Thursday, January 31, 2008

Birthday wishes from my retailers

A few years ago I was the marketing chair for a private club in Boston. During my tenure I tried repeatedly to get a birthday program started. The design was simple; keep track of members' birthdays and send each member a card on their birthday with a special gift, such as a complimentary glass of champagne during any club dinner service. The initiative was designed to serve two purposes - reiterate how appreciated each member was by the club and remind members that the main dining room provided the perfect atmosphere for special occasions. Every time I proposed the idea it was met with resistance, primarily because there was no centralized location to store the data and an unwillingness to make funds available to create one. I still think it's a great idea, but I'm no longer as heavily invested in the club as I once was and so I let the idea die long ago. It's only the past two weeks that have brought the idea back into consciousness. And that's thanks to the retailers that appreciate my business enough (and want more of it) to wish me a happy birthday. So in recognition of smart birthday marketing programs I'd like to thank: Sephora for the free body butter, Sel de la Terre (one of my top three favorite restaurants) for the 20% off certificate and Banana Republic for the $15 gift card.

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Mac Persona

I love my Mac, and I’m not ashamed to admit that yes, I often exemplify the often cited lemming like and/or cult like behavior that personifies long time Mac devotees. This past year and a half has represented my first professional encounter with the PC, an experience that makes me want to run home everyday and kiss my Macbook for being so simple, so intuitive and yes, so good looking. That’s why I enjoyed Ad Age’s recent article: Mac Owners are Just Like, Well, The Mac Guy. The article discusses the Mac user “mind-set-profile” as gathered by Mindset Media, there’s a photo of actor Justin Long and personality traits that emerged among Mac users in the study, namely: superior, open, perfectionists, music mavens, not dogmatic, eco-minded greenies and satisfied with their purchase. Not that satisfied with their purchase is really a personality trait, but it was a nice way of pointing out that 79% of Mac purchasers are “very satisfied” with their computer purchase vs. 59% for Dell and 58% for HP. After reading my personality traits as depicted by my astrology chart (I’m an Aquarius) I felt cheated – it was a stretch to say anything rang particularly true. But after reading the profile put together for the typical Mac user I kept shaking my head saying yes, that sounds a little more like me (except the music maven part, I admittedly have terrible taste in music). So instead of looking to the stars I guess I’ll just keep looking to my Mac.

Image from Ad Age, visit for an enlarged version.

Saturday, January 26, 2008

Save Toscanini's, an amazing statement of customer loyalty

There's an amazing coffee and ice cream shop in Cambridge's Central Square called Toscanini's. The New York Times named Toscanini's ice cream the "best in the world" and my personal favorite, the vanilla latte, is to die for. It's loaded with specs of real vanilla delivered in a tantalizingly smooth, creamy, espresso packed package. But the most amazing thing about Toscanini's is its customers.

Two weeks ago the shop was seized by the state of Massachusetts for the owner's failure to pay over $150,000 in back taxes. Upon the news, some staff members decided to put up the Save Tosci Website, a website with a mission of raising $25,000, the amount the State was requiring as a down payment in order for Toscanini's to open its doors again.

Thinking about Brand Autopsy's "Would you miss" posts I couldn't help but wonder if Toscanini's customers would miss it enough to both forgive its owner for an oversight of this caliber and help the owner come up with the down payment to begin to pay off his back taxes. Surprisingly, the answer was a resounding yes. In as little as 6 days Toscanini's raked in over $31,000 in donations. My first thought was - this is crazy. There are so many deserving (and struggling) organizations out there that desperately need funding and here is a guy who failed to pay his taxes, more so failed to pay the meals tax he was collecting from his customers and those same customers just bailed him out.

Then I started to realize - Toscanini's and its owner are a valued presence in Cambridge. The owner has spent years developing a great rapport with the city, its schools and students, residents and businesses. While the service can be slow, you know the quality of the ice cream and coffee will be worth the wait. The staff is friendly if not a bit eccentric. And the owner has a way of making each customer feel as if they're the only one that counts. It's truly a neighborhood institution, but one that knows how to open its arms to any stranger walking through the door. That is what the people who donated understood and that is truly what saved Toscanini's.

photo credit:

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Starbucks Dollar Coffee

McDonalds is trying to emulate the Starbucks experience with its new latte and cappuccino offerings and barista delivered experience and now Starbucks is on the road to emulating the McDonalds dollar menu. Starbucks is testing out $1 short cups of coffee at some Seattle locations, it's not known if the $1 cups will hit any other locations but the blogosphere is alight with commentary.

