Thursday, March 27, 2003

War Thoughts

I have been absent from these pages as I watch the war in Iraq unfurl. I will probably be on hiatus for a while longer. Alain

Thursday, March 20, 2003

War and Marketing

As our troops engage the Iraqi military, advertisers and marketers are busy trying to figure out what's next. An article in this morning's The Wall Street Journal about this situation discusses how new product launches, such Ciroc---a super premium vodka from Diageo PLC---is being delayed from its April 1 scheduled launch. Likewise new products by Procter & Gamble and new ads by Miller. Companies worry about being too marketing oriented in times of conflict and it certainly is understandable. So my recommendation is for them to concentrate on their customer service instead. Take the money saved and make the brand more memorable instead of telling us about it.

Yesterday on NPR, a blurb about the cost of the war to the major media networks is around $200 million per day in revenue lost due to covering the war non-stop. Such is the price for being not only an advertising vehicle but also a major news source. The networks and the marketers are in a bind. Welcome to the free world.

Alain Home.

Thursday, March 13, 2003

Asia...The Junk Mailers Paradise?

Ah, direct mail. All those mailboxes full of unbelievable, can't wait to send it in or call or whatever offers. In America, we're so inundated with junk mail that it is becoming transparent. No wonder, just look at the mail you get in one week and tell me what you see, other than the bills. Probably nary a personal letter since the Internet has even made that obsolete, but I'll bet you are in at least a dozen databases trying to entice you one way or the other. It's also called relationship marketing, something I adhere to, but relationships also imply a two-way road. Returns on direct mail have a rule of thumb of 2%-4% as being average and bringing shouts of "hurrah" from direct marketers. I have had very targeted campaigns that have produced as much as 14%, nearly unheard of, and I don't have too many of those to celebrate. All because it was a permission marketing database where the prospects had already raised their hands to say, "Yes, please give me offers I can't refuse." It's like being "pre-approved" by those credit card companies...the data is already in on you and you've been targeted as a prime prospect.

All to say that direct mail in the U.S. is reaching critical mass. Too much of it, too little time to read it, and "please, give me a break." An interesting article in the March 5th issue of The Wall Street Journal about the growth of direct mail in Asia. In the Philippine capital of Manila, a direct mail campaign for Heinz ketchup brought an 8% response. In Malaysia, a mailing by Nestle giving back-to-school tips to moms brought a torrent of positive responses. And in Japan, direct marketers found that the best way to reach teenage girls to tout Clearasil was to text message their phones inviting them to join a phone-based online "Clearasil Club", all to great success.

The reason for this great response is attributed that in Asia they're not yet inundated with junk mail so any correspondence becomes special, even junk mail. Also, the cultural aspects of communications applies here...a response is necessary. So the results are encouraging. However, due to the still rural and agrarian nature of Asia---other than those monster cities---makes it hard to develop a total database approach, although that is coming.

The message today is that marketers will leave no stone unturned, or for that matter no country unturned, to promote products and services. Nothing wrong with that, it's just that how long will it be before the entire Amazon forest is chopped down to reach Asian consumers so that they become as weary about junk mail as we are. Still there's a reason why direct mail matter how much you get there's always the time when the offer is right where your mind is. And that's known as consistent, targeted marketing.

Alain's Home.

Tuesday, March 11, 2003

What's In A Name?

Obviously a lot...I'm of the old school that words are powerful and defining. Since marketing is a communicative process, language is an imperative that marketers must know how to use, appreciate and at times massage. Today's blog is a personal one and based on the upcoming war in Iraq. It is a perfect example of the power of words. And respectful of divergent views regarding this war---after all I did fight in one war to save freedom, so I was told---I must take offense at the U.S. House of Representatives and their changing names for "french fries" and "french toast" in the House office buildings cafeterias. All because of our pique (sorry for that "French" word) at France for not supporting us on the war, and in fact being a major stumbling block at the UN. In other words, for being French.

Being exasperated at the French is fast becoming a blood sport and has always been a part of our national psyche anyway, even when Lafayette came to help us win our freedom eons ago. And our frustration over the French because we perceive them as ingrates for "all that we've done for them" such as saving their asses in WWI and II, is perfectly understandable. But as Victor Hugo (oops there goes that French connection again) once said, "Liberation is not deliverance." Liberating France during WWII is the reason I was born and for that I am thankful, but enough is enough. Don't the Congressmen and women have more on their agendas than changing our favorite McDonald's treat to "freedom fries" and our Eggos to "freedom toast." Somehow "leggo my freedom toast" doesn't quite have the same Madison Avenue ring to it that "Leggo my Eggo" has.

All to point out that words and marketing impact everyone's life and sometimes it's just plain stupid. So this "Freedom-American" (formerly French-American) is signing off for the night. Peace onto everyone.

Alain's Home.

