Monday, December 31, 2007

Manifesto: Drawings that will change your life

There’s something magical about a drawing. Drawings give life to ideas. They help groups to brainstorm better. And they help the presenter articulate an idea. While I was doing my graduate work at Emerson I would often poach (with permission of course) great drawings from other professionals to use at brainstorming sessions with my teammates. The exercises were fun, but more important they worked as a catalyst to get all of us students, with varying degrees of work experience, on the same page. Once that was accomplished the possibilities, and ideas, were endless. Because of my affinity for drawings I would like to share with you a recent manifesto from ChangeThis titled Drawings that will change your life by Ralph Perrine. I hope it inspires you, like it will me, to bring a drawing to your next brainstorming session.

Valerie Conyngham

Thursday, December 27, 2007

The American Express Plum Card

American Express has always been the leader in creating exclusivity around credits cards. Their best example of this is the Centurion Card (a.k.a. the black card) which was once available by invitation only. Now you can apply directly for the card, but you have to be a big spender (at least $250k annually) to be approved. American Express’ newest attempt at massclusivity is their Plum Card. Designed for small businesses, this card gives the card holder access to trade terms and/or deferred interest for two months on purchases. In order to give the Plum card that infamous American Express allure American Express is limiting the initial offering to 10,000 cards and using the tag line “Who is getting one?” in their advertising. I’m not sure how American Express landed on the number 10,000, but I’d argue it’s a number that doesn’t create demand. 5,000 maybe, but 10,000 is just too large. If I said you were 1 in 10,000 would you feel special? Probably not. My guess is American Express set the limit at 10,000 to see how many people take advantage of the trade terms, a potentially costly offering. If after six months of experience American Express notices there’s not a lot of uptake on the trade terms you can bet there will be another “offering” on the table. On the other hand if there is a big uptake on the trade terms American Express may decide to stick with their original 10,000 plum card members (provided they get 10,000 plum card members), maybe even create a wait list (one card member gives up his or her card another person gets in). If that should happen American Express would have 10,000 plum card members with no easy way of entry for non-plum card holders. And because nobody likes to be told no that’s the strategy that would give the plum card the allure that I suspect American Express is looking for.

Valerie Conyngham

Thursday, December 20, 2007

10 Simple Ways to Make an Environmental Impact

I was inspired to write a Top 10 list after reading The Bad Pitch Blog’s Media Relations’ Everlasting Gobstopper post. My Top 10 subject was born out of inspiration found earlier in the week via Stan Rapp’s post on Jaffe Juice and further inspiration came from my looking forward to attending The Green Goat’s holiday party tonight. With that, I introduce my Top 10 Simple Ways to Make an Environmental Impact:

1. Carry your groceries in stylish canvas instead of plastic.
2. Clean the green way.
3. Say no to bottled water – if that’s too much opt for an eco-friendly bottle.
4. Support your local farmers.
5. Support businesses that invest in eco-friendly business practices.
6. Take public transportation, just make sure to carry a bottle of hand sanitizer.
7. Stop the junk mail madness.
8. When you print, print on both sides of the paper. If you work for a company that has their printers set to single sided printing (and the company will not switch to double sided), bring home the paper you would normally throw in the recycle bin and use the clean side in your home printer.
9. Plant a tree, or donate to an organization that will plant one for you.
10. Stop using disposable cups, plates and flatware. If you own your own company give your employees a company mug instead of supplying them with an endless supply of disposable cups.

Also of note, as I was putting together this post I came across an article in the Austin Business Journal announcing that Whole Foods will be banning plastic bags from their stores by early 2008. Kudos to Whole Foods for doing their part.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Should businesses invest in niches or wait for trends?

Developing niche products and services are where many businesses are investing today in an effort to grow their profits. Finding that niche is sometimes easy, as it currently is in the healthcare market (offering an individual plan is the niche to be in since group plan offerings are reaching saturation), but most often finding a new niche is an arduous process. My question is will we reach a point where so many niches have been created that they become too small to reasonably support? The book Microtrends argues that we’re moving away from an economy that produces for the masses to one that produces for many small niches. While I agree with that assessment I also argue that our society has become so entangled in finding the cheapest possible source that it becomes seemingly more difficult to personalize products and experiences and stay competitive. Think big box stores vs. mom and pop shops. Microtrends goes on to say that when a niche reaches one percent of the population a trend is born. Perhaps the solution is to ignore the niches and wait for the trends. Of course that’s a passive approach and could result in a company missing out on a trend because their competitor has already built its reputation around the niche and created immense customer loyalty while doing so; leading us back to the classic marketing book Positioning which argues that a company first to market with something is most likely to remain the market leader. What are your thoughts?

