Initially Speaking: A One On One With A Three Letter Brand

Ok no cheating, what do the initials QVC stand for? Time’s up. They stand for Quality, Value, and Convenience. These three words have been the brand’s guiding principles since its inception in 1986. A brand, thanks to various marketing initiatives along the way, is now seen in over 300 million homes around the world and last year sales alone generated $8.6B in annual revenues, $3.2B of which came from ecommerce.

It’s a brand that is available, as my fellow Forbes contributor Paula Rosenblum wrote last year in her piece QVC’s Successful Formula For Social Shopping — to view on pretty much any device a shopper has in her hands: from standard web sites to iPads, iPhones and Android devices.

It is also a brand that is very savvy when it comes to marketing — integrated marketing that is or cross-channel marketing of whatever term is hot these days. As Rosenblum put it  “(QVC) serves as an excellent example for retailers seeking to create a consistent customer experience across all engagement and selling platforms.”

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Lightning McQueen, Mater And The Rebranding Of An American Icon

The year was 2006. The marketing medium with the biggest budget was direct mail marketing. Playing in theaters was an animated movie from Pixar about a race car who finds himself on what was once a bustling byway of tourists from around the world that is now a desolate, shell of its once former great self.

The movie of course was CARS and the once bustling byway was and still is, the legendary Route 66. Also known as the Mother Road, it runs from Chicago to Santa Monica and is America’s most celebrated automobile highway and a famous symbol of twentieth-century American culture and history. However, the construction of the interstate highways in the middle of the twentieth century bypassed many communities along Route 66, and subsequently numerous towns and cities along the route have faced economic hardship. It was the inevitable blight which was served as the basis for the film. Continue reading

How A Fortune 500 Brand Uses Consumer Insights

It’s 2014 Mr. and Mrs. Brand, do you know where your customers are? Do you know what they want? Do you know what they don’t want? Do you even know where they are? Needless to say if the word marketing, advertising, branding and so on are in your title or your department, you sure better know the answers to these questions or at the very least know someone who does.

For those work at one particular Fortune 500 brand there is such a person and she and her team, based on my discussion with her, not only have the answers to these questions but also have a lot lot more insight into their customers.GeneralMills-logo-gif

The brand is General Mills and the “she” I refer to is Jeanine Bassett who is the VP of Global Consumer Insights for the brand who makes products that I have surely consumed my fair share of and then some over the years. I spoke with her not along about the role of consumer insights, how it’s changed, where it’s headed and how General Mills uses consumer insights to not only help the brand but the consumer as well. Continue reading

Why CMOs Need To Remember They Are Consumers, Too

Note: While this article is written directly toward CMOs, make no mistake about it, CEOs should heed this advice, too.

The time has come. The time to remind the leaders of marketing departments across the land that they are also consumers, too and as such they need to care about consumers and the business they bring to the bottom line; and that they need to care about things that go way beyond a marketing plan.

In other words they need to remember they are people, too, just like the person on the other end of that cash register, email, Facebook post, advertisement and on and on and on.

How many times do you think a given consumer thinks to himself/herself “I wonder if my favorite retailers really care about me and my business.”

More often than you think Mr. and Mrs. CMO, more often than you think. Continue reading

The most unusual & insightful marketing predictions EVER

I am what many may refer to as a pop culture savant. How else would you describe someone who co-wrote a trivia book entitled Off the Top Of Your Head? The book was essentially a release for myself and two friends (Tim Stanton and Rich Romig) who grew tired of firing one pop culture trivia question after another at each other and decided to put pen to paper.

Don’t bother Googling the book – it never went anywhere past the manuscript stage but it was cathartic to my co-scribes and yours truly for sure. I can tell you we did submit it to Games Magazine to gauge their interest and were told it was “too difficult.” We took a lot of pride in that response.

But that was then, as in a thousand or so years ago and this is today which leads me to the most unusual & insightful marketing predictions EVER. Continue reading

Is The Social Media Slumber Finally Over For Big Brands?

Perhaps it is because I am the father of a 13-year old daughter but whenever I hear the word “slumber” I immediately think of the phrase “slumber party” – which then conjures up fun, unless of course you are the host parent of said party.
However, if you’re a big brand, say on the level of a Fortune 500 brand, your “state of inactivity” – AKA your slumber – when it comes to social media, may finally be over. At least it may finally be over for some as that’s the indication one gets from reviewing data from a recent study from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research.
You can clearly see the uptake in social media usage across the board re: the big social media networks. Most notably is the increase in blogging among Fortune 500 companies – up 28% in just one year.
However, the study delved deeper into blogging and in fact showed that blogging among Fortune 500 companies is up over 112% since 2008.
And try this stat on for size re: blogging: Brands ranked in the top (Fortune) 200 were more likely to blog than those ranked 300-500.
Here’s some other findings/stats:
  • The 171 Fortune 500 corporations with blogs represented 58 of 75 industries in the Fortune 500.
  • 8 of the top 10 corporations actively post on Twitter.
  • 72 of the 75 industries represented in the Fortune 500 use Facebook &  Twitter
  • Only 1 of the top 10 companies (Ford Motors) is on Instagram.
  • Walmart is the only company among the top 10 to use Foursquare.
  • Half of the top 10 have a Pinterest board.

And speaking of Pinterest, in what should come as no surprise to anyone, it has seen a growth of 350% YOY, 2012 to 2013, going from 2% to 9% adoption among Fortune 500 brands. It is worth noting we’re talking very low numbers – 11 companies in 2012 to 45 in 2013 but, you can surely expect to see that number increase as more and more brands take full advantage of the visual-social networks.