Monday, March 10, 2003

Marketing The Military

With war with Iraq on the offing, an interesting article in the March 17 issue of Fortune about the privatization of the military. Apparently, the military has been concentrating on a few good men and letting many of the more menial tasks I am familiar with from my own Air Force days go to civilian companies. KP is no longer a hassle for the soldiers, etc. In the 1991 Gulf War there was one contractor for every 100 soldiers. In this upcoming war there are 10 for every 100 soldiers. And the marketing to the Pentagon goes on.

I won't burden my anti-war feelings here other than to say that war is becoming big business to the tune of billions of dollars ranging from $35 billion to Information Technology to $171 million to help recruit soldiers in 10 states. So it goes, what Eisenhower called "The Military-Industrial Complex" is quite alive and well. Enough said. Just couldn't resist getting on my soapbox.

Alain's Home.

Sunday, March 09, 2003

The Price of a Steak

Mrs.'s mother treated us to Ruth Chris' Steakhouse last night, our first experience and a light $140 for two. The experience was all that the brand is known for. Excellent mixer of drinks; the Vodka Gimlet was superb. The experience began with our waitress addressing us as the Mr. and Mrs. since each reservation has a order card already filled out with the reservation name and given to the waitperson, who was a wealth of information, not overly bubbly and didn't tell us anymore about herself than we really wanted to know. Very knowledgeable, poised, professional and not overbearing or over solicitous. Timing was perfect with each course and the wine was excellent (at $10 a glass I certainly expected that!)

What was key to the experience was that the famous steaks and the presentation more than met expectations. Abundant, hot (and stayed that way because of heated plates and the special ovens used to cook), cooked just right. We were not rushed although the restaurant was quite packed. The price of a steak was worth it simply because the restaurant and crew not only had an excellent product, but the orchestration was at a perfect pitch. Everyone worked in synch. As a former waiter in another life and before I got the marketing religion, I appreciate this. And it shows that attention to details is as much a factor to success as the quality of the product. In a service industry, the details are what make the experience. Keep that in mind as you orchestrate your own business and slice into your medium rare marketplace for the most tender piece of business.

Alain's Home.

Saturday, March 08, 2003

Watch Where You Walk

No, it's not about dogs and their souvenirs, it's about SEGWAY, the people transportation "revolution" that is underwhelming the market and the lazy man's way to get around and gain more weight. We've just been invaded in the so-called Inland Empire where I live. An article in this morning's business section of our local paper on a couple of entrepeneurs who have bought these "vehicles" as a means to curb on short car trips around town and save the planet more polluting emissions. At $5,000 a pop that's a lot of gas you can buy, or at least a couple pairs of Michael Jordan sneakers.

One benefit from it is that people are so interested in what these guys are up to that they stop them to talk. And the value to that is that the Segwayians (?) are able to pick up business cards and actually prospect on the spot. Best of luck, fellas. All to point out that marketing and prospecting is an ongoing process, even when you're out with your Segway.

"Hey, Dude. Why the funny helmet?" Now to "segway" back to our regular programming!

Alain's Home.

Friday, March 07, 2003

An Invasion Without A UN Resolution

Today was D-Day for Southern California as Kohl's Department Stores opened 28 stores at the same time. Invasion is right because three months ago no one had heard of this Mid-West chain that is taking on Target and Mervyn's. The invasion has not been so subtle with flyers bombarding the marketplace telling us to surrender to low prices and convenient shopping. On Monday, we received a $10 gift card towards the first purchase. When Mrs. went this afternoon she said there were so many cars that a traffic jam ensued and she was discouraged from going. That is a feat beyond anything when that happens.

In retaliation, the other department stores must have held a Security Council meeting because today they came out with sales that we haven't seen in years. A distraught Mrs. ended up at Macy's and found an outfit that was "such a deal" she couldn't pass it up. You've got to hand it to Kohl's, they've created a buzz and targeted their marketing smart bombs at a select group of elite shoppers: Moms. They've made a concerted effort to make the aisles, the baskets and every other roadblock to shopping a breeze, so they tell us in the flyers and in the newspapers.

This blitz is effective in creating an image and developing a brand. It's a frontal assault that's got the competition wondering how to counter it. Scud Kohl's or find your own niche that you've been overlooking because of being established and taking the customers for granted? I'll keep you posted on the Kohl War, as we are fondly calling it here in our suburban paradise. And if anyone tells me again that the economy is not doing well, come see the traffic jams in our town around the malls and the new stores.

Alain Home.

Thursday, March 06, 2003

Hearing What You Want To Hear

As a consultant, it's not unusual to have to weigh all sides of an issue, to be tempered in judgement, to be diplomatic and to try to serve many agendas as skillfully and as honestly as possible. When you hire a marketing consultant and strategist, you've got to let that person do their job. I've just turned down more work because my services are not what is needed even though I could probably make a case for it and send out another bill. But that's not why I do what I do.

It not always easy telling people what they don't want to hear. Too often, they've been playing that tape in their heads over and over again and they look at you so hopefully that you will validate their reasoning. "We need an ad," they'll say. "We need to take care of those people at the front desk. That's the problem." Anything but their own complicity in their fate.