Monday, December 17, 2007

Handwritten Notes Impress Customers

I recently ordered a beautiful letterpressed calendar and package of letterpressed Christmas cards from Linda & Harriett (read their blog). I had never ordered from the company before so I didn't know what to expect, but I had read about them in Daily Candy and I have a soft spot for letterpressed anything. The items arrived promptly and were ever prettier than I expected, but what impressed me the most was the handwritten thank you note (see above image) included in the package. In a world of automation and attempts at personalization it was wonderful to see a company that understands that their customers are actual people (not mere numbers) and are smart enough to know that the Dear John personalization of mass emails is just a computer attempting to make a good impression. It took an extra 20 seconds for a Linda & Harriet employee to write the thank you note and include it in my package, but it made me feel like a valued customer, so valued I'm willing to tell all of my friends about the experience. My challenge to you is to think about the extra 20 seconds you could add to your own processes to start really connecting with your customers.

Friday, December 14, 2007

Architects' Role in Better Office Design

Maureen Hall’s article “Ten Tips From Michael Scott” posted on Advertising Age got me thinking about the endless opportunity for architects specializing in office design. I managed to avoid working in a cubicle for the first portion of my career. Inevitably I made the move to a large organization and on came the cubicle, with its large fabric walls in grim shades of green, no windows within view and no co-workers to converse with easily. It was at this point I began to understand the office humor that The Office projects. With the increasing importance of incorporating better design in the way of sustainability, the field of architecture has been given a new breath of life and the opportunity to redefine itself. An article by Jason Hughes for the San Diego Source reports that in a survey of 2000 office employees many reported that a better-designed office environment would increase their work outputs by as much as 21 percent. Armed with statistics and current trends architects are positioned to be employee advocates in office design. An architect entering a finalist presentation with a smart approach to office design with guarantees of improved employee productivity will be much better positioned over his or her competition that speaks only about traditional retrofitting with the usual office outfitting. Let’s hope that company execs are paying attention to these trends and that better office space for all will be just around the corner.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

It’s the details that separate

Having an affinity for the field of architecture I’m a true believer that our spaces define us. Physical spaces represent an opportunity for a business to leave a lasting impression. Well designed spaces promote a company’s identity through tactile stimulation. Conversely, poorly designed spaces can zap the energy and moral from an otherwise engaged workforce (think cube farms in dimly lit spaces). Through my masters program I recently had the pleasure of working with Adaptive Environments, a non-profit charged with the advancement and proliferation of universal design. I was struck by their space upon my first visit to their office and showroom in Boston’s North End. Their office is a living testament to their mission. The space is easily navigable and accessible by differing forms of ability. There are no stairs, entrances to all spaces are wide enough to accommodate a wheelchair and the atmosphere is stylized and cheerful. In short every detail is paid attention to, including the disposable cups and utensils. This is the detail that puts Adaptive Environments at the forefront of “getting it.” One of the underpinnings of universal design is sustainability, making universal design a natural evolution of green design. The disposable cups that Adaptive Environments keeps on hand are made from corn, the utensils are biodegradable. If a company is that dedicated to make sure every detail is in place in their own space, just imagine the caliber of work they must perform for their clients. It’s these details that separate the authentic from the ordinary.

Friday, December 7, 2007

Bad Grammar in Business

Based on three recent experiences I have to wonder if proper spelling and grammar skills are no longer requirements of business conduct. The business world seems to be replete with individuals who were either never taught grammar or spelling or who are just too lazy to read through their work before it’s submitted. I suspect it’s the latter. Last month I received a response to an RFP from a large vendor with a great reputation in the disease management space. Not only were there numerous spelling errors, but one response stopped mid-sentence. A vendor that a co-worker uses for research work often submits reports filled with grammatical errors and contradictions. And take for example my most recent run-in with bad grammar (which prompted this post) – I was attempting to read an article on the Boston Business Journal website. After reading the teaser I came to a notice telling me: “If you're a print subscriber who haven't yet registered...”

