Category Archives: marketing strategy

Is “Grey Thursday” here to stay?

Some pals not involved in the retail world have asked me why they call the Friday after Thanksgiving Black Friday.  Our esteemed (and smart) readers all know the answer.  (For those still in the dark, check out Wikipedia.)

English: Nordstrom at Washington Square (Orego...
No Grey Thursday for them…

Let’s clarify one thing:  we LOVE a hot sale!  We are all about selling; it’s our reason for being.  In the food business, this is the most profitable time of the year. Bring’em on!

What we are not so hot about is this new trend of shopping for stuff on Thanksgiving Day.  So many seem to be doing it now (in the states with no Blue Laws, of course). Many, except for our revered Nordstrom.

Our love affair with the chain began when we first blogged about them years ago.  We highlighted a personal experience involving the delivery of an evening gown, expertly altered,  to our very doorstep by their department manager a couple of hours before a special event.

The other custom that sometimes backfired on them but made you love them even more was their no-questions-asked return policy.   We understand they even took back a few car batteries…

In short, “Nordys” gets retail, espousing the “ABCs” of customer service.  According to Boston Retail Partners, these are:

  1. Anticipate customers’ questions before they ask.
  2. Be ready to offer suggestions for upsells and cross-sells.
  3. Create an interactive experience throughout the store.
  4. Deliver personalized offers and promotions.
  5. Execute a seamless checkout experience.

Their strong understanding of what they do and why they do it  is why you won’t see any Christmas decorations or hear any carols sung in Nordstrom stores until Friday. “We just like the idea of celebrating one holiday at a time,” their signs and ads say.  

Their web site also explains why they believe their employees should spend holidays with family.   Judging from the positive comments about this on their and other news sites, consumers are on their side.

The idea they espouse of “celebrating one holiday at a time” is sound, especially when you consider that Christmas decorations as early as Halloween (even in August, in some cases!) are really an affront to our senses.  As a business strategy, it also reflects a  lack of imagination, and we know that to succeed at retail you need lots of imagination.

There was a time, not long ago, when only a few retailers would open at Thanksgiving.  Not a great idea, but at least they were different; they stood out.   Now, everyone seems to be doing it.

We all know that swimming in a sea of sameness is the death knell for retail.  In fact, there is already a segmentation between customers of the lower-end, price-strategy chains (who are open on Thursday) and the service-strategy ones who don’t, and that the twain shall never meet.

Today we applaud those retailers who know how to take a stand but also how to stand out in the marketplace.

A VERY HAPPY THANKSGIVING TO YOU AND YOURS!

Mad over metrics, or looking for stuff where the light is better

English: John Wanamaker
Smarter than Don Draper?

Consider this statement from a renowned retailer:

“…Another experience that goes largely in ordinary advertising is the waste of money.  There have been many calculations concerning the vast sums of money expended upon advertising in this country.  I do not recall what their magnitude is, but the figures compiled by observers are really astounding.   I think if we could manage to analyze that expenditure…we would find that a vast percentage of it, probably one-half, is entirely wasted…”
 

Was this WalMart’s lament at the last shareholder meeting?  Or,  perhaps JCP’s excuse for its continuing doldrums?  Neither, dear reader.  It was part of an industry speech by none other than John Wanamaker (pictured left), founder of the late, great Wanamaker’s department store, in…1898.

100+ years later, the issue still hounds marketers, albeit pared to the more sound-bitey:  “Half the money I spend on advertising is wasted; the trouble is I don’t know which half.” 

When Wanamaker wailed about advertising, the term “marketing metrics” was unheard of.   There was no TV, of course, and “social networking” meant getting together for tea with your neighbor.

Even more than half a century later, in the 1960s (the Mad Men days) there were only three TV networks and three national news magazines to consider.  With limited venues and a high captive audience, advertising was, as a “Don Draper” type quipped: “like shooting fish in a barrel.”