Starbucks sells great tasting coffee and offers its patrons a reasonably comfortable seating area to relax with friends (provided you can get a seat), get some work done (provided you want to pay for internet connection) or just have some down time. The service (at least at the locations I frequent) is no better than its competitors and the food is terrible. But again the coffee is great.

Dollar coffees are not going to be the force that takes Starbucks' growth to the next level, but it may help stave off some deflectors who are currently thinking their daily cup of Starbucks coffee is not recession proof. Price reductions are never a great strategy, but it's important to differentiate - this is not a price reduction. Essentially it's a line extension. Now instead of three sizes, Starbucks offers four, one size just happens to cost a mere dollar.

Monday, January 21, 2008

Bliss' well placed sample with Sephora

My last post ended up being a critique about Sephora's Beauty Insider loyalty program. However, I did leave out the one thing they got right. Because Sephora has my some of my personal information, including my birthday, they knew I was right around the corner from the yearly celebration. Everybody loves birthday gifts so to get in on the action Sephora partnered with bliss to give out samples of bliss' naked body butter. What makes the sample special is the printed ribbon at the top of the bottle (see image above) that says "a gift for your 'birthday suit'!" This is a smart way for a company (in this case bliss) to capture the attention of shoppers with a 'special gift' in celebration of themselves. Though it's mass produced, the birthday notation makes the sample seem personal. It makes the recipient think twice about it, feel a certain affinity toward bliss and I bet it increases the trial rate of the product, which is likely to increase the purchase rate. Way to go bliss for some well placed product samples.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Sephora's half hearted Beauty Insider loyalty program

I'm a 'beauty insider' at Sephora. It's Sephora's half hearted attempt at creating a loyalty program. When I spend a certain amount of money at any one of their stores or on-line I earn points that can be traded in for free samples. I can only imagine that Sephora's marketing department felt that they needed a customer loyalty program to help stave off increasing competition, but didn't have the budget to throw at it and instead decided to put those boxes of samples (provided to them for free from the various brands they represent no doubt) to better use. Now instead of feeling rewarded when I visit Sephora I feel like I'm shopping at a store that could care less if I ever come back, because I'm not even worth a free sample unless I've already spent a certain amount of money. I have to wonder if the average person also feels disdain for Sephora's Beauty Insider program. Or if because I'm a marketer I'm more of a cynic. After all, Sephora should be giving everyone free samples, it shouldn't be a condition of loyalty. It just makes sense because free samples bring in more sales. And if Sephora truly wanted to reward its customers it should do so in a more meaningful way such as special shopping events, discounts, free full sized products, priority beauty consultations, etc. Leave the free samples to their purpose - getting people to sample and buy.

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Apple's Time Capsule

The blogosphere is alight with commentary on Apple’s new Macbook Air; but my favorite item from Macworld is the less talked about Time Capsule. When I saw this on Apple’s website after Steve Jobs’ keynote (which I missed due to a meeting on the less glamorous topic of healthcare reform in Massachusetts) I jumped out of my seat and proclaimed: I have to have that! I’m terrible at backing up, although I realize the importance of it after having been burned before. So having a wireless drive that doubles as a Wi-Fi base station and will automatically back up my data for me on a day to day basis is pure heaven. Add to that one less piece of hardware lying around the house and I get one step closer to my New Year’s resolution of getting rid of 10% of my belongings. It’s an all around win. Oh, and the new functionality that just got added to my iPhone isn’t bad either…