I’m not sure which is worse, the fact that individuals have stopped making an effort to write properly or the fact that businesses (notice in my vendor example I used the word uses not used) have come to tolerate the mistakes. Don’t misinterpret this post as my saying that I’m above such mistakes. The point I’m trying to make is everyone should read their work before they submit it. I’m sure if any of the people responsible for the three examples above would have taken the time to proof their work they would have caught every single error. With that said, if you ever notice a grammatical or spelling mistake in any of my posts, please call me on it.

Sunday, December 2, 2007

Marketing's Role in Subscription Renewals

I recently decided not to renew my subscription to Print magazine. The decision had nothing to do with the magazine (it's a great magazine), it was because it wasn't relevant to my current position. It would arrive in the mail, I would put it on the stack with my other unread magazines and it would just sit there, month after month. So when the barrage of renewal letters started arriving I ignored them, when the first phone call came I ignored it, the second call I told the representative I didn't want to renew, the third phone call my husband told the representative I didn't want to renew and finally on the fourth phone call Print magazine finally decided to believe me - I would indeed not be renewing. 

If marketing was involved would I have received countless letters (maybe) and four phone calls (I hope not)? I wonder if this tactic is part of Print's customer retention strategy. And if it is, where was the marketing department in creating the strategy? Surely even the most novice marketer knows that phone calls are intrusive and it's wise not to make too many unwelcome ones. It's my hope that the marketing department was not involved (though shame on them if they're letting other departments create customer retention programs) and maybe, with enough complaints, they'll quickly take control and craft a better strategy. One that rewards loyal subscribers with more tools and better content and one that realizes that Print magazine just  isn't relevant to everyone. 

Valerie Conyngham

The Power of Great Design

I'm a fan of great design and try to surround myself with it. That's one of the reasons I loved working in the architecture industry. So the minute I caught glimpse of the Flip Video I was in love. The more compelling part to this story - I've never had a desire to own a video camera, I prefer still shots and usually of the black and white variety. 

Here's a little background on this post - I'm currently a student in Emerson's Integrated Marketing Communication graduate program (but not for long, I graduate in 2 weeks). I'm studying Interactive & eCommerce (i.e. social media) in one of my classes. We recently had the pleasure of a guest speaker, C.C. Chapman. He was talking about his work with Verizon and the block party they were planning in Philly. He mentioned that Verizon was using the Flip Video cameras as one of their giveaways and showed us Flip Video's website. There was an audible "very cool" from the classroom when the website was shown. And that night I returned home, hopped on Amazon and ordered one. A few weeks later, while talking to some classmates I discovered that I was not the only one propelled to buy.

What makes the Flip Video land in the category of great design? In my opinion it's the size and weight (both making it extremely portable), the built in USB connection (no need for additional parts), the fact that it's battery operable (no need for a power source), the ease of use (essentially push and record) and the range of colors (so you can show your individuality). It's a statement to thinking about how your customers use video cameras in today's portable, let's capture every moment world.

Friday, November 30, 2007

No Privacy Required

I’m always fascinated by the proliferation of generation profiles in our society. While current work projects are keeping me entrenched in the Baby Boomer generation, it’s the Millennials that I’m reading about the most mainly because of my interest in new media and the Millennials’ importance in shaping it. What always surprises me is how open this generation is to sharing everything (except apparently their shopping habits) but I was taken aback by a New York Times article today that quoted a 25 year old Facebook user as saying “We know we don’t have a right to privacy…” I’m curious if the majority of Millennials think they don't have a right to privacy. And if so, when along the generational curve did we lose our right to privacy? While it has magnificent implications for marketers, I’m not sure what it says about our society.

