Monthly Archives: August 2012

The Bloated Middle of Marketing.


Taco Bell recently sold its 200 millionth Doritos Loco Taco.  They started selling these babies in March.  That’s thinking outside the bun.  From a marketing standpoint.  Not sure whose idea this new product was, but it was marketing genius. For those who think marketing is all about promotion (We need a contest on the website!) or advertising (Let’s hire Barton Graf 9000), this new product launch shows that business building starts with product.

I joked in a Tweet yesterday (@spoppe) that the new product probably resulted from something as simple as someone spilling a bag of Dorito’s in the Yum Brands Test kitchen; the reality is, the idea to merge a Taco Bell taco and a Dorito’s shell was not even that difficult. It was product innovation based on an idea. A simple idea. (I’d be interested to monitor how sales of bags of Dorito’s go over the next few quarters, but that’s a question for a different post.)

200 million anything is a marketing woosh. I love advertising, but all those Dorito’s ads on the Super Bowl the last 10 years and all the think outside the bun and Chihuahua ads in recent memory are orchestrated noise compared to one good product idea.

Any good brand planner knows marketing starts with the product. And it ends with the consumer.  But as an industry we spend too much time in the middle – playing with tactics and ads and “likes” and dashboards.  Let’s get our focus out of the middle and back on the product. Peace! 


Cloudy Futures.


I was having a conversation with a friend yesterday about the cloud. He’s at a technology company in the backup business. Backup is a simple concept that insures that data on corporate networks is recoverable in the event of disaster.  Backup is good. (I recently learned that Jewish religious scholarship is passed on orally over 7 years of study, known as the Daf Yomi, which is a form of backup. Just sayin’.)

Does cloud computing make the need for backup less important? Of course not, for cloud providers it’s requisite. But for tech companies that provide back-up solutions to corporations, does backup in the cloud become a competitor? Most certainly.  

This cloud thing, done well, will chance the tech landscape by amazing proportion.  And redistribute crazy wealth.  Recently, it was reported in The New York Times that a company spending $1M with Amazon’s cloud service to host and process its data would have had to pay $5M for all the servers and surround. Como se no brainer?  And more importantly, as we bury all the complexity in the cloud and organically move toward more open systems, will not technology become less confusing? Less elitist?  I think so. 

When that happens, out engineers will be able to start solving energy problems, space exploration, and healthcare delivery. Now whose head is in the clouds?  Peace! 

Movie Theater Marketing.


A long-time friend of mine is a big macher in the movie theater business. He offered up some interesting facts and market movers last week. 

The movie exhibition business – the business of the movie house, not the film business – is a crucible of marketing. It’s retail, it’s venue-marketing, it’s entertainment and it is quite competitive…not only with other movie exhibitors but with in-home entertainment centers – e.g., flatties, cable, video on demand in the den.

That said, a night at the theater is still quite an affordable night on the town.

What are marketers doing to push one theater over another?  Lots: IMAX, Wi-Fi, line-busting, reserved seating, food to the seat, new projectors, hi-def shimmering sound and loyalty programs. And they are testing live projection experiences: college sports, opera, etc. 

Theaters, like airline carriers and hotels are in the load management business; they need to put fannies in seats. They are also in the fast food business where they’re trying to get the average ticket price up (not the cost of the theater ticket but the cost of all theater purchases.)

This is a dog fight, no doubt, but my pal is getting it done.   Last year was the best year in 10. And the first quarter was the best in the last 7 years. Of course, the films are important.  In one man’s opinion the movies are getting more expensive to make yet offer less in the way of plot, cinematography and acting. Frankly, some of the best new entertainment now is on cable and there’s not much of that.

But like a meal at a great restaurant, you may remember the dish, but it’s the venue you return to. It’s the venue you give your money to.  It’s the brand you share with friends and family.  Building the experience from all angles is what makes a great theater chain. For tyro brand planners, the crucible of theater marketing is a formative one. For marketers anywhere it is a laboratory we should all pay attention to. Peace!

The Winner of Google Trivestiture.