Why Has It Taken So Long?
I am a very curious person by nature so when confronted with facts and figures like those above I am left wondering “why has it taken so long for so many large, multi-billion dollar brands to realize what we already know?”
Social media is not a fad. It is not going to go the way of other fads and one day be found on sale on eBay or discovered by the American Pickers sitting in someone’s farm with dust and cobwebs over it.
It is where your customers and future customers are spending more and more of their time so why would you not want to be there with them?
Not that should I have to do this but I will anyway.
Just some, some of the latest stats re: social media usage:
  • 27% of time spent online is on a social network
  • Facebook has 1.11 billion monthly active users
  • Twitter has over 550 million users
  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
  • There are more than 2.1 million LinkedIn groups
  • Pinterest has nearly 50 million users

So why Mr. & Mrs. Brand?

Why has it taken you so long to come around and why so others among you continue to resist the open invitation to join the party – the social media slumber party?

Here’s a few of the reasons I believe it took so many brands to accept the invitation and/or continue to refuse it:
  • Fear. Pure, unadulterated fear. Fear, when it comes to social media, comes in many shapes and sizes and at or near the top of the list for brands is fear of saying something or doing something stupid – for all the world to see.
  • Lack of true ROI. This reason is perhaps trotted out by more brands as to why they don’t participate in social media. Plenty of articles written about this topic. Here’s a real good one from Natalie Burg, my fellow Forbes contributor: How To Measure Your Social Media Return On Investment
  • Lack of content. I think there are still a great number of brands – both big and small, who know they need to be at the party but simply do not know what to say; what to share, what to post and on and on and on. So they choose to watch from afar, hoping one day to take the leap – which of course they won’t and it won’t matter anyway for it will be too late.

The bottom line to all of this is very simple in my humble opinion.

Now, more than ever, it is vital to establish and maintain a relationship with consumers. And short of going door-to-door or inviting everyone over for a backyard BBQ, the next best alternative is to interact, engage and relate to them via social media.
Come join the social media slumber party.
Pajamas are optional.
Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred, Steve Olenski is a senior creative content strategist at Responsys, a leading global provider of on-demand email and cross-channel marketing solutions. He is a also a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing and co-author of the book StumbleUpon For Dummies. He can be reached via TwitterLinkedIn or Email

When A Brand Promise Backfires

Like every other marketing-related word or phrase, the term “brand promise” has its fair share of definitions. The one I like best is one that I think captures the essence perfectly for it speaks to the relationship marketing aspect.
It was written by Jean Wilcox, one of the authors of the book AbuLLard’s ABC’s of Branding: “A brand promise is the statement that you make to customers that identifies what they should expect for all interactions with your people, products, services and company. It is often associated with the company name and/or logo.”

Wilcox also believes a brand promise is also the tagline for a given brand – and she’s right.
Case in point:
  • Coors Light – “The World’s Most Refreshing Beer”
  • Geico – “15 Minutes Or Less Can Save You 15% Or More On Car Insurance”
  • Nationwide Insurance – “Nationwide Is On Your Side”
Three classic examples of a brand promise and tagline doing the same thing.
The Promised Land
With a not-so-indirect homage to The Boss, what happens when a brand promise backfires? Well, there may or may not be a “dark cloud rising from the desert floor” but, it can cause damage to the brand itself for sure.
Remember a few years ago when the whole News Corp. brand promise took a major blow? It’s promise was to legally investigate and report news and a phone-hacking scandal and questionable journalistic activities did not exactly deliver on that promise now did it?
The brand’s actions had a direct impact and effect on its brand promise.
Not long ago I became aware of a restaurant in New York city called Sushi Yasuda which made headlines when they announced they would no longer accept tips from its patrons.
To me this had red flags written all over it.
How great that you no longer have to worry about how much to leave your server.
Sure sounded like a good idea from a consumer’s perspective.
Or did it?
And then there was the marketing perspective.
Shouldn’t a restaurant’s brand promise have something to do with providing not only great foot but great service? And inherent in that great service are the people delivering that service; that experience.
How would their attitude change knowing they are not receiving a gratuity?

Julia Carcamo, a brand strategist with a number of years of experience in developing food and beverage brands ranging from fine dining to casino buffets says what while the prospect of making a dining experience easier on a guest is always exciting,  eliminating tipping seems to be a quick way to fail at delivering on a promise of great service.

And it all comes down to the people delivering on that promise.
“Like most brands, the rubber hits the road at the point of guest contact,” she said. “You have to hire the people that will deliver on the promise, knowing that promise is even bigger now that you’ve taken the guests’ ability to determine whether their experience was worth a tip and how much it was worth.”
Jan Talamo, who is partner in the award-winning restaurant Catelli Duo (and as CCO of the ad agency Star Group knows a thing or two about marketing/advertising), agrees with Carcamo in that this idea is novel and would generate buzz.
However he doesn’t believe it’s practical for the everyday establishment.
“I believe it would border on entitlement and service would suffer,” said Talamo. “There’s something about tipping that keeps it honest and everybody striving to deliver the best guest experience.”
He adds that tipping plays a role in performance appraisals of employees.
“At the end of the day the amount written in the gratuity line of the check doesn’t lie. From an operators standpoint, we have technology that rates each server by the amount of gratuity they register, hence, another metric to gauge guest satisfaction and server performance.”
Laying Down The Law
Carolyn Richmond is a partner in the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP. She is co-chair of their Hospitality Practice Group which represents and counsels employers in the hospitality industry, specifically restaurants.
She too agrees that an official ‘no tipping’ policy isn’t necessarily a bad idea. She thinks the answer lies in our state legislatures and Congress revising the wage and hour laws and addressing the epidemic of abusive litigation.
“Eliminating tipping is not a final solution, and what lies at the root of this issue are archaic laws that are on the books,” she says. “We have different needs than in 1938. The wage and hourly laws need to be changed with A-to-Z reform.”
Image Source: Google Images