Those halcyon days are now clearly over, as expanded communication venues and, especially, social media, provide an audience of mega-millions.  Expectations are high:  there are so many more fish to shoot!

However, this has created a climate where marketers wish to quantify everything.  How many Followers, Pokes, or Likes did we get today?  How many unique viewers visited the site?  For how long were they engaged?  What was the conversion rate of the ad?  There is barely a company today not pondering their metrics, or, how to measure the effectiveness of their PR, advertising, social media, and myriad other marketing activities.

There is even a new crop of “consultants to consultants” looking to advise agencies how to win big by “generating metric reports that dazzle!”, or by offering “100 Ways to Keep Clients Happy and Budgets Intact” (without having to bribe them with booze, drugs, or game tickets, we assume…)

One such group recently advised to be careful how we use nouns vs. verbs in our metrics reports, as they can dramatically “affect the effect.”  No wonder self-professed “AdHo” George Parker, a veteran of the already-waning Mad Men era in the 70s, says we’ve all gone mad over metrics.

He claims we often measure things without considering what it is, exactly, we are looking for.   And if we were to find it, what does it all mean?  He clarifies:  “It’s like a guy losing his car keys in the garage but going into the living room to look for them because the light is better there.”

This “looking for stuff where the light is better” trend rings true.  Truth is, marketing programs should be measured, but not all marketers should or know how to do the math. (Actually, the only old math they need to memorize is:  REACH + FREQUENCY = IMPACT.  It still holds true today.)

Never having made it to Statistics 101 in college, they certainly don’t have time to deal with it now.  They just want a good story to sell.  “Put up a realistic number that makes us look good”  they beg, preparing the slides for the upcoming stockholders meeting.

On the other side, we have recently slogged through an extensive (and expensive) report by a respected university. It contained complex, multi-page regression analyses to help justify the client’s advertising campaign. (People, it’s just advertising!)

Of course, there’s no harm in searching for brightness where the light is dim.  If, say, your post-campaign survey reveals 40% of consumers “seldom” buy your product and 20% “sometimes” do, then you can probably safely say 60% are “frequent purchasers.”  We used to call this a minor statistical enhancement.  Now, it’s metrics.

In summary, good advertising is part science, part art, and lots faith.  There are things that we can’t put an immediate number to, but we just know are right.

They sound and feel right, and we get the right reaction to it.  That’s the emotion “metric” the best ad-makers have always gone for.

John Wanamaker knew that, and that’s why, grumbling, he kept up his ad spending to build one of the most successful retail chains in the world.

Food deserts & double jeopardy

Bit of an urban sprawl
Searching for the green in urban sprawl (Wikipedia)

On a recent trip to Latin America, we were sharply  aware of the great divide that exists rich and poor, between “good” and “bad” neighborhoods.

While this delineation exists in the U.S. of course,  it seems more marked down there.  As you drive through gargantuan urban sprawl, it’s like crossing invisible border fences.

One of the key aspects of this economic divide is the dearth of supermarkets in lower-middle class to poor neighborhoods.  These are the so-called “food deserts” that blight large cities, where not one fresh tomato can be found within miles, and where eating healthy is never in the cards.   If you are what you eat, then these folks will remain forever poor.  (see related stories, below)

It’s not only the lack of green vegetables that is troubling:  it’s the lack of green, period.  With mom & pop or convenience stores charging far more than traditional supermarkets, few folk have any money left after shopping for basic food items.

The recent opening of a Sam’s Club in a poor section outside Rio was greeted with a shrug and comment by a local:  “Stock up?  We can barely afford one toilet-paper roll at a time.”  The question then begs:  are food chains positioned to serve this population segment?

This week, the Journal of Preventive Medicine addressed this topic in a study which showed that poor, mostly black neighborhoods face “double jeopardy” when it comes to supermarket access.  Specifically, the study strove to address what it meant  to be in a poorer white neighborhood versus a wealthier black neighborhood.

