extra Thick burger and pay $5 to $6 dollars, that's value to them," Burger King Chief Executive John Chidsey said at a recent Deutsche Bank conference.

Premium products are nothing new for Burger King, McDonald's Corp. and other fast-food chains, who have sold premium products alongside value items in so-called barbell or multi-tiered pricing strategies. While the value-menus get customers in the door, higher-priced items beef up bills.

To hold onto the value image, chains are adding lower-priced products as well as premium meals. Burger King, for instance, has also added a line of mini-burgers as it plans its premium burger.

McDonald's, meanwhile, is experimenting with its own thicker burger. It has expanded tests of three varieties of an angus burger, a one-third pound burger patty on a higher-end bun, to 1,100 stores, and it's pleased with results thus far, spokeswoman Danya Proud said.

McDonald's has not set a time for a systemwide rollout, partly as it finishes installing premium-coffee capabilities at its stores, although some analysts suggested that the company pushed back the launch of the product due to the economy. Proud would not address that contention, although she said that McDonald's sheer size, with nearly 14,000 U.S. locations, would let the company introduce the sandwich at a good value.

"We have to find a balance because we can't alienate our core customers but we recognize the opportunity to bring in new customers with these items," Proud said.

Fast-food chains may only have a temporary window to use premium products to woo diners who are trading down. Tom Forte, restaurant analyst with Telsey Advisory Group, said casual-dining chains got a boost in sales from last year's stimulus checks. He said there may be some pent-up demand for a meal with waiter service and menus, and that the dining dollars could shift back fast once the economy rebounds..

A meal at a fast-food joint isn't soon going to replicate the dining experience at a sit-down chain, which is one reason that operators in that sector are holding firm.

Susan Lintonsmith, chief marketing officer at Red Robin Gourmet Burgers Inc., said the company is not looking at fast-food places as a greater competitive threat any more than it did before the downturn. Instead, the company is playing up its own value message, which includes offering unlimited steak fries with each classic burger.

"We're trying to make sure they know about our value proposition," Lintonsmith said. "People are still looking for the experience and the quality of the food when they go out."

For the time being, analysts think that fast-food chains will continue to have the edge.

"Given an increasingly difficult consumer environment, we question whether more consumers may be willing to sometimes sacrifice the full service experience with respect to atmosphere and service, particularly when (fast-food) competitors are responding with appealing and premium offerings to meet their needs," Wachovia Capital Markets restaurant analyst Jeff Omohundro said in a recent note.

(Source:, 02/18/09)

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Starbucks is using Social Media

Nearly every time I write something about Starbucks, the folks in Seattle find it and read it. Recently I featured a story from Content Marketing Today. Here's an update:

Starbucks Listens. They Really Do Listen.

Posted: 27 Feb 2009 05:03 AM PST

starbucks barista What You Can Learn from Their Response to My Critical Commentary on Their New Instant Coffee Launch

Last week, I wrote a fairly skeptical post about the launch of Starbucks new instant coffee, Via Ready Brew. I suggested that it might suffer from a sad fate similar to that of ‘New’ Coke in 1984, in spite of the massive amount of research that both companies have conducted prior to the new product introductions.

In fact, I used the instant coffee launch to illustrate the power of the blogosphere for a mini case study with a class of PR strategy students from Florida Gulf Coast University. As a guest lecturer, I spoke to the class about content marketing and the growing importance of social media components such as business blogging. My Starbucks article and the company’s good-natured and gracious response perfectly illustrated the importance of monitoring and responding positively to the blogosphere.

In preparation for the class, I did a search on Starbucks and instant coffee on Google. Up came stories primarily from bloggers not from the mainstream media. Amazingly, if you search for ‘Starbucks instant coffee’ and ‘New Coke’, you actually pull up the article that I wrote.

Just as I was about to finalize and e-mail my presentation to the professor, I was surprised to receive a very gracious and good-humored response from Starbucks’ own Matthew Guiste, whose team is in charge of their social media efforts.

Here’s the comment that Matthew made to my post:

Thanks for the thoughtful commentary. I don’t know if it was a bazillion, but we did do a lot of research before this move, for sure. We think there’s a great opportunity in the market, one that tastes great and is 100% natural. As coffee-lover, I have a number of uses already in mind–visiting my father who lives in the country, to send to a friend of mine who’s office has bad coffee, and for mornings when I’m in a hurry. For reasons like that I personally can’t wait to get more than just my sample versions.