Monday, January 14, 2008

Commentary on the green game

I’m a big proponent of being green. When I’m not utilizing public transportation I drive a hybrid, I try diligently to bring along canvas bags whenever I’m out shopping and I’ve stopped buying bottled water for my home and office (instead I drink tap). In short, I’m making behavior modifications – and I don’t pretend there isn’t more I could be doing. But one thing I will not do is buy my way into responsibility via purchasing carbon offsets. IMHO carbon offsets are the lazy person’s road to good consciousness. And it seems like they’re becoming corporate America’s answer to environmental friendliness. It’s great that so many organizations are trying to reduce their carbon footprints and invest in sustainability (or whatever other buzz phrases they’re using today). Even tradeshows are getting into the action. The Consumer Electronics Show which purportedly created some 20,000 tons of carbon was planning on using carbon offsets to make good on the pollution it was causing. Carbon offsets represent big money. According to a recent New York Times article the US spent more than $54 million in 2007 purchasing offsets. While it can be argued that purchasing carbon offsets is better than doing nothing I’m not sure that we should be praising corporations for taking the lazy way out. Wouldn’t it be more constructive to reduce the behavior creating the carbon? One blog (I would love to give credit but I can’t remember which blog I read it on, sorry…) recently suggested not participating in trade shows, instead communicate your lack of a presence. It’s a strategy that would probably gain more exposure for a fraction of the cost of participating. Or invest in new technology to solve old problems. Stock your store with Badgerland Poly’s biodegradable plastic bags (though Whole Food’s ban on plastic bags is a better approach). The point is, don’t rely on carbon offsets as your participation in the “green” arena. Make the conversation honest and your buyers are more likely to respond. For some inspiration on what your company can do read Marketing Green’s Corporations Foster Dialogue on the Environment post for some good examples of companies speaking honestly about their investment in being green.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Experitential Marketing via the illy Push Button House

The experience is over, but it's a great example of experiential marketing nonetheless. This past December illy parked their Push Button House in the Time Warner Center in NYC. The Push Button House, designed by architect Adam Kalkin, is contained within an old shipping container, which at the push of button unfolds to reveal a cafe. The Push Button house was the catalyst for illy to grab attention and showcase their new Francis X7 Hyper Espresso System, available this coming April. Visitors could sit in the sleek white cafe and experience an espresso made by the Hyper Espresso System. Timed perfectly with the holiday shopping season I'm sure the Push Button Cafe proved a happy respite for many shoppers in need of a caffeine jolt. What would have been even better for illy would have been to capture the attention and wallets of said spent shoppers with pre-sales of the espresso system, perhaps with a mini replica to put under the tree. With that shoppers would have gotten the jolt they were looking for with the added benefit of wrapping up their gift lists, and all within an old shipping crate.

Critisism of LEED and why it's good

The checklist created by the U.S. Green Building Council, creators of the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) rating system has been under increasing scrutiny (read one of the latest criticisms here). A Google search of criticism of LEED yields 203,000 results. LEED does have some shortcomings so the criticism is fair (for the most part), but any rating system is bound to have its faults. The important thing is that the U.S. Green Building Council take the criticism under advisement and continue to evolve its rating system. However, the U.S. Green Building Council should be ecstatic about the criticism. It proves the increasing receptiveness of government agencies, businesses, even individuals in embracing green design. With this type of attention green design is apt to be embraced by even more people, creating more green buildings and resulting in a better place for all of us to live. To that, I say congratulations.

Friday, January 4, 2008

A new trend? Grocers taking a social stand through banning products

I’m not sure you can classify this as a trend but there’s another grocer in the news taking a social stand by banning a product. First was Whole Foods war against plastic bags and now Wegmans Food Markets announced today that it will cease selling tobacco products in all of its 71 stores. The decision, according to CEO Danny Wegman, was made in part due to “…the destructive role smoking plays in health.” Could this be the next differentiator among grocery store chains; aligning social responsibly ideals by banning products? It creates an interesting dialogue between the consumer and the grocer. Akin to if you believe everyone should do their part shop here to show your support. It certainly brings a more positive association and perhaps an affinity to a chore very few of us like to do.

Thursday, January 3, 2008

Massachusetts' auto dealers lose their right to use the asterisk

Massachusetts’ auto dealers have had their right to use an asterisk taken away. Eight Massachusetts’ auto dealers have been slapped with fines for abusive asterisk pricing. While the auto industry does rely heavily on the asterisk they are not the only industry to use the now defamed typographical symbol. Asterisk pricing can be deceptive to the uniformed consumer, but is it so harmful that consumers in Massachusetts need their state to dedicate resources to crafting its demise? And isn’t it a bit short sighted to regulate the asterisk within only one industry? Asterisk pricing allows a company to show their best price, even though some restrictions might apply. It helps to create a competitive advantage over competing ads in like-ad saturated circulars. While you could argue that the asterisk is the lazy marketers’ attempt at price competitiveness, it does serve a purpose when used correctly. And shouldn’t we trust that the consumers we are speaking to are educated enough to know that an asterisk denotes that there is more information to read. Of course after writing that last sentence I realize that we don’t have enough trust in consumers to not use a hair dryer in the shower without directive. So perhaps the regulation of the asterisk is just one more nail in Darwin’s coffin.