Here’s an excerpt:

“…living in a poor, mostly black neighborhood presented “a double disadvantage” in supermarket access.  Unsurprisingly, poor black neighborhoods had fewer supermarkets than wealthier black neighborhoods. But they also had fewer supermarkets than poor white neighborhoods, suggesting that race still played a role apart from poverty.”

However, this was different in Latino neighborhoods.  Though they had fewer supermarkets than Anglo areas, Latino neighborhoods had more grocery stores than black areas, regardless of the  poverty level.

In short, the lack of supermarkets in disadvantaged area was not only an economic but a racial issue as well.  This infers that supermarket chains who traditionally profile customers by income level should look more carefully at the the race equation as well.

Accurate profiling of retail customers has never been as important, especially since today a “traditional family” can mean two gay guys with a dog.  For marketers, it’s a reminder that, more than ever, one size no longer fits all.

The “Fear Factor” in sales

His fear may be your freedom
His fear may mean your freedom

Fear. . .arguably the strongest sentiment in both animals and humans.  In fact, a friend who leans toward spiritual matters say that the opposite of love is not hate, but fear.

This philosophy is definitely worth pondering over a glass or two of wine after a long day.  However, in the harsh blue light of our iPads, as we prepare a presentation to a sales prospect, it also merits immediate consideration.

After all, most of us who work for a living live in some fear:  of losing the job, of upsetting the boss, not making the sale, etc.  Yet how many of us think about the fears of the other person sitting across the desk or conference table,  the one we’re trying so hard to impress?

Let’s put ourselves in his or her shoes.  In fact, this person may have a lot more fear than you and thus need you more than you need them.

This quandary arose recently in our client work, where we evaluated the key challenges for supplier/marketers (us!) vs. receiver/retailer/customer (them!) when introducing a new product.   It provided a simple gap analysis of the complex retailer/supplier relationship today.

We saw how often a weakness on one side correlates directly to the other, like balancing scales. Importantly, the exercise helped provide perspective in relationships we often view as one-sided: where the other side has all the benefits and we have all the Benzedrine.

To help us keep calm and carry on during sales presentations to retailers, we refer to our “Fear Factor” table:

SUPPLIER

RETAILER

Focused on being unique vs. meeting need Shuns creativity and plays it “corporate”
Takes short cuts in key market research Has access to data but no time to review
Prefers sales now vs. slow-building the biz Lives by P&L vs. what market wants now
Slow to “seize” category and be a leader Oversees too many categories to know
Has too much freedom; gets into trouble Runs from trouble…and opportunities

While this table is not new in insight, it does serve as a quick reminder that sometimes someone else’s fear may spell your freedom:  freedom to take the reins and run with them.

Pretail: the new shopping trend

A new trend is poised to change shopping as we know it:  pretailing.   This emerging practice could really throw a wrench on our beloved “path to purchase.  According to agency JWT, pretailing is not just a fad but a “top ten” consumer trend.

English: Leonardo da Vinci in Amboise Русский:...
With crowd-funding, you can make like Leonardo (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

What may be game-changing about this is it’s not about giving consumers a sneak-peek at your new creation, as at an auto show.  Instead, it’s about people creating the product they want to buy.  In fact, they want it to so much they are willing to pay you to make it.  It’s like being commissioned for a great work, Leonardo da Vinci-style.

Success can quickly go to your head in the new world of pretailing because you actually see the money pot being raised.  Yet the idea of shopper-as-mad-scientist — co-creator of your grand idea —  may not actually thrill because you could lose all control.

Pretailing is brought to you via the new darlings of the “internether”:  crowd-funding.  Sites such as  KickStarter, Christie Street, Outgrow.me, the winsomely-named Tiny Light Bulbs, and others are where they have you at: “Hello…what the heck is THIS?”  And every new “this” means money.