A couple, two, tree years ago I predicted the trivestiture of Google. It will still happen but perhaps not for the reason I initially thought. One of the businesses that will spin off will be an analytics business. The more the cloud powers the world, the more data actions are recorded. And I’m not just talking about purchases, I’m thinking mobile apps, geo-location, word capture in texts, searches, likes, LOLs, picture tags, etc.

Big data allows a lot of this now, we just don’t have the tools to use that data. HubSpot is a dashboard company that offers rudimentary analytics, but they don’t do much more than offer reports.  One of my first big clients AT&T once told me, “It’s not enough to capture data, you need to do something smart with it.” Google has the scientists, computing power and cash to use consumer and business data to predict purchase behavior. A data action seen in the cloud such as the search for new Netspresso machines for the office can indicate small business growth. Predictors of commerce is a business.

When an entire industry has grown up with a .250 batting average – that industry being advertising – the time has come for a marketing tool with a bit more clarity and exactitude.  That marketing tool is data-based. And it’s in Google’s sweet spot.  Unless Amazon beats them to the punch. You think Google makes money on advertising now, you just wait. Peace.

Where is the music?


I was driving home from hiking yesterday and happen to be listening to Taylor Swift on a country music station. There’s a reason Ms. Swift is a superstar.  She has a great voice, fun lyrics and her music has great hooks.   It is not like she’s singing about things we haven’t heard before – she is.  High school loves, growing pains and simple little life hurdles and lessons.  But because these stories are put to music and surrounded by wholesome Americana packaging, they  jump to life. Her school bleachers are your school bleachers.

And this got me thinking about brand planning.  Plans of the brand variety need a little music in them. The great ones do. What does that mean?  Well, they can’t just be cool, rational, business-winning directives. Readers of WTI know my brand plans consist of “one idea, supported by three planks” And the best brand plans tug at some heart strings.  They need a little art next to the science.

Kevin Allen, in a recent article in the Harvard Business Review, talks about “Generosity of Spirit” as a guiding principle his company perscribes when thinking about corporate language and direction, and I agree.  Though music come in many forms, it has an emotional wrapper that takes simple ideas and elevates them. As you look at your brand plan — the guiding principle for your brand — ask yourself “Where is the music?” Peace!




Packaged Imagination.


Meg Whitman has one of the toughest jobs in America. She runs HP and has spent the past year attempting to fix what is broken or stale.  The HP brand, known by all, owned by all, is experiencing stasis during one of the most exciting times in all of tech-dom.

The HP “Is-Does” is clouded; covered with a glauchoma-ed gauze. Amazingly, a couple of years ago, in the years following Carly Fiorina’s ouster, the company was humming along.  

The last great brand idea HP had was “Invent.”  Don’t get me wrong, they’ve had lots of great ads over the years and many excellent agencies, but not much with brand ballast.  Invent was actually developed under Ms. Fiorina’s watch, however ended up being little more than an idea.  The company did not truly invest in or operationalize it, not the way Apple did. Or Google. Or the media socialists.

Stanford, MIT, Harvard and their dropouts don’t wake up aroused in the middle of the night thinking about working at HP.

27,000 layoffs in today’s flat world is not news to an up-and coming engineer – not the way the next gigatron device is.  HP has to marry the future with the current. We do need printers and tablets and PCs, but what will take back the hearts and minds of consumers and the next gen of consumers is packaged imagination. HP has work to do. Peace!   

Judging a Pop Marketing Fantasy.


Many moons ago there was a fairly famous advertising campaign that asked the question “What in the world isn’t chemical?” The question sticks with me and as a marketing consultant, and I often ask myself “What in the business world isn’t marketing?” 

In many companies, marketing is a silo. “Marketing is sales support,” some say. Well it’s that. To others, marketing is “material.” Things to distribute to customers, e.g., collateral, samples. That too. And these days marketing is heavy online – the web, social media, search and data collection. Yes, yes, yes and yes.

Best Buy is tanking.  Until May of this year, its CMO Barry Judge, was famous for his oft-quoted stance “customers own the brand.”  A big early proponent of social media, he advocated ceding control of the brand to customers.   And he was not alone in this belief; in fact, he created a lot of pop marketing fantasies. Though while spreading this nonsense, the rest of his marketing kingdom seemed unattended. 