Did you get a chance to order a free sample?

Matthew’s comment was completely positive. Even better, he turned it into an opportunity to possibly persuade me of the error of my ways and encourage me that the new product would be a good thing.

Clearly, Starbucks has set up listening posts on the Internet so that it can monitor what people are saying about the company, its activities, and its products. When team members like Matthew respond to what they hear, they seek not to confront but to engage bloggers like me. That’s both positive and powerful in reinforcing the Starbucks image as good guys with great products.

Why you should emulate the Starbucks listening and response methodology

Today, it is both easy and free to monitor what others are saying about you, your products, your industry, and related issues on the Internet. With tools like Google Alerts and TweetGrid and TweetDeck for Twitter, you can monitor those activities in real time. Whenever appropriate, you can respond promptly–and positively–to what you hear. This makes for a wonderful way to engage both your customers and prospects as well as thought leaders on the web.

I may still be skeptical about instant coffee from Starbucks, but I sure admire their constructive use of social media to monitor and to engage folks who are taking an interest in the company. And, I do love their coffee.

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Adapting Your Brand

What if you have a good brand name, but other factors force you to be creative with your marketing and advertising?

You adapt as explained in this story from the Hartford Courant:


Brands Adjust Marketing Strategies For Recession Mind-Set


Special to The Courant

February 22, 2009

With layoffs on the rise and stock markets headed down, we know that buyers are spending less. What that means for brand loyalty is a crucial question that's still unfolding for purveyors of consumer goods and services.

Will shoppers stick to their old habits and remain loyal to their favorite brand items, such as a Starbucks latte or jeans from the Gap?

Or will they carpool to a dollar store to snap up store-brand cookies and purchase "pre-worn" clothes from Goodwill?

"It's not an easy question," said Akshay Rao, director of the Institute for Research in Marketing at the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota. "People become more price-conscious, but will trade down only so much at a time."

If people are used to eating out twice a month, for example, they will switch first to buying food at an upscale grocery. "It's not steak to meatloaf overnight," Rao said.

The demand for — and purchase of — expensive treats, such as a Starbucks grande and a $25 lipstick, will probably remain constant. "Will people purchase indulgences more because life is bleak?" Rao asked. "That's the theory."

One thing is clear: In every segment of the economy, manufacturers and marketers are scrambling to do whatever they can to retain brand loyalty, even as they face pressure to cut costs. Some are tweaking their sales pitch.

The Stanley Works, for example, has cut back on advertising and announced last year that it was eliminating 10 percent of its workforce as the new Britain-based toolmaker sees drops in the number of items it sells. But Stanley continues to sponsor events such as NASCAR races and promote new products, including the FuBar, a heavy-duty crowbar.

Stanley expects to see more do-it-yourself projects during the economic slowdown, which will lead to more sales.

"People are not hiring a professional. They are doing the job themselves," said Scott Bannell, vice president of corporate brand management. "They have more time on their hands, more moonlighting."

He said the company's recessionary strategy is to continue to keep its brand visible to the public.

Taking advantage of trends is a key strategy across the board.

Quaker Oats? It's always been healthy, but there's a new pitch, said Andrew Razeghi, a lecturer in marketing at the Kellogg School of Management at Northwestern: "It's a cheaper form of protein."

"A1 Sauce? Use it for hamburgers," Razeghi said.

To attract or hold customers, banking giant Wachovia, now part of Wells Fargo, is hawking its Way2Save debit card, which automatically transfers $1 from checking to savings each time the debit card is used. In addition, it pays a 5 percent bonus on the amount saved, plus 5 percent annual interest.

You Only Live Once

Hartford resident Tanisha Nixon, a nurse's aide who earns $17 an hour, said she's staying loyal to national brands despite the economic kerfuffle. She buys her clothes at Lane Bryant and fills her shopping cart at the Stop & Shop in Bloomfield with name brands: Nabisco, Betty Crocker, General Mills. On a recent visit, the only private-label items in her basket were a can of corn and some ground pepper.

"You only live once," Nixon said, and besides, her children, ages 10 and 12, refuse to eat store brand staples and turn up their noses at supermarket pizza.