The “pretailing marketplace” grew 85% to USD 1.4 billion during 2012.   Trendwatching reported that in one year, Kickstarter recorded 2.2 million people in 177 countries putting down  $275M to see their favorite products produced.

With all this warm & fuzzy acceptance pre-prototype, marketers may fear the R&D, focus groups, ideation sessions, channel analyses etc.  they excel in will all go pffft…   Do we need to destroy the smoke machines and wrap the mirrors in black?

Before we panic,  let’s remember that this is all about getting a product made.  But how about its survival?  Only time will tell if pretailing will decrease the high rate of new products that fail on the shelf.  In a fragmented distribution world, the right product is a good thing but the right channel is the secret of life.

That’s why we don’t see any decreased demand in expert marketing research and roll-out strategies for new products.  In fact, in a crowd-funded world, the challenge may be to stand apart from it.

In fact, we predict the demand for comprehensive market and trends research to ensure staying power will be even greater with pretail, especially since there is OPM (or, “other people’s money”) involved.   As every public company executive knows too well:  where there is OPM, there are rules.

Paying to play

Supermarket
Expensive real estate (Photo credit: Sean MacEntee)

The reports of Walmart paying bribes in Mexico to get permits to build stores  have certainly stirred a lot of industry buzz.  Pundits pose on both sides of the issue, debating whether this is truly illegal or merely how global business is done today. (For a thoughtful discussion of this issue, see:  www.perishablepundit.com )

While the final verdict on the case may take years and we’re not expressing our opinion, nor are we legal experts (disclaimers!), we can safely say here that this type of thing is rampant in most parts of the world.  In fact, in most cases it is just life as usual.

In Brazil, for example, the country would not function were it not for what the Mexicans call “gestores” and in Portuguese are “procuradores” and their many minions.  In a country where bureaucracy is endemic,  it’s the only way to survive.

If you have to wait in line for a document to prove you are still alive, you may very well die before you get it.   That’s why you hire someone to stand in line for you:  so you can get on with your life.

We assume this also applies to commercial construction permits.   In retail, a month may be a lifetime, so it’s easy to see the type of pressure this exerts on a company trying to enter a new market.

But let’s digress a bit to something we do know a little about, and that’s the concept of “paying to play”.  When we talk about this we are of course referring to the cost of doing business at retail outlets, sometimes delicately termed “real estate fees”.

Clients are often shocked when we tell them what it takes to get their products up on supermarket shelves.  Shelf slotting fees are said to be a $9B+ industry alone, and can easily run over $30,000 per SKU. (AMA)

So, if you have a brand with three different flavors, that’s three separate SKUs (you do the math.)  Note that this is typically in addition to off-invoice, case allowances or any other relevant fees to get your products promoted properly.

When you look at the one to two percent annual margins of most supermarket chains today you can see  that slotting is an attractive profit center.   But it’s important to also remember that a simpatico retail partner can make or break you.  So,  if you’re lucky and end up with your products on their shelves, why, you may soon retire in grand style.

Yet many of the sweet-hearted folk who make the great-tasting  jams you see at your local farmer’s markets don’t know or understand this.  They remain at the farmer’s market for that key reason:  they can’t get their products into the great indoors because they have no money.

We often run into the great  jam-&-jelly-makers of this world who spend thousands of dollars to participate in trade shows where they hope to meet supermarket buyers, yet have no capital to go any further.  They believe that just having great-tasting stuff is enough.

It’s like a pretty, aspiring actress hoping to be discovered sitting at a Hollywood lunch counter.   Does it still happen?  Maybe, but the “price” can be high, as these gals will tell ‘ya…

“No such thing as a free lunch” is the adage marketers need to keep in mind here.   If not actual hard cash, then certainly you need the “capital” of a well-thought out strategic marketing plan and a product that is totally of  the moment:  ideally, an “Aha!” item a chain may wish to keep for itself.   Additionally, to deal with the pressure you need a large set of what from Spanish roughly translates to “spherical male organs”…

Still, even if you have THOSE, you may wish to pray for some venture capital angel or a M&A expert to show up and offer to sell your wonder product to a major company so you can go sip Margaritas pool-side and forget all this stuff.

