Published on: September 6, 2011by Kevin Coupe
I may not have been writing MNB over the past 10 days, but that doesn’t mean I wasn’t reading....and here are a few of the things that I noticed that opened my eyes....
• The pace of change... On Sunday, New York Times columnist Tom Friedman was on “Meet The Press” discussing the new book he has co-authored, “That Used to Be Us: How America Fell Behind in the World It Invented and How We Can Come Back.” Friedman, who in 2004 wrote one of the best books about change - “The World Is Flat” - said that in doing research for the new book he was astounded by one discovery, saying...
“I went back to ‘The World Is Flat’ and I looked in the index, and I realized that Facebook isn’t in it. When I said the world is flat, Facebook didn’t exist, or for most people didn’t exist. Twitter was a sound. The cloud was in the sky. 4G was a parking space. Linked in was a prison. Application was something was something you sent to college, and for most people ‘skype’ was a typo. That all happened in just the last seven years, and what it has done is take the world from connected to hyper-connected.”
It is extraordinary, when you think about it, how many things we take for granted are just a few years old ... and how fast we have to keep moving just to keep up, much less get ahead.
• Mixed messages... Advertising Age had an interesting assessment of what ails Walmart these days, suggesting that the company took its eye off the ball when it changed its message from “always low prices” to “save money, live better.”
And here’s where the rubber meets the road in this particular critique:
“What makes Walmart a powerful brand is the guarantee inherent in the name that it has the lowest prices. Always.
“So what is Walmart doing now? Advertising a ‘guarantee to match competitor's prices.’ Wait a minute, I thought the low-price guarantee was met by just walking in the door? Advertising that you will match prices is the same as admitting you might not always have the lowest price. Not a good direction for a brand like Walmart.”
That seems like such a simple observation, and yet it is one that seems to have escaped the folks in Bentonville. And the timing of the shift in emphasis - coming at roughly the same time as a recession made low prices more important, not less - seems to have undermined Walmart’s story.
As we always say here on MNB, every store has to tell a story. And when you lose control of the narrative, you lose your marketing momentum.
• What we can learn from the food truck phenomenon... I loved this description, from the Harvard Business Review, for at least some of the reasons that food trucks are all the rage these days - beyond the fact that Americans are suckers for a good culinary trend:
“Food trucks are also exercises in two kinds of fusion. The food is enthusiastically combinatorial. Korean meets tacos, and that's just for starters. Plus, these trucks are designed to fuse neighbors and neighborhoods.They take customers to parts of the city they might not otherwise visit. And those very long lines bring together people who would not be within conversational range of one another. Food trucks are a little like food processors. They are mixing both cuisines and city life.
“Food trucks are good at Culturematic economics. They keep risk small. The average restaurant costs hundreds of thousands to open. The average food truck costs tens of thousands. And food trucks are good at discovering hidden value. They help themselves to cityscapes, as if scouting film locations.The mise-en-scène is urban, dramatic, and, with the exception of the occasional parking ticket, absolutely free.”
The analysis goes on:
“What can we learn from the food truck? What are the cultural trends and trajectories in evidence here? Consumers are telling us that they prize drama over utility, scarcity over ubiquity, novelty over the guaranteed sameness of the national brand. They want brands that are porous to the world, that integrate with the world. They are prepared to embrace brands that take a little more effort, especially if that effort rewards them with something that is exciting and rare.
“Yes, consumers are willful and contrary. But in the process they are signaling us that the old rules of innovation, marketing, and retail (keep it simple, make it cheerful and unmysterious, lay it on everywhere, and lead with the functional benefit) are now in shambles. The world is changing.”
And if you’re going to take advantage of these changes and be relevant within their context, you have to keep your Eyes Open.
• Succession decisions...There’s been a ton of coverage of Steve Job’s stepping down from the CEO job at Apple, and the succession of Tim Cook to the top job there. It won’t surprise anyone who reads MNB on a regular basis that this particular observation from Wired caught my eye:
“Those who follow Apple know Tim Cook has been an active contributor to Apple’s success in his role as chief operating officer. He is credited with working aggressively to lower Apple’s hardware and gadget prices and making deals with component suppliers to give Apple an upper hand in the market. He is gruff and assertive in person, but that seems to make people feel secure. This no doubt is part of the reason Apple has been slowly introducing Cook to the public through Apple keynotes in recent years.
“In the public’s eye, Cook has become the Riker to Jobs’ Picard — and people generally like Riker. There may be no way to truly replace Steve Jobs, but Apple knows that publicly supporting Tim Cook is, at the very least, good PR.”
Yes, it’s good PR. But also a very good decision, especially if you follow the metaphor.
Because, as Michael Sansolo pointed out to me, Riker is not just an effective first officer capable of command. He’s also the guy who defeated the Borg.
• What a picture is worth... In his blog, marketing expert Bruce Turkel observed that this summer there has been a “rash of Millennials hurting themselves or dying preventable deaths falling off of waterfalls, mountains, and bridges.”
Turkel writes, “Authorities are desperately searching for answers to explain the recent rash of deaths. In other words, what the hell is going on?
“The common factors between many of these recent accidents are the age of the victims and that several of them were venturing into spots they didn’t belong so they could take photographs ... Why the sudden need for these pictures of daring-do?
“To post on Facebook, I’m sure. Today’s Millennial generation doesn’t merit an experience for the value of the experience itself; rather they value the documentation and distribution of those experiences on social media sites such as Facebook. In other words, an activity is not real unless someone else sees you do it.”
Turkel acknowledges that this is an alarming trend in all sorts of ways, but that there are marketing lessons to be learned, that “there’s an important seismic shift occurring here.
“If young consumers are risking their lives to share the evidence of their exploits then surely this behavior will manifest itself in other areas of their lives, including their purchasing tendencies. This should be a wake-up call to marketers, especially older, less tech-savvy ones, who pooh-pooh online marketing and communities. Companies must create opportunities for their Millennial customers to interact online and share their product-centric experiences.
“For example, cruise lines must provide online posting sites; hotels and destinations need to allow their customers to show and tell both their upcoming plans and their experiences; and banks and restaurants alike need to post and link photos and recaps from their networking opportunities. In fact, businesses in all verticals must find opportunities for their Millennial customers to express themselves and communicate with their cohorts.
“After all, while Millennial customers may be less brand loyal than their older peers, they’re just dying to be in Facebook.”
And that’s an Eye-Opener.
• Age-old wisdom... Finally, there’s my new hero. Alan Moore, who happens to be a placekicker for Faulkner University in Alabama. He’s on the roster for the school’s football team, and is expected to play when the Faulkner Eagles begin their season on September 10.
Here’s, you’ll excuse the pun, the kicker.
Alan Moore is 61 years old.
He played college football for one year, in 1968, for Jones Community College, then went to Vietnam for an 11-month tour of duty. When he returned stateside, he started working construction...and didn’t stop or even consider a return to college until he got laid off when the recession hit.
Moore then started thinking about going back to school, and got the itch to kick. He was eligible, but no NCAA school would take him, so he found Faulkner, an NAIA school that was willing to issue him pads and allow him to try out for the team.
Which, as of now, he’s made.
Moore says he’s not sore from practicing, and doesn’t even mind that his fellow players refer to him as “the old man.” One problem - it took some time for the team’s coach to stop calling him “sir.” But it took the coach less time to recognize that talent isn’t measured in years...which is an eye-opener.
- KC's View: