31 August 2009

Disney Buying Marvel

This just in... Disney will buy Marvel for $4 billion. Wow. Aside from the business aspect of this, think of the new character pairings. Donald Duck can advise the Hulk on appropriate anger management. Goofy could be Spider Man's new sidekick, taking the whole Spider Man comic in a radical new, bumbling comedy direction. The possibilities are endless!

Seriously, though, this is a marriage of two mega-franchises, and it definitely fills a gap for Disney. My question: Do they modify the current theme parks or build a new one that's young-guy-centric and so chock full of adrenaline that parents check their teens in, but never enter themselves?

24 August 2009

Apple Tablet Coming? Jobs on the Job!

Steve Jobs is back and back at it. Latest rumblings from Appletown: a tablet-type computational device is in the works.

Although details are lacking, I'd lay some pretty good odds this puppy is gonna be ideally suited for video watching, easy to use, and loaded with flash memory for instant-on action. Think Amazon Kindle for video or iPod touch on steroids... With better usability and a killer aesthetic.

I'm luke warm on the Kindle, and I've actually never been other than a business admirer of Apple, but the thought of a big, touch-screen, tablet-esque computer/media player has me a little giggly with anticipation.

Of course, I could be way, way off here, but it's fun to contemplate, no?

Lobster Boat Racing... In a Pontiac Sunbird???

Couldn't resist this one, especially since it's from the Wall Street Journal: lobster boat racing in Maine. Talk about creativity for the sheer fun of it!

17 August 2009

When Does "Old" Turn Into "Unused"?

After a fabulous day at the beach, I stopped by an old friend's for dinner. It was a gourmet affair of pizza and beer. Basic, tasty stuff. I didn't expect an "I wonder" moment, but then again how often can I predict those?

While chomping on the last pieces of pizza, my dear friend asked me whether she was wasting money by backing up her digital photos on to DVDs, "I mean, c'mon, they'll be obsolete eventually." I reassured her by replying, "It's ok. Look, I've still got two working VCRs in my house." She laughed because she also has two VCRs in operation to this day.

Which gets me to a bigger question: I wonder how long technology transitions truly take. It seems we measure by varying means. First, there's the hullabaloo in the press about the next big thing. Some time later, sales actually flip from the old to the new. Finally, and perhaps not so well tracked, people actually stop using the old. But this final step takes a good long while in many categories.

Looking forward into digital film delivery, it seems we're in for a massive switch in how movies are distributed to consumers over the next several years. Clear consensus exists on this point, although the timing question is being hotly debated. I wonder, however, how long DVDs will still be a handy option for the majority of consumers. Seems like it'll take a while, especially given my pizza time conversation tonight. What do you think?

14 August 2009

Word of Mouth Marketing, One Postcard at a Time

Burgers raised on a ranch?Ever hear of the Hamburger Ranch? No?! You might at some point, but I doubt it will be from an ad or promotion. No, you'll hear about it from someone who's been there.

The World Famous Hamburger Ranch and Pasta Farm is, quite literally, at the top of the hill in Cloverdale, California. It's at the northern end of the northernmost town of Sonoma County in California's wine country.

I remember the place from way back when, before it served best-in-the-county barbeque and drool-evoking burgers of delight. This little gem of a local eatery is also a pretty good guide on how to leverage word of mouth. How do they do it? Here's how...

Step one: Start with fabulous user experience. In this case, truly tasty vittels and a staff of friendly, engaging folk. The food doesn't disappoint, and the people in the place don't, either. They are chatty, witty, and here's what you wouldn't expect... They're intriguing. Stories of childhoods in far away lands spring up. Conversation about pulled pork sandwiches can lead to the secret of good matzo ball soup. So, fabulous user experience.

Step two: Add postcards. Yes, postcards. Mention you enjoyed the food or the experience and a server will hand you a postcard. It's not for you to send to someone else. It's for you to send to the restaurant. From home. Wherever that is. Truly.