The Retail Games

Black Friday line
Let the Games begin!

For the sake of your health and safety, not to mention sanity,  we trust you came away unscathed from the recent shopping madness this past weekend that concluded with Cyber Monday.

What’s next:  “Techie Tuesday”?, “Wacky Wednesday?”  (Don’t laugh, and remember:  you saw it here first).

You’d hardly know there was a recession going on for the crowds that made this Black Friday allegedly the best on record (final sales figures still to be tallied), sending retail chain stocks soaring 5%+.  The Occupy Wall Street folks who organized to boycott “big chains” during the Holiday didn’t seem to have made a dent.

For marketers this urge to splurge is a rather thrilling, if unsettling, phenom.  After all, it was only a few years ago that the term “Black Friday” even became part of the American lexicon.  An elderly family member still thinks it’s some newfangled  religious holiday…

With stores now open during the sacrosant Thanksgiving Day, retail is now a new ball game:  one where nice guys finish last.

The protests of the pious about spending this time with family makes a good point, but the harsh truth is that retailers would not be opening their doors if there wasn’t demand.  And consumer demand has apparently reached a fever pitch as shoppers with pepper sprays and push strategies win the day.

As marketers, here are some key questions to ask ourselves about this trend:

  • If everyone’s already shopped out by Black Friday, what becomes of other Fridays…or any other day before Christmas?
  • What happens to manufacturers when inventories are already depleted for the Holidays and no new orders come in?
  • What do retailers do when their gross margins are dented by these deep discounts?  Do they dive even deeper?
  • If consumers only crave deep discounts, how will we wean them back into EDLP?

You may recall the halcyon days when many chains employed  Hi/Low pricing strategies, where discounts were something to be savored, special promotions were creative hallmarks, and blowouts only occurred post-Holiday. 

With Everyday Low Pricing the norm and “extreme couponing” the end game, it’s a challenge to make a case for brand-building.  Or is it?

We’ve blogged about the complex human character that hungers to shop.  There are elements at work in our subconscious that take pleasure in these animalistic rituals taking place in the retail jungles.  In short, the Thanksgiving spending spree is just one big game hunt.

Yet, once the thrill of the chase, the stampede of the crowd, and all that glitters disappears and shoppers finally view their prize quietly at home, do they hear the little voice asking:  “What is this garbage you just spent your last dollar on?!”

Stuff shoppers may not tell us

Soldiers and Family members participated in th...
Even the Armed Forces uses focus groups

At the same time marketing pundits are proclaiming that focus groups are dead, they’re trying to unearth what makes consumers tick. 

Used to be if you were a manufacturer and wanted to get some real qualitative (as opposed to quantitative) info on your new product, you’d put a focus group together. 

Get a small group of women together in a room all day, feed them well and pay them something, and they’ll tell you anything…Fact is, focus groups, when done well and includes multi markets and profiles, can give you information you can’t get anywhere else. 

Qualitative info(the hard numbers) you can get from scanner data.  Intimate stuff, such as what truly turns a shopper on:  things she would never tell anyone outside that room, that’s what makes focus groups useful.

But it seems this practice has gone the way of the Dodo bird, as “mystery shopper” clubs, chat rooms, on-line surveys and mobile apps appear to provide marketers with enough fodder from consumers.  Although these arguably much lower-cost tactics have their proponents (on-site focus groups can be very pricey), they still can’t be compared with being able to gauge the immediate reaction on the face of a group participant.