Marketing is everything. Distribution (Amazon), pricing (Amazon, Wal-Mart), promotion (Target), and product (retail CRM, store experience, data).  I would never suggest listening to customers is a bad thing. It’s not. It’s called research. But customers do not own the brand. Marketing does. Not sales, not finance, not the product managers and certainly not customers.

Mr. Judge has learned an amazing lesson. As the center of gravity for the social media in marketing movement, I suspect no one has learned more about its effects on all the Ps (of marketing).  Now he needs to take that learning and share it with the rest of us.  I smell a book.  This is America and we are all about turn around stories. I’ll buy one. On Amazon. Peace!     

PS. Mr Judge, if you’d like to disabuse me of these observations, please weigh in.

Indispensable Facebook.


Facebook is going to be fine.  So long as the monetization and product people stay out of the way and don’t spam the product up too much.

My friend Frenchie and I like to hike on the Appalachian Trail.  Or at least we used to did (Steve-ism). At the end of every hike we’d give an award for the stupidest thing we carried.  The stupid algorithm was impacted by the thing’s size, bulk, weight and the degree to which we used it.  The reason I know Facebook will live on is because kids and, to a less extent, adults still like to check their statuses a lot.  Go to a concert with a teen or twenty somth and when the music slows or they get bored they mobile up to Facebook.  Take that behavior and extend it to college classes, business meetings, Mets game, etc. and you get the idea the Facebook is an anecdote for a bored world. It’s communications crack.  

A la the hiking story, imagine paying $85.00 for a ticket to a concert and spending a quarter of your time at the event on Facebook. It’s indicative of the platform’s power. Facebook, for many is an indispensable part of their life. It’s getting used all the time in that metaphoric backpack. Don’t worry about the stock. Mr. Zuckerberg — worry about the ham-handed business people who are likely to gunk up your product. Peace.

Don’t F with nature.


I apologize for the potty word, not the invective.  At Rollins College I studied anthropology and a piece of learning that has carried forward quite well in my career is the idea of “functionalism.” It suggests that every cultural phenomenon is the result of some function in the community. This theory along with the Darwin’s natural selection (which suggests positive physical and morphological traits are selected for for future generations), comprise the two key rules I use when brand planning – trying to find an idea and organizing principle under which to conduct brand commerce.

If you are going to grow crops as a farmer, it’s important to know what type of soil you have. What the minerals are. What annual rainfall is? How much sun the field gets. Predation too. In other words, you understand the natural order? It’s a key pursuit in brand planning too.

The natural order in brand planning is not found by asking “How do I make more money?” then working backwards.  Yet that’s how many commercial enterprises roll. They start with the money and deconstruct. The converse is often true when it comes to start-ups. They construct. And as Facebook and Twitter will tell you, not always with monetization as a starting point.  The most successful start-ups follow nature then build. The least successful start-ups lose sight of nature and are governed by instant cash. Companies that lose sight of nature, spend time genetically engineering results and upset the natural order.

If you know what’s natural in your category, you can better predict what will be natural for consumers. Peace!

Brand Plan First.


Last year, I did some consulting for a really smart athletic wear company. The CEO grew up in a niche, understood the market opening and built a company to fill that opening. Focus is a critical component of marketing and this CEO had it. Brand planners and brand experience consultants are always on the lookout for focus.  

Marketers sometimes fall into a trap to expand that focus beyond what they know (and love) which can be the beginning of the end.  Line extensions – endemic line extensions, that is – are okay, but things like sales growth numbers and market growth data can intoxicate a leader.

During this consulting gig the company owner brought me in to help create an “insanely great” retail shopping experience.  Since the owner already had the focus down, this “ask” was a brilliant next step. As brand experts Megan Kent and David Kessler would tell you, building a strong brand is not about just about the creative, it’s about the total experience.  And that’s execution.  That’s deeds not messages.  

One is most likely to build an insanely great retail brand experience if s/he follows the brand idea. Go generic, e.g., customer care above and beyond, and you have no muscle memory.  Or you are compared to Nordstrom.

Of course, production and pricing must also come in to play but they, too, are decisions informed by the brand plan.  Peace.