If she's running short on cash, she works weekend double shifts at premium pay. She relies on her boyfriend to bring home takeout meals or meat, but says he's a different type of shopper. "He goes by cheapest. I go by quality," she said.

Marketers, aware of sentiments such as Nixon's, worry not just about current sales, but also about long-term loyalty. Customers who get used to cheaper goods or discount stores may not return to their former buying habits in better times.

"If you discount too much, it emphasizes to consumers that my clothes weren't different from anyone else's. Price competition undermines brand loyalty," said Ravi Dhar, director of the Yale Center for Customer Insight at the Yale School of Management.

So traditional retailers are trying to walk a fine line between lowering their prices enough to stay solvent and retain their price-conscious patrons, and offering something extra, such as durability, value or service.

They may try "bundling," or disguising discounts by selling multiple items at a slightly lower price, or trying to create an emotional attachment with their buyers, such as reviving Travelers' umbrella logo, or emphasizing the traditional "You're in good hands with Allstate" slogan, said Bill Field, president of Mintz & Hoke, an advertising and public relations company in Avon.

Sometimes, when a manufacturer produces higher- and lower-priced versions of the same product, buyers will stay with the company, but trade down. Instead of buying Pampers, made by Procter & Gamble, they might try Luvs, which P&G also makes. Or they will shop at Ann Taylor Loft instead of the main store.

Unique Goods

Many sellers play directly into the recession with pitches and special offers. Hyundai has raised the ante on that strategy. The Korean automaker is offering to take back your car and let you walk away if you lose your job within a year, even if you owe as much as $7,500 more than the car is worth.

"It's clever. It takes into account what customers are worried about," said Dhar, at Yale. "Hyundai really understands."

Some products don't seem to have any competitors, and their manufacturers have not been cutting prices. Tech goods, such as iPhones and iPods, appear to be unique. With iPods, "people want just an iPod," Dhar said. "They have created a differentiated product."

In the same way, some specialty stores seem to have a lock on consumer loyalty. The surge in popularity of organically grown food means that some customers will continue to pay premium prices for produce, meat and fish at a premium store such as Whole Foods, even though more and more big-box supermarkets are carrying more natural and organic offerings.

Liz Filloramo of Manchester is a Whole Foods devotee, even though she knows its prices are higher than those of standard supermarkets. "There are no hormones or pesticides. I'd rather pay a little more," she said.

She relies on the chain's produce, meats and fish and the brands she's familiar with, even the organic pet foods. "I'm basically loyal. I know they are good."

"Traditionally," said Field, at Mintz & Hoke, "the best brands hold their value, even in the case of a recession."

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Talk to ME!

From a recent email:

Daily Sales Tip: Personalize Your Message

Think of all the ways that you communicate with your customers. From face-to-face meetings, to email, to direct marketing material, look for opportunities where you can include the customer's name in your message.

Newsletters, estimates and direct-mail pieces are all good places to start. However, you must exercise good judgment!

First, find out whether they're more comfortable with being referred to on a first-name basis. Second (and this is really important), don't overuse their name, otherwise you'll sound corny and even more impersonal than a form letter.

Source: Colleen Francis, president and founder of Engage Selling Solutions (, 2009)

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Thursday, February 26, 2009

Thursday Night Marketing News

Did you momma tell you to eat all your fruits and veggies? Check out the first story:

by Karlene Lukovitz
Despite experiencing volume declines, Del Monte Foods Company reported exceptionally strong results for its fiscal '09 third quarter.

During the results conference call, one analyst termed the quarter the company's best since the start of the decade.

Net sales rose 8.4% to $942.3 million for the quarter, and earnings per share rose to 30 cents, versus 24 cents in Q3 fiscal '08.

Year-to-date net sales rose 11.5% to $2.57 million, and EPS was 40 cents, versus 38 cents for the first nine months of fiscal '08.