Now it seems this psychographic profiling and what it reveals is making a comeback.  It’s interesting that marketers claim they now want to get inside the consumer’s head when what they’ve been doing is mainly blitzing coupons at her…

In any case, Kraft just announced they’re developing a sophisticated new science of  “emotional profiling to provide actionable answers”  both for them and their retailer partners, according to trade pub CPG Matters.  Apparently, they are splitting hairs about whether shoppers “like” or simply “prefer” something, and how that spells the difference at check-out.

We’ ve always tried to look at the “need to have” vs. “nice to have” component of any marketing outreach.  Especially in today’s economy, folks are going to look carefully at what they buy, and probably prefer the former.  Do we really need the “green” detergent that costs so much more?

Yet food is a different animal.  There exists strong triggers — look, aroma, taste, and emotional ties — that make the food decision for us, regardless of logic.  How else can you explain the Australian expats’ continuing love of  Marmite

One of the key challenges facing manufacturers like Kraft is that this emotional reaction to food means, as they put it:  “that two identical-looking products could achieve the same score in acceptability tests, but perform wildly differently in the marketplace.”

That we shop with emotion is nothing new, and psychographics have been part of the marketer toolbox way before we knew what to call it.  Importantly, though, the increasingly ethno and income segmentation of the population adds complex levels to marketing plans.

We used to rely on reports from AC Nielsen and others that provided snappy, “canned” profiles we loved, such as “Bluehairs in Sun Country”, which neatly encapsulated all residents of, say, Vero Beach, FL.  Sure was easy to do specific-store marketing then…

 Today, with ethnic groups making up almost half of some metro markets, things are different.  Importantly, the cultural diversity means traditional tools like focus groups don’t work as well. 

For example, Latinos will typically say things that may not be true just to please the researcher.  Also, the acculturated/assimilated Hispanic may shop more like an Anglo…except when she’s with her mother.  You get the changing picture.

Trying to make this emotional connection to the consumer is nothing new.  It’s just so much harder today.  That’s why if the Big Guns are seeing the need to reinvent segmenting strategies to hold onto their brand dominance, we smaller guns should also.

Location, location, location…

Image representing iPhone as depicted in Crunc...
Staring at this instead of the shelf?

We’ve posted often about the importance of segmentation, that one size no longer fits all, etc.  But all that’s old hat now because there’s new stuff afoot.

What still holds true, however, is that around 70% of all purchasing decisions are made in store.  In fact, the new apps we discuss below help support that impulse adage.  Long the mantra for buying real estate, “Location, location, location”  has now also become a marketing buzzword.  

Recently, we’ve watched the popularity of in-store radio grow:  a very old medium that has been revitalized by innovative systems like VOXPOP (see 2/11 post) that not only time the message to the moment (and specific store), but also provide lift data post-promo. 

As they’ve long said about advertising:  50% of it is wasted…but which 50%?  Now, we’re closer to knowing.

We also know that with shopping/social mobile apps such as Foursquare, GroupOn, and others,  the ability to pinpoint exactly where customers are at any given time is going to become a key strategy. 

 There is an acronym for this:  LBS (location-based service) and you’re going to be hearing a lot more about it.  According to Applied Predictive Technology, LBS or mobile marketing is being  quickly adopted by major restaurant and retail chains.  

As an example, General Mills offers a two-for-one coupon for its cereals to the iPhone of a consumer standing in the middle of the aisle.  Another example is for drink deals broadcast to anyone walking within a block of a 7-Eleven.

The venture capital crowd has allegedly invested heavily in these LBS companies in expectation that these services will displace more traditional couponing channels, such as newspaper inserts.   The Mobile Marketing Association (MMA) also claims that consumer interest in mobile coupons continues to grow (but then, they have a vested interest here…)

Lest we abandon all oldies-but-goodies to climb onto this new bandwagon, let’s not forget that no single element a program makes.  The key to effective marketing is applying integrated tactics that work together to achieve maximum impact.

Just like with social media, all this input can quickly reach a saturation point with consumers.  They’ll just turn off their phones or simply ignore the texts.  On top of that, dealing with all this actionable stuff simply adds more time to to the shopping experience, and evidence points to the fact folks want to spend less — not more — time inside stores.