Step three: Sit back, and let the talking take effect.

How do these three little steps conspire to positive effect? Well, it's never bad to delight customers, and believe me the Hamburger Ranch excels in this regard. A great user experience is a terrific catalyst of positive word of mouth.

The postcards are turbo boosters. They are walk-away-but-remember-us reminders to customers of just how fun that place at the top of the hill is. And, spurring the immediate reminiscences causes further conversation among folks later, like when bags are unpacked at the end of a trip. "Hey, guess what I found in our luggage? That postcard from the Hamburger Ranch."

Hold it right here for a second, because there may not be another step in the process. Everything could end here, but for the Hamburger Ranchers, it's still good. Think of the luggage unpacking moment as a further brand impression, reinforcing the great customer experience with a fun little memory of it. Memories spur intentions for future purchase occasions. That next trip to Sonoma County for wine tasting might just mean "we better get back to the Ranch on this trip."

But wait, there's more! The postcards are cute, too. They generate talk value with others. They make for great stories. Have you ever been handed a postcard and asked to send it back from home? Aside from subscriptions to magazines, it's a rare occurence. In this case, it feels like sending a gift to a friend. The postcards turn into mini art projects. And what's more, they lead to positive recommendations to friends. The Ranch becomes a destination even for people who are first time visitors to the area.

Further, when you're at the Ranch, chowing down on choice BBQ, you can check out the walls of the place. They are covered with postcards from all corners of the globe, reinforcing the otherwise preposterous notion that yes, sweety, this place is world famous.

It's a simple recipe, yet it yields success. In a small town where restaurants have struggled to survive, the World Famous Hamburger Ranch and Pasta Farm has thrived by building on a great customer experience with a simple, effective plan to grow brand equity and loyalty over time.

11 August 2009

Pricing: What a moment of truth!

Referring back to What You Do and What You Deliver, when was the last time you took a good hard look at pricing for your product or service?

Pricing is a crucial and often ignored aspect of optimizing returns on marketing efforts. Let us not forget, though, that it's money we take to the bank... Not brand equity. Not cool online interactivity. Not awards for slick ads. At the end of the day, it's all about aggregating myriad consumer decisions that this or that particular product or service provides value at or above the price being asked.

You'll note, I'm not talking margin on top of cost here. To me, product cost is a variable to be managed to hit the price consumers will pay for what's on offer. Cost-plus pricing is risky pricing. It may deliver nice looking margin percentages, but can lead to asking prices that severely undermine effectiveness in-market.

So, when exactly was the last serious consideration of price for your product or service? Is it too high? Too low? Is it competitive with other similar services on offer? Is it a delight for consumers of your product because you're delivering killer value? Is it leaving enough room for resellers to make a profit and still keep the end-price to consumers compelling?

There are many, many variables to pricing, and managing pricing well involves as much diplomacy as it does financial savvy. Often, pricing discussions arouse emotional responses or knee-jerk reactions from executives, retailers, and consumers themselves. It's crucial, however, to raise the topic with appropriate frequency. Why, you ask? Imagine waking up one morning to discover your competitor has undermined your price, or to learn that retailers are removing your products from shelves because they can't make enough margin to be profitable and still meet the needs of their customers.

Managed well, however, pricing can be a serious strategic weapon, delighting customers and consumers while delivering profits for your business. It's a tough task, because leaving money on the table can starve a business just as overpricing can expose it to competitive market share incursions. Take the time, though. It's worth it!