In pet products, price increases on both food and snacks depressed overall volume slightly (losses were offset by volume gains in Kibbles 'n Bits and new Meow Mix products), but net sales jumped 15.1%, to $433 million. "The trends in the pet food industry show very little impact from the recession," notes a research analyst. "By and large, people are not trading down on pet food -- they'd trade down on their own diets first." ... Read the whole story > >
by Karl Greenberg
The less tangible benefit for both dealership and the automaker is dealership and brand loyalty, and more customers. Not only do customers feel better about the dealership and, by extension, the brand (think Saturn), they also talk about it to anyone who will listen, and those who listen remember the brand as much as the store. ... Read the whole story > >
by Aaron Baar
Despite the decreased spending and greater interest in generics, convenience is still the main factor when it comes to filling prescriptions, Kurt Salmon Associates' Peter Shia says. As in real estate, location is a significant factor, which is why Walgreens and CVS are maintaining their market share. "The vast majority of people are still buying on convenience," he says. "When you're sick, you want to get your prescriptions filled quickly." ... Read the whole story > >
by Les Luchter
The campaign's direction was dictated by a desire to reach a younger demo than might see traditional advertising. "They are the ones that are going to be most affected if we don't change our energy policies and the way we deal with toxic waste," says Waterkeeper Alliance's Mishele Wells. " is designed to talk to them directly about their future. It's a matter of speaking to consumers on their own terms, and being agile and visible enough for them to find you." ... Read the whole story > >
by Karl Greenberg
The company is aiming to woo cash-conscious consumers -- who still crave premium java -- away from higher-priced brands with a trio of new blends: Colombian, Exclusive Blend and the stronger Brazilian Gold, all included in the chain's hot beverage bars. The Brazilian Gold product will be marketed to younger consumers, who favor stronger coffee, per the company. ... Read the whole story > >
by Karlene Lukovitz
However, the temporary effects of the peanut-recall scenario aside, the growing popularity of sandwiches is among the reasons that Smucker is well-positioned, points out a research analyst. "Sandwiches are inexpensive, nutritious comfort foods, and consumers are willing to pay a bit more for a trusted brand like Smucker's in jams and jellies, which are affordable, multiple-use products," he says. ... Read the whole story > >

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Fresh Ideas


It's time for your weekly fix of entrepreneurial ideas! Our latest issue is now online. Here's
a quick run-down of the promising new businesses Springwise featured this week:

Young woman and a grandmotherDesign your own hat & choose your own knitting granny
Fashion & beauty

Golden Hooks lets customers design their own hat -- classic, long
or Peruvian, with pompom or without -- and then pick the grandmother
they'd like to knit it.

Man in white suit checking cellphoneRestaurants page waiting guests on their cellphones
Telecom & mobile / Food & beverage

Providing a new solution to an old problem, ReadyPing lets busy
restaurants notify waiting guests by text message when their table is

Carton of Haagen Dazs Five ice creamHaagen-Dazs 'Five' -- just 5 ingredients
Food & beverage

Haagen-Dazs Five is a new, all-natural ice cream crafted with only
five ingredients: skim milk, cream, sugar, egg yolks and natural

People drinking wine at Press ClubUrban tasting room plays host to eight local wineries
Food & beverage / Retail

A tasting room recently opened in San Francisco that promotes the
wines of eight boutique producers through a series of dedicated
tasting stations.

A set list on setlist.fmSharing concert set lists by wiki
Entertainment / Media & publishing, a free wiki-site that allows users to upload and browse set
lists, is the web 2.0 alternative to grabbing the list off stage after a
live concert.

Dark blue Dirt ShirtUsed shirts, reborn as bibs for adults
Fashion & beauty

Slipped over a wearer's other clothes, Dirt Shirts offer a more dignified
way to keep messy eaters' clothes clean. They're handmade from
used shirts.

Hello Vino on a BlackberryA sommelier for every mobile device
Telecom & mobile / Food & beverage

Designed for wine lovers on the go, Hello Vino is a new wine pairing
and suggestion tool that can be accessed both via the web and from
any mobile device.

Theatre seatsLive theatre on the silver screen

This summer, theatre lovers around the globe will have a chance to
see Helen Mirren in a National Theatre production of Phedre, broadcast
live at a nearby cinema or arts centre.

Artist's impression of Green DepotNYC retailer focuses on green home improvement
Eco & sustainability / Retail / Homes & housing

We've already covered a few examples of retailers that focus on green
supplies for do-it-yourself home improvement, and recently one of
our spotters alerted us to another that just opened in Manhattan.

Wedding cake figurinesI'm a Mrs: name-change service for new brides
Life hacks

Planning a wedding may be a time-consuming task, but any bride
who elects to take her husband's last name soon learns that the
process of making that name change can be nearly as laborious.