The benefit of  “old-fashioned” in-store audio, of course, is that shoppers can’t turn it off but they can tune it out if they wish.  It’s not an invasive technology but more of a subconscious influence.  Also, it doesn’t take time away from shelf surfing, which is something retailers need to look at.  More time staring at your iPhone = less time spending!

Importantly, LBS enthusiasts need to remember that whatever the hot new technology used to deliver the message is, they still need a compelling USP.  In fact, it needs to be even better than before because customers need to be driven to take immediate action. 

Manufacturers seem to want to control this new marketing technology themselves namely because they claim they can do it all in-house, with no need for agencies.  They’re wrong, of course, because there are few corporate suits (read:  brand managers) with the zany mind to do this well.  This means that the creative strategy part of the marketing plan has never been more important.

In summary: the message is the medium and, despite all the latest gizmos, will always be.

Trends: did we call’em?

oasis of the seas_inbound
The people who build these must know something...

Last December 31 we posted our 2010 Trend Predictions:  an exercise in marketing crystal-balling that may yet backfire.  So, let’s look at what we may have called…or missed. 

We’ve reprinted a brief excerpt of our predictions (in italics) and color-coded them as follows:  Green for “You GO, girl!”, Red for “Thine name is mud!” and Yellow for “Am (still) curious…?”  plus, we added our thoughts for 2011 (You can still read the original 12/31/09 post here).  Here we go:

DEATH OF MASS MEDIA  The advertising industry has been predicting the end of mass media since the late 80s… Yet, like Cher, it has orchestrated comebacks in varying guises…cont…  

Yep, we called the surge of social media, but there was much more we didn’t, like the advent of mobile marketing apps.  Marketers are still spending on traditional media (print, broadcast, billboard etc). but the difference is it’s now typically paired with a social media campaign designed to work like the tide to lift the entire flotilla. 

DEATH OF MEGA-AGENCIES.  Pursuant to the trend above, some marketers are choosing to forgo “Mad Men” monoliths and build their own Dream Team

Truth is, we don’t have an exact metric on how many big agencies went out of business in 2010, if any (and we haven’t heard of any).  However, the trend is, like with most businesses today: the big get bigger, and the small either stay cute and boutiqueish, or they die.  However, we have seen several large agencies go from being media-commission dependent to charging clients for time/expenses.   As it should be, although prompted less by altruism than by the sheer fact that mass media is dead (see above).   We have never liked the media-commission-as income practice because it trulycan be a conflict with the best interests of the client. (Spend more so we make more!)  It also appears that with a more challenging marketplace, clients are truly seeking out agency expertise…as it also should be.

TIGHTER SOCIAL MEDIA STRATEGIES. On 11/19 we talked about Twitter’s possible monetization. There is no such thing as a free lunch: not for long, that is. By charging to promote and/or to view, social media may soon be, well, less socialist…

We thought Twitter would monetize by now and we were wrong.  To their credit, they have managed to remain a free service and survive the ups & downs of  a start-up.  In fact, they’re almost mainstream media now. (Even we’re on it now, see right column!)  The number of businesses now using it — even B2Bs — has exploded.  This week we read Facebook was infused with investor capital so it could continue to remain a private company.  If that’s not confidence in the medium…

THE EDLP MENTALITY. We see retail chains increasingly adopting everyday-low-price strategies (EDLP) instead of the hi/lo of yore. This, coupled with personnel cutbacks, are making pundits predict the death of creative promotions and customer service.

Based on our many posts about lousy customer service, we’d say we called this one, although even WalMart has gone soft on its “price roll-back” strategy,  filled its aisles back up, and appears to be going for a kindler/gentler approach. 