Tuesday, November 27, 2007

Give the Gift of Green

The City of Boston issued a press release last Friday encouraging people to make a donation to the Parks and Recreation Department Gift Tree Program, a worthy cause, but a poorly written release. The objective of the release was to encourage people to give the gift of a tree. The first paragraph positions a tree as a better alternative to classically unwanted gifts like fruitcakes and Christmas sweaters. It goes on to tell the reader how they’ll be helping their community and the environment by helping the city reach their goal of planting 100,000 trees in Boston by 2020. A win win for everyone. But then the tone turns to guilt. The second paragraph chastises the reader for guilty Christmas pleasures - cutting down trees and sending out holiday cards. I'm curious as to why the city couldn’t decide what would be the better positioning – tree as great gift alternative or tree as duty to compensate for the holiday induced enlargement of carbon footprints. I think keeping the positioning at great gift alternative works best, tie in the environmental angle (without blaming the reader) and you have a wining release, and most importantly, more people gifting trees. 

Sunday, November 25, 2007

Intellectual Property Maps

Business Week recently reported a new intellectual property mapping tool developed by Boston Consulting Group (BCG). The mapping software conducts searches of patent and scholarly databases and then connects the information via circles and connecting lines. 

Say you're about to begin researching a new drug for diabetes, using the BCG mapping tool you'll be able to see what other researchers and organizations are researching the same subject.  A tool like this could help researchers find starting points and sources for their own research and make it easier for them to make a name for themselves in their areas of expertise, think social networking for the research crowd. 
It's not clear how much this tool costs or if it's available outside a BCG consulting contract but it brings an interesting premise for advanced social networks for the professional realm. Perhaps we'll see the creation of a mainstream version of this tool in the future. 

Jack Cards - Filling a Niche

I receive a weekly e-newsletter from Springwise filled with interesting business ideas, many correlating with hot consumer trends as identified through Trendwatching. One of this week's business ideas was Jack Cards, a great website to help people organize their card giving lives.

Like so many successful business models the idea of Jack Cards is simple. It's internet based so the costs are relatively low (at least lower than a brick and mortar), it's unique, has a large selection, makes browsing extremely easy and best of all it encourages visitors to sign-up once, put in all of their contacts (mom, dad, sis, etc) and corresponding card giving dates (birthdays, anniversaries, holidays, etc), assign cards to contacts and give a credit card. Even if the average visitor only enters in five people, that's five automatic sales the site makes, all without the visitor having to remember to visit Jack Cards before the card giving event. 

Every year I make a promise to myself to never forget a birthday and every year I break that promise. I've tried lots of things - calendar reminders, printed birthday calendars, post-it note reminders - and still nothing works. And when I do remember a birthday I end up getting to the stationary store so late that I'm shopping in the belated birthday greetings section. Jack Cards promises to fix all that by allowing me to enter in an unlimited amount of birthdays and select cards for each birthday man or woman. Before the birthday they mail me the card, I sign it and put in the mailbox (they'll even address and stamp the envelope). The cards are great too, very original and nicely designed. So my new resolution (I'm getting an early start to 2008) is to use Jack Cards and never (fingers crossed) forget a birthday again. 

Friday, November 23, 2007

Starbucks' Experimenting with Television Advertising

While I'm not surprised coffee sales are down (what sales aren't down right now) I was surprised to hear that Starbucks is launching their first ever television advertising campaign today in an effort to combat their slowdown in sales. Reportedly sales starting slipping after their price increase in July (no surprise there, there's only so much you can gauge people for coffee before they take their business elsewhere).  In addition to the television campaign, Starbucks will also work on improving the in-cafe experience and will introduce more innovative beverages to the menu. 

You can watch one of the television spots on Starbucks' website, but if you're like me you'll be disappointed. It's a cutesy reindeer and man sharing a cup o coffee on a ski lift, snowflakes falling, soothing music in the background and the call to action of "pass the cheer." Viewers wont even know it's an ad for Starbucks unless they stick through the whole ad. 

While television advertising is still a great way to reach a lot of people (provided they're not zapping the commercials with Tivo or the like) it's probably not the best way for Starbucks to reach the masses. I would encourage Starbucks to concentrate their marking dollars on experiential methods like free samples of the holiday drinks for the masses of tired shoppers schlepping through malls everywhere trying to find that perfect gift. It would be cheaper, Starbucks would have a captive audience, and it would be able to showcase its best asset, the "Starbucks experience." 

Though it should be noted that the Starbucks campaign is the talk of the blogosphere right now, so even if the ads are a flop, they're still getting the attention they were looking for.  