I relay this today because it's been that type of day. The issues confronting business are so often of our own doing. Granted it's not easy being in business and having to be all things to all people, but it certainly doesn't make it any easier when you can't see the forest for the trees. I think of a small sandwich place I've frequented for over 35 years, where all they do is make the greatest grinders in the world, using the same formula, resisting the opportunity to franchise and erode their personal brand. Why are they successful? Because they've not simply heard what they want to hear, but listened to their customers and decided that they would do what's right by them. So today's soapbox is my ongoing mantra. Listen to your customers. Understand what it's like from their vantage point and then tailor your service or product accordingly.

While I am not necessarily in love with Bill Gates, he has indeed revolutionized our world. This quote from his book Bill Gates @The Speed of Thought, illustrates that well: "Your most unhappy customers are your greatest source of learning." That's what I've been trying to say all day to my client and it didn't sink in. You can't win them all. Say goodnight, Alain. Goodnight, Alain

Tuesday, March 04, 2003

Product Positioning

Disney is not doing too well, what with the heirs to Winnie the Pooh hot on their heels for a bigger cut of the pie, attendance down in most of the parks (Ever see those prices for all that "fun"?) and the Mouse is not doing all that well with ABC either. So what is a Mouse to do? Invent more junk for our kids to buy by having products developed from the characters on the Disney channel. Eureka! Not that long ago, Disney's channel was by subscription and not that many were able to access it, but now it's part of most cable and satellite tv packages so the audience has increased. Here comes Kim Possible---one of my son's favorite---and Lizzie McGuire products ready to flood our malls and tv screens. Disney is a little late getting into the fold, however, since Viacom has been making a mint from its Nickelodeon tie-ins with Sponge Bob Square Pants---another jr. favorite---and all his other friends. Alas, as a parent I despair. As a marketer, it's always about products and I understand this is hot property. But honestly, how much junk can a kid have?

On the teen front, Roxy, a California clothing label, is working with HarperCollins to develop surfer-themed books targeting 9-12 year old girls. Those pre-pubescent, near women that can't wait to grow up. So Roxy is going to help. Additionally, Roxy is developing a tv series called "Surf Girls" that will position---you guessed it---Roxy clothes for the endless summer look. It's going to be a teeny bopper reality series and based on the response of a direct targeting campaign using its 35,000 email database from visitors to its website...the next crop of reality "stars" are in the wings. Is it any wonder that our kids are growing up too fast, are too rude and disrespectful, are stuck on superficial attributes, are concerned more about fitting in than being kids exploring true feelings not garbled by marketers?

Enough soapbox. It's the father in me that is responding, while my dark side (marketing) is intrigued. Go figure.

Alain Home.

Monday, March 03, 2003

Using Your Head

No, it's not what you think...It's about creative uses of a forehead for advertising, and I use the word "creative" with tongue in cheek. In the February 11th issue of The Wall Street Journal I cut out an article about an ad agency in London, England that is using students' foreheads for advertising by applying temporary tattoos with the client's logo. Apparently, it's heads above other billboards (Sorry, couldn't resist the pun) in that the students are required to be in the target market area for a contracted amount of time and are given cameras to record that glorious event. The name of the firm is Cunning Stunts Communications and they're just getting started. They've already got 1,000 willing heads ready to bob along in the tube, the local pub and other places. The sun may have set on the British Empire, but stupid ideas certainly are being shined upon in Jolly Old!

On another tattoo note, it was just a few months ago that a couple of homeless guys in San Diego were talked into having BUMFIGHTS actually tattooed on their forehead to advertise videos of the same ilk. Talk about marketing exploitation!

So keep your head while others about you are losing theirs.

Alain Home.

Sunday, March 02, 2003

Life Explained

A consulting friend sent me this picture that explains the mystery of life. What else can be said? Enjoy!

Saturday, March 01, 2003

Yes, You Are A Brand...continued

Driving behind an SUV (of course) and reading the bumper sticker: "My Son Was Honored At blah, blah, blah School." Another branding strategy, saying I have a smart son and that's part of my brand, so what about you? And also noticed a Cornell University sticker with the accompanying identification that the driver was an alumni from said university. All about us we brand who we are, what we believe and what we buy. Here in So. Cal. we actually have pseudo-sidewalk cafes and can watch the folks drift by with their many varied t-shirts announcing who they're voting for that day. The same goes for personalized license plates. Ever wonder what some are trying to tell you?

So branding is all around you, in subtle and not so subtle ways. It's all part of the marketing graffiti that we are afflicted with in this society. Message overkill. While we're at it, where we live is also a part of our branding. Those that live in the hills are more affluent, etc. Branding creates a hierarchy of sorts, lets people understand the many levels of caste that essentially rule how we live, gives us clues in how we fit in or don't. And everyone is on the brand wagon. Each minor celebrity wants to have a product line that helps brand them in the ethereal marketplace. Cosmetics, clothing, shoes, etc. We have a Martha Stewart branding sickness that somehow overwhelms us with choice.

Think about your own brand. What does it say about you personally and professionally? And then rethink it. Enough is enough. Have a great weekend.

Alain Home.