THE MEDIUM IS THE MESSAGE. This old adage has recently been recast by Comcast’s purchase of NBC. Controlling content was the goal here. While networks have lost their supremacy (and their death bell tolls), they still offer something valuable the hardware giants want: creativity.

(Ref Twitter, above) We were also spot-on about this.  Yet this past season we saw some exemplary cable offerings, proving that networks have less hold on the creative process.  Gems like HBO’s Prohibition-era mini-series, Boardwalk Empire (definitely not to be confused with Jersey Shore) and the continuing high-level Mad Men are only two among several programs that have pushed the creative edge of the pay-TV envelope.  With new cable offerings on the table as of 1/1/11 (i.e. Oprah’s OWN channel) we predict the networks will turn into the home of campy reality shows and not much else.   They question is:  how many Dancing With The Stars or American Idol wanna-bes can they churn out?

EVERYMAN AN EXPERT. The consumer became king long ago.  Now, as emperor of an increasingly-expanding domain he (she!) can, with a product review, blog, or Tweet, build or destroy in one single post.

We got the green on this one as well.   We see this trend continuing and, with Foursquare and other mobile marketing services full-frontal, truly large tribes of people are being followed wherever they go and asked for their opinions, but mostly for their money.  Scary, big-brother-type thought, but here we are….

SEARCH FOR SUITABLE SUSTAINABILITY ANGLE.  We addressed this in more detail on 12/18/09 so will make this brief: marketers who claim this platform need to carve their own positioning on this issue to avoid “me-too-ness” .

Yeah, we called this one, sorta… but the truth is it’s still looking a bid faddish out there with this topic.  We think it’ll take a while for the buzz  to die down a bit about this and social responsibility, and only those companies with truly unique angles and a real program to tout will remain.

FRUGAL FASHIONISTASThe Great Recession has spawned consumers who actually boast about being on food stamps. Today, more than 741,000 websites expound on the topic of a frugal lifestyle.

Yes, it seemed like this in the early months of 2010, but there is a bit of  reversal now.  Luxury is back in, evidenced by purveyors like Tiffany and others posting 7% sales increases since 09.   All told, even with Snowmageddon on the east coast,  the 2010 Holiday season posted the best numbers since 2006.  We may cry wolf (and unemployment) but there is definitely an “I’m treating myself  because I deserve it” mentality out there.  Maybe it’s just plain un-American to sacrifice and suffer too much…

DEEPER COCOONINGThe Great Recession has re-popularized the practice. The result, according to AC Nielsen, has been that more than 4,000 restaurants closed in 09.  The average guest check also plunged more than eight percent.

While “staycations” may have been the norm in 09, we saw less cocooning  in 2010 and predict that folks will get out more this year and spend more on restaurants (but they won’t be high-end like in the past).  After all, they’ve just launched new cruise ships big enough to house 8000 passengers!  These guys must know something we don’t…  On the other hand, as far as home is concerned, well, we’re staying put.  We can’t sell it so can’t upgrade to swankier digs…so we’re going back to Home Depot for that new faucet…

SIMPLER, KINDER, GENTLER.   Along with the frugal, stay-at-home trend comes the desire for what is truly real. Marketers who provide homespun flavor enveloped in warm & fuzzy messages will appeal to consumers seeking comfort instead of crazy.

We’re really not sure about this one.  It felt like 2010 was a year of unusual violence and upheaval around the world.  But maybe that was just in the movies…  What’s your thought??

HEALTHIER EATING BY YOUTH. Pending the passage of the controversial health-care bill, Americans are showing increasing concern with nutrition and the legacy of obese children.

Yes, by golly, we GOT it!  The just-barely-squeaked-by food law was signed this week, but was eclipsed in overall impact by the First Lady’s earlier, boldly- executed Salad in Schools program.  Along with the removal of candy and soft drink machines from many educational institutions and even government cafeterias, perhaps the tipping point toward the good has finally occured here.

Well, about half predicted correctly ain’t half bad, right? 

Have a healthy and happy New Year!