Monday, November 19, 2007

The Changing face of Public Relations

I’ve been thinking about Public Relations lately and how much it’s changed (for the better) over the past 10 years. I started my professional career in a small architectural firm and PR was one of my responsibilities. I attended seminars on how to write an effective press release, I learned how to make valuable press contacts and I lived by a large three-ring binder that listed all of the press contacts for the architecture industry in one spot. The binder was my bible and I hated it. I perceived PR as being rigid and forced. There were a limited number of people to talk to and it was very hard to get your story out to your target audience. Today PR is fun. There are so many more people to talk to, and better yet, so many niches to pitch to. With the advent of blogs, podcasts, videos, on-line forums, etc there are a multitude of ways to get your message out and with unlimited creativity. Take for example Ford’s social media press release for their Ford Focus. It’s written for new media. There are videos, lots of photos, suggested tags, even a way to subscribe to updates via RSS. And I suspect new media journalists (like bloggers) love it. After all, Ford has done all of the legwork and combined all of the social media elements anyone might like into one simple release. I think we’ll start seeing more social media elements being incorporated into press releases and I for one am looking forward to incorporating social media into my own work.

Valerie Conyngham

Sunday, November 18, 2007

Match and the Marketing Mind

I have a friend who is about to enter the world of Match. We've had a couple of conversations and she's had conversations with another friend who has used the dating site in the past. The reason I'm writing about this here is simple, Match requires everyone to start thinking like a marketer. You need to answer simple questions about yourself and write your profile, but how much spin should you give it? The one friend leans toward the eccentric. Her advice was to think about book titles and how they correspond to your life, something akin to having your dating headline read "Le Divorce looking for Le Mariage." The other friend prefers an open and honest approach, with no spin factor.  Imagine creating a Match profile for your product. What would work better in the end, an inflated profile that creates disappointment upon use or honesty from the onset?Maybe we should all create our products with Match in mind, it might just lead to better product development and continuous improvement in the hopes of living up to our profiles.   

Valerie Conyngham 

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Poland Spring Eco-Shape Bottle

I'm not sure if it's the design industries' embracement of sustainable design practices over the past five years, Al Gore's An Inconvenient Truth or magazines like Vanity Fair dedicating entire issues to Green, but sustainable design has hit the mainstream. With green's increasing popularity there are lots of people and organizations lining up to give us advice on how to do our part to help save the environment. One of the big tips - stop drinking bottled water. I've seen this message so many times in the past few months that I've started wondering what the bottled water industry's response would be. Would the industry ignore the noise (and hope that it fades over time) or would they look at new ways to become more environmentally friendly.  As I was thinking this I opened up my refrigerator to find an oddly shaped Poland Spring bottle. I picked it up and read the label "New Eco-Shape Bottle."  It's made with 30 percent less plastic (which consumes less energy to produce) and is designed to be easily crushed for recycling. As a marketer I applaud Poland Spring's effort to not only do their part for the environment, but to create a message that can resonate with an audience who is being told by countless others to stop drinking their product. Think about it, you really want a bottle of water, but you have a fresh message in your head telling you it's bad for the earth, then you see there's a less evil choice, suddenly the guilt dissipates and your back on your bottled water habit. Very smart Poland Spring, very smart. 

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Being late is better than never arriving

I created this blog about a month ago and have just been sitting on it. Why you ask? It’s because I had no idea what to write (and I still don’t but I’m jumping in anyway). It’s not that I don’t have anything to say, believe me I have plenty to say. The problem I was facing was deciding what the first post should be. You see, this is my first blog and I want it to be right, but I wasn’t sure I should tell the world that it’s 2007 and I, as a marketer, am just getting around to writing my first blog, it’s a little embarrassing, but you see now I’ve said it and I feel much better. There’s a reason I was hesitating on announcing this as my first blog, I kept thinking back to some conversations at work about one of the companies in our portfolio that’s behind the market in offering on-line services to clients. This fall our first on-line service was ready, but people were on the fence about how much to say. Should we just casually mention the release or scream from the rooftops – hey, we know we’re late, but thanks for sticking by us, your patience is about to pay off – the final decision was a quiet launch, tell those who need to know but don’t make a big deal about it. In retrospect, if I had any involvement in this project I think I would have screamed from the rooftops.

Valerie Conyngham