Screenshot of Bush Fire Housing siteDonated site matches fire victims with extra beds
Non-profit & social cause / Homes & housing

Aiming to help those left homeless by the recent wildfires in Australia,
Bushfire Housing was created specifically to match people in need
with others in the area who can offer emergency accommodation.

Detail of a virtual island on Climate CultureVirtual world promotes sustainable living
Eco & sustainability

Climate Culture is a virtual world that combines guidance, community
and games to help consumers reduce their energy consumption.
Users earn points for every reduction they make.

Heineken loungeHeineken offers first class airport lounge for all
Food & beverage / Marketing & advertising / Travel & tourism

Helping revive the notion of classy business travel, Heineken has
teamed up with design agency UXUS to create an airport lounge
that offers a respite from the chaos of the terminal gate.

Graphic from Neigbo's websiteConnecting neighbours and landlords online
Homes & housing

Neighbo is an online platform that brings tenants, property managers
and landlords together to improve relationships and efficiency,
similar to New York's LifeAt, which we covered a while back.

Man and a red car Rewarding consumers who drive less
Automotive / Eco & sustainability / Marketing & advertising

Akin to frequent flyer miles for mindful commuters, NuRide lets
members earn points every time they share a ride, cycle into town
or skip their commute by telecommuting

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Stinky Customer Service

Last week I attended a seminar that mentioned that customer service satisfaction is actually down right now. This report from Business weeks explains why this can hurt even the best brands:

Customer Service in a Shrinking Economy

How companies are struggling to maintain customer service amid sinking sales and declining employee morale

Hertz (HTZ) couldn't ask for a better customer than Richard M. Garber. The Cleveland-based business development manager typically rents cars from the chain 20 to 40 times a year when traveling on business for materials manufacturer FLEXcon. But now Garber is rethinking that loyalty. In the past month he has returned Hertz cars to the Boston and Minneapolis airports only to find nobody waiting with a handheld check-in device. In Minneapolis, Garber had to drag his bags to the counter to return his car; in Boston, he finally tracked down an employee who came out and explained that some colleagues had just been laid off. "When you're rushing for an airplane, every minute counts," says Garber. "The less convenient they are, the more likely I am to try someone else."

As the economy plunges deeper into recession, many companies are confronting the same brutal choices Hertz faced when it announced layoffs of some 4,000 people on Jan. 16. While businesses may feel forced to trim costs, cutting too deeply can drive away customers. Hertz spokesman Richard Broome says the company has reduced "instant return" hours at some smaller airports but is making adjustments to restore that service in locations where it "might have gone too far." Says Broome: "You try to create the right balance."

Across the business world, managers are trying to pull off the same perilous high-wire act. Just as companies are dealing with plummeting sales and sinking employee morale, skittish customers want more attention, better quality, and greater value for their money. Those same customers are also acutely aware that their patronage is of growing importance to companies as others decrease their spending. BMW Vice-President Alan Harris argues that in the current environment, consumers expect "that anyone who is in the market with money to spend is going to get treated like a king."


The reality, of course, is that the opposite is often true. From retailers such as Talbots (TLB), which have stiffened their rules on returns, to airlines that now charge for checked bags, companies are stretching budgets in ways that can make things tougher for customers.

But the best performers are actually doing more to safeguard service in this recession. Bruce D. Temkin, principal analyst for customer experience at Forrester Research (FORR), says about half of the 90 large companies he recently surveyed are trying to avoid cuts to their customer service budgets. "There's some real resilience in spending," says Temkin.

That's especially true for many of the winners of our third annual ranking of Customer Service Champs. Top performers are treating their best customers better than ever, even if that means doing less to wow new ones. While cutting back-office expenses, they're trying to preserve front-line jobs and investing in cheap technology to improve service.

If anything, the tough economy has made starker the difference between companies that put customers first and those that sacrifice loyalty for short-term gain. In this year's ranking, based on data from J.D. Power & Associates, which, like BusinessWeek, is owned by The McGraw-Hill Companies (MHP), more than half of the top 25 brands showed improved customer service scores over last year. Among the bottom 25 of the more than 200 brands surveyed, scores mostly fell.

Smart players have learned from previous downturns. Companies used to go after customer reps with the same blunt ax used elsewhere. Now managers are starting to understand the long-term damage created by such moves, from eroded market share to diminished brand value. The International Customer Management Institute, a call center consultant, has done studies that show eliminating just four reps in a call center of about three dozen agents can increase the number of customers put on hold for four minutes from zero to 80.

A better strategy is to get more out of the people you have. USAA, the insurance and financial services giant that caters to military families and ranks at No. 2 on our list, started cross-training its call center reps in 2007. Some 60% of the agents who answer investment queries can now respond to insurance-related calls. Not only did such training curb call transfers between agents, which drive up the cost of running a call center, but it also improved productivity. Even with Hurricane Ike and the stock market's financial crisis prompting a flood of calls to USAA's contact centers last year, the cross-training meant the company didn't have to expand its call center staff. Existing reps are more empowered to deal with customers, even if they may also have to do more work. No. 25 JW Marriott (MAR) is training administrative assistants to step in as banquet servers when needed. And in November, brokerage Charles Schwab (SCHW), No. 21 on our ranking, launched a "Flex Force" team of employees such as finance specialists and marketing managers at its San Francisco headquarters to handle calls on days of, say, rapid market fluctuations.

For those that slash costs, the challenge is keeping customers from noticing. Putting call center reps under one roof, for example, can eventually save as much as 35%, says Scott Casson, director of technology services at consultant Customer Operations Performance Center. On Feb. 12, USAA announced it will combine its six call centers into four; companies such as No. 11 KeyBank (KEY) and Ace Hardware, No. 10, have also consolidated operations in the past year. Ace plowed the savings from that move into longer evening and weekend hours for customer calls. "During tough times there are plenty of other pressures customers face," says Ace Vice-President John Venhuizen. "We don't want a customer service issue to be what makes them blow their cork."


Hoteliers also are trying to trim in ways customers are unlikely to detect. They're increasingly combining purchasing power to get better deals across properties that are within the same chain but may have different owners. Some hotels in the Four Seasons (FSH) chain, No. 12, are joining up to buy goods and services such as coffee, valet parking agreements, and overnight cleaning contracts that each hotel once bought on its own. JW Marriott hotels are teaming up to buy landscaping services that would be costlier if contracted for separately. The Ritz-Carlton, No. 5, is doing laundry at night to save electricity and replacing fresh flowers at posh properties with potted plants. With occupancy rates falling, notes Ritz COO Simon F. Cooper, "you have to get better because you're forced to."

As the game changes from acquiring new customers to keeping old ones, companies are shifting more resources to their steady patrons. They're the ones who pay the bills. And while first-time guests may not miss the absence of fresh flowers, repeat customers probably will. "It's the little things that often got you in the crook of those loyal customers' arms," says Jeanne Bliss, a former Lands' End (SHLD) service chief who now coaches customer service execs. That has led to a renewed emphasis on "tiering"—routing elite-level customers to better agents, nicer surroundings, or faster service.

Consider No. 7,, the online shoe retailer whose devoted fans rave about its free shipping on both orders and returns. The retailer had typically upgraded both first-time and repeat customers to overnight shipping even though it wasn't advertising that perk. But starting in 2009, Zappos will no longer offer overnight upgrades to first-time visitors. Instead, CEO Tony Hsieh is moving those dollars into a new VIP service for Zappos' most loyal shoppers. Launched in December, the site, which for now can only be accessed by loyal customers who receive an invitation, promises overnight shipping and plans to offer earlier access to sales and new merchandise than the plain-vanilla site. (Repeat customers who aren't yet asked to join the VIP service will continue getting the overnight upgrade for now.) "We decided we wanted to invest more in repeat customers," says Hsieh. "We're shifting some of the costs that would have gone into new customers."

Some are also getting tougher on suppliers who serve their most frequent customers. No. 24 L.L. Bean dropped Bank of America (BAC) as its vendor of store-branded credit cards in July 2008. The outdoor outfitter says the bank wasn't measuring up in terms of its vaunted customer support. Complaints about long hold times and call transfers between the bank's customer service agents were "endless," says Terry Sutton, L.L. Bean's vice-president for customer satisfaction. (Bank of America says it doesn't comment on specific relationships but is "focused on providing competitive products and exceptional customer service.") L.L. Bean switched to Barclays (BCS), which meant customers had to reapply. The risk that some might not take the time was high. "From a service standpoint, it was loaded with land mines," says Sutton. But she felt the move was worth it, especially since Barclays gave them a say on agents' scripts and set up its call center in the retailer's home state of Maine. Over 60% of cardholders have already switched.