09 August 2009

Lollapalooza Observations: the User Experience

First time Lollapallooza attendee, long-time music fan. Here are some random observations on the experience:
  • Somewhat surprisingly, the corporate sponsorships display a relatively light touch. I mean, yes, there is prominent signage on the stages, but I've not been confronted by action teams sampling things around every corner. It appears a comfortable balance has been struck. I can recall a number of sponsors off the top of my head: Budweiser, Sony PlayStation, Citi, and vitaminwater. Am I persuaded to use any of them more? No. But I recall them.
  • The one sample I did receive was for a peach-flavored iced tea beverage... Do I recall it's name? No. Did I like it? No. It was way, way too sweet. Think sugar cubes infused with a slight peachy tea flavor and somehow liquified. Blech!
  • The Bud sponsorship does limit beer options, and I drink beer. Normally, I won't touch an Anheuser-Busch product. C'mon, folks, I live in Millerwaukee! In any case, I did try the lime-flavored Bud Light, and guess what... It tastes like bubbly lime-ade. No bad Bud waterbeer concerns there. Will I buy the stuff regularly? No, but I'd be willing to recommend it to others. Mission partially accomplished, sponsor wonks.
  • The music at the show has been stand-up, take-notice good. I've seen a number of strong acts, and Perry Farrell positively delighted me with a groovy move-your-body-to-this-beat set on a small stage in the heated heart of yesterday afternoon. Nobody has held up to the standard set by Lykke Li, though. Wow. A 23-year-old Swedish dynamo with a tight backing band, she lit up the crowd just as the setting Chicago sun lit her show in a golden glow. Get her music. You'll want to dance. You'll want more of it. And you'll want to see her live. Not content to sing, little Miss Li gyrated across the stage to percuss on drum and cymbal, crafted the best use of kazoo in a pop song this decade, and cajoled the crowd. It worked. Well.
  • The food has been good. It is reasonably priced. It is yummy. I will eat more of it.
  • Ah, and before I forget, if you hate the smell of freshly smoked marijuana, don't go to Lollapalooza. You can't get away from it, whether at the shows or taking a break in the shade of a tree. It's like the fragrance of choice for the event is hemp incense. Not the worst thing, but if mom's still doing your laundry you'll have some explaining to do.

I'm off now. Day three of the 'palooza beckons... Rock on, friends, rock on.

07 August 2009

Abundance, Waste, and Innovation

While catching up on a bit of reading, plowing through some WIRED stuff, I came across an interesting article by Chris Anderson on abundance, waste, and the sense of scarcity. What I took from the artcle is that great abundance leads to innovative waste. Later the same day I was on a flight and read a different piece in the United Hemispheres magazine on art, houses, and strange happenings in Detroit. Homes are cheap in Detroit, and folks are snapping up the cheapest and doing strange, provocative things with them.

I like the idea of flux, of times when things are mid-transmogrification, of the moments of opportunity when long-held assumptions crash on the rocks of imagination. It seems to me the idea of abundance spurring "innovative waste" and what's happening with cheap real estate in Detroit are intertwined ideas, and I'm anxious to see what comes of the artistic efforts taking shape in the Motor City.

In addition, I started wondering about different businesses, how "waste" could be fruitful in thinking of them. What benefit might arise from brainstorming along this vein of thought for a stagnated and mature industry? What will happen with all the excess manufacturing capacity in the car industry, for example? What could be done with newsprint and ink now that readership is down for newspapers? Where might all this lead?

Any relevance for your business? Any thoughts on the topic? Please share!

Oh, and back to WIRED's Mr. Anderson... I've started reading his new book FREE and will be commenting on it in future posts. Keep an eye out for them.

04 August 2009

Palm Pre vs. iPhone: $99 Pre Price Heats Things Up

Pre pricing hits $99 as Palm competes aggressively with the iPhone... Things are heating up. We won't know the "winner" in this competition for a while, but does anybody remember Blackberries? I'm thinking Palm and Apple will be the winners here, but RIM (maker of the formerly oh-so-popular Crackberry) may lose significant market share.

03 August 2009

It's Official: Google taking on Winple

With the news today that Google's chief is relinquishing his seat on the Apple board, it's officially time to acknowledge Google aspires to all (or nearly all) that is Windows plus Apple. The big getting bigger...