Some companies are experimenting more with cheap technology, such as responding to customers via Twitter after they broadcast their complaints to the world. Other tech upgrades for customers can deliver unexpected cost savings. When No. 22 BMW rolled out Wi-Fi service at its dealerships last year, the move was intended to give customers a cheap way to pass the time while their cars were serviced. The cost was next to nothing since BMW just expanded the broadband dealers already used to run their businesses. But now that customers can use their waiting time productively, fewer are opting for free loaner cars, which are pricey for dealers to maintain. BMW's Alan Harris says Wi-Fi, along with software that helps dealers better estimate loaner needs, has helped BMW cut its monthly loaner expenses by 10% to 15%.

When companies come up with simple, low-cost ways to trim costs while improving life for customers, they're likely to win in good times and bad. "I have a saying: 'Fix the customer before you fix the car,' " says Harris. "If you focus on fixing the customer's problem first, the rest is easy."

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New Ad Campaigns

From Amy at Mediapost:

Real dogs eat meat. Crime Stoppers catches criminals and keeps witnesses pixelated. The Secret Sherry Society is not so secret. Let's launch!

Everyone is happy that Tiger Woods is back in the game following knee surgery, except his competitors. Nike Golf launched a very funny TV spot that shows how good the other PGA players have it when Woods isn't winning every tournament in sight. Stewart Cink, Anthony Kim and Justin Leonard are three of the golfers reaping benefits in Tiger's absence, having career games, collecting big paychecks and landing on the cover of golf magazines. It all comes crashing down when Woods appears in the locker room, silencing a loud group of golfers hamming it up. "Good to see you," says Leonard to Woods. The party's over, guys. Watch the ad here, which launches today. Wieden + Kennedy Portland created the ad.

Hidden cell-phone fees are annoying, but getting hit in the face by a woman's flowing armpit hair is not. Because she's rocking a tank top so her hair is up front and not a secret... but it should be. Ick. Boost Mobile launched two TV spots promoting its Monthly Unlimited plan that offers unlimited anytime nationwide talk, text, Web and Walkie-Talkie services for $50 a month. A man and woman ride a bicycle built for two in the first ad, seen here. The woman's armpit hair is hitting the man in his face. "What, you think this is wrong," she says to the camera. "I'll tell you what's wrong. It's cell phone companies charging hidden fees." The second ad, "Coroner," launched Monday and combines mealtime with work time. In this instance, a coroner is performing an autopsy while eating a breakfast burrito. The coroner drops his burrito on the cadaver, picks it up and takes a bite. If this is "unwrong'd," then I want to be wrong. Watch the ad here. 180LA created the campaign and Mindshare handled the media buy.

Flowers that look good enough to eat can be devoured if Eini & Co. created them. The Toronto-based company creates high-end cupcakes for weddings, birthdays and corporate events and launched a wild poster and point-of-sale campaign in Canada that treats the flowers made of icing as real flowers. A hummingbird flutters around a "flower" in one ad, while a bee makes a beeline for a floral creation in another ad. Remaining ads include shears and a spade, making it appear that the flowers were recently uprooted. I loved seeing chocolate crumbs used to resemble dirt. See the ads here, here, here and here, created by Juniper Park.

Full disclosure: as a child, I dressed my cocker spaniel in doggie sweaters. I regret nothing. Alpo launched a Web site, five-second online ads on and print posters across the country that target sweater-wearing, spa-loving dogs that prefer pedicures to playing fetch. I love these ads. Posters mimic lost-and-found flyers -- except the only thing lost is a dog's dignity and the "respect of every cat and squirrel in the neighborhood." Tear-away strips that normally house a phone number list Alpo's long URL of Other ads show dogs in compromising positions: wearing dresses or taking abuse from a cat, along with the statement, "Real dogs eat meat." See the ads here, here, here, here, here and here. The Web site offers recipes of things real dogs would cook if they could, along with a questionnaire that determines whether your dog is a Fifi or a Fido. Fallon created the campaign and handled the outdoor media buy. Spark handled the online media buy.

"You remain anonymous, criminals don't," reads the tagline for a Greater Vancouver Crime Stoppers PSA. The campaign encourages people to report crimes and suspicious behavior, while ensuring anonymity for those who come forward with information that can help solve a crime. Four ads show a different crime in progress: a murder, robbery, purse snatching and gang violence. Each ad reveals a clear picture of the criminal in question, while the victims and surrounding witnesses are pixelated, distorting their identity. See the ads here, here, here and here. The campaign consists of newspaper, billboard, transit shelter, bus and restaurant ads. DDB Canada created the pro bono campaign.

Did you know that a secret sherry society exists? I'm sure it's more laid back then, say, Skull and Bones, but it's intriguing nonetheless. The Sherry Council of America launched a campaign promoting this secret society, a members-only club that touts itself as "guardians of wine's best-kept secret." The SSS recruited members at the South Beach Wine and Food Festival, which took place Feb. 19-22, via large signs leading revelers to the society's tasting booth. See a non-secretive print ad, here. Prospective members can also sign up online or look for clandestine members at the International Wine, Spirits & Beer Event and the Food & Wine Classic. Creature created the campaign and handled the media buy.

CorningWare SimplyLite glass bakeware is 50% lighter than traditional ceramic bakeware, according to a 30-second spot, seen here. So light, it floats. Why the dinner guests in the spot also experience weightlessness remains a mystery. The print and TV campaign targets 25- to 34-year-old women and marks CorningWare's first campaign in four years. Print ads, running in The Nest, Domino, Everyday with Rachael Ray and Everyday Food take on an ethereal quality as guests at a barbeque and dinner party, along with their dining ware, defy gravity. See the ads here, here and here. Cramer-Krasselt created the campaign and handled the media buy.

DIRECTV TV launched a TV spot promoting its remote DVR programming capability. Faux competitive company CableCorp is looking for ways to take market share away from DirecTV. One suit comes up with a new branding campaign called "Get Youthenized." Execs love it. "We're gonna youthenize America," says one businessman. Watch the ad here, created by Deutsch Los Angeles.

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Needs & Wants

People buy stuff to feel good.

People buy stuff to avoid pain.

From a recent email:

Hello Scott,

I get several ad critiques sent in to the office here, each
week. Many are good, but most need lots of help (which is
why they were sent in here, by the way). Often times, the
seller simply doesn't know or understand what his buyer

What your buyer wants is far more important than what you
think they want or what you perceive they want.

So for example, if you're selling landscaping services,
especially in affluent areas, you may think your buyer
wants a good-looking lawn. But... equally, or even more
important, is the time they save by not having to do it

They want to know you're reliable and that after you're
gone, there's not going to be anything left around the
house they're going to have to take care of, themselves.

More often than not, simply thinking about "what's most
important to your buyer" is the missing link your ad

Here are 11 different things you can focus in on, that are
VERY common needs.

1. Making more mo.ney - need I say any more?

2. Saving mo.ney - you want to be careful here. These
customers aren't the most loyal ones to have. As soon as
someone else is 8 cents cheaper... they're gone.

3. Improving your health - this one's as old as the hills.

4. Having more leisure time - quality of life issues are
very important and often go hand in hand with the first
three items

5. Losing blubber - I can't say the "w" word, because that
will trigger almost every spam filter in America. But rest
assured, this appeal will never die.

6. Getting more customers - different to number one. Oddly
enough, number one appeals (ironically) most to the folks
who won't ever actually do it. This one appeals the the
folks who are already running a business or selling

7. Saving time - Yes! In today's day and age, absolutely NO
ONE has enough time.

8. Looking younger - Can you say "cosmetic surgery?" Entire
industries and sub-industries have been built up around
this appeal.

9. Feeling younger and living longer - The newest (and in my
opinion) the industry with some of the most
growth-potential moving forward, is anti-aging. It's also
got a primarily affluent customer base and ongoing
continuity-based services you can provide.

10. Desire to have more friends, be more popular, advance in
some "group" or social strata - Dale Carnegie built an
empire through this in "How To Win Friends And Influence
People," and Lord knows this appeal is still very strong.

11. Vanity - The desire to look good and look better than
your peers is as old as the hills. Can you use it in your

There are loads of basic appeals. The point is, if you're
not aware of what your buyers basic wants are... then
you're wasting your time...

And ultimately... theirs... as well.

Now go sell something, Craig Garber

P.S. Once you know their appeals, here's how to push your
prospects emotional buy-buttons:

Questions? Just ask me, baby!

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