Monday, January 28, 2008

Another One Bites The Dust!

Some call it the last big hurrah.

Back in the 1990s, I worked with American Express Travel.

AMEX had a network of about 600 travel agencies in the US. Half they owned and half they franchised out.

AMEX was fortunate…unlike other agency networks and consortiums in the business, AMEX was involved in another whole industry with financial and card services.

The writing was in neon paint on the wall.

With commission cuts combined with the emergence of the web, the travel agencies would quickly disappear and be replaced by sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Priceline, Cheap Tickets and Hotwire.

Real estate agencies are next.

This morning’s Ad Age Online leads with a story titled “What Housing Crisis? Realtors’ Ads Defy Reality.”

The National Association of Realtors is spending $40 million on the campaign.

There is a second article posting on Ad Age Online.

It’s subhead captures what we term at BrandVenture as the BGO (Blinding Glimpse of the Obvious) of what’s going on out there: “These Agents Will Wallow In Conflict Like Pigs In A Sty For Their 7% Cut.”

Say no more!

In scripting our TrendCast 2008, we came upon a couple of interesting statistics:
• The age group 25-32 represents the largest set of homebuyers in the US
• The average age of the first time homebuyer is now age 26
• 85% of Millenniums (those age 18-29 and what some call Generation Y) use the Internet as their primary resource to buy a home…not the real estate agent

ReadyMade Magazine is the Millenniums version of Better Homes & Gardens. It brings together budget retro with high-tech web-connect. Dwell Magazine is also another Millennium pub plus it has a show that airs on HGTV Digital.

We subscribe to both at BrandVenture to keep up with the changing Millennium culture.

No real estate agencies are advertising in either publication.

Wonder if the National Association of Realtors has any of their ads running on MTV, Adult Swim, VH1, Comedy Central or TruTV?

Better yet… if you go to Century 21’s website, it gives you three key options on the home page… “I’m looking to find…”
• A property
• An office
• An agent

Let me guess… the person who scripted the website copy is located in a basement somewhere.

Where are the words like “Home,” “Space,” “Community,” “Environment,” “Search” and “Help”?

The ReMax website isn’t much better. Their tagline is “Outstanding Agents. Outstanding Results.”


It’s not a question of “IF”, nor a question or “WHEN”…it’s a question of “HOW MUCH FASTER” will fast be before the real estate agency becomes a piece of history!

Monday, January 21, 2008

Snooze Or You Lose!

Ideation sessions are one of the things we specialize in here at BrandVenture.

We do the sessions directly with corporate teams. We also sometimes bring in kids to assist.

Creative thinking requires letting go of conventional constraints. Kids seem to be able to do that much easier than corporate leadership.

Being able to think creatively is not easy.

I have written about it in this Blog and also shared it with clients…my best ideas usually come about in the middle of the night in my dreams.

Sounds like co-dependency, but this MacBook Pro I am typing on right now sits next to my bedside where I can quickly jot down the thoughts that come up at 2am in the morning.

The Wall Street Journal reported last week that Staples, the office supply chain, conducted a survey among small business professionals and found out that 51% dream about work.

And of those 51% that are work-addicted, 70% report that when they wake up, they take their dreamscapes and translate them into action items for their business.

Another 39% got their ideas from driving and 15% while taking a shower. I actually get some great ideas when I take my shower too.

Only 6% got them from brainstorming sessions.

I don’t know, we seem to get a lot of great ideas from brainstorming sessions… and we have conducted the sessions with everyone from politicians to physicians to academicians to Harvard MBAs.

So many people think that creativity all centers around originality or what executives term as “out-of-the-box” thinking.

I actually had the pleasure back in my college days to work with “the father of creativity”…Dr. E. Paul Torrence.

Dr. Torrence is to creativity what Freud is to psychotherapy.

According to Dr. Torrence, creativity actually consists of:
• Fluency – the number of ideas
• Flexibility – the number of different types of ideas
• Elaboration – the degree of detail of each idea
• Originality – the degree of uniqueness of each idea

We have some cool exercises that we do on ideation retreats tailored around Dr. Torrence’s creativity model.

But perhaps the best part of our ideation retreats is that we try to set them up as two-day retreats. A format that allows the participants to get a good night’s sleep.

According to Dr. Robert Stickgold, an assistant professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and a consultant on the Staples survey; “There is a growing body of research that indicates that sleep is a time when we can figure out patterns beyond our grasp during the day.”

The sessions post-lunch at ideation retreats are usually the most difficult. After a nice lunch and a break, a number of participants actually doze off.

The offsite retreat BrandVenture did with Church’s Global Marketing Team this past summer was great.

On the first day, after lunch, we actually staged a two-hour siesta time.

Looking back, some of the most creative ideas surfaced that afternoon!

Next time a client wants something immediately, the best response might be… “I’ll sleep on it!”

Monday, January 14, 2008

The Brand Call!

We feature this brand a lot.

It’s a stellar example of an experience brand. Coffee is only a prop used to deliver that “third place” experience.

It’s the kitchen table that Boomers remember where family and friends would gather and chat. A place to hang at mornings and at night. Where relationships rekindle and restore.

With dual income families, the 24/7 time demand, fast food and surrogate technology, it’s a high-touch experience that doesn’t exist in many homes anymore.

Starbucks is a brand that has found itself at the peak of one marketing “S-Curve” moving to another.

Change is not only eminent, it’s mandatory.

In 1987, Howard Schultz took over Starbucks. It’s where he worked as director of retailing and marketing. In 20 years, he moved it from a handful of cafes to an international behemoth with 15,000 locations worldwide.

But it’s been a lousy year for Starbucks.

For the first time ever, the number of store transactions were down in fourth quarter 2007 and the share price took a pounding, dropping 50% in value during the past year.

This past week, Schultz reclaimed the CEO slot with a promise to take Starbucks “back to its roots.”

As brands expand and grow, the emotional drive of the entrepreneur often gets lost in the left-brain thinking set of the MBA executive growth teams.

These MBA execs are often the ones that take the emotional experience brand deliverable and boil it down to its mechanical operation and rational benefit payouts. They put in programs to streamline and mass duplicate. They translate the unique experience into a competitive category context.

It wasn’t long before the Starbucks brand was forced into the same box as fast food. Starbucks management has been lifting strategy from McDonald’s with the addition of drive-thru windows and even hot breakfast sandwiches.

McDonald’s announcement that it would start incorporating coffee bars and “baristas” in 14,000 US locations may have been the proverbial straw that fueled Schultz to reclaim the brand experience.

The MBAs claim two types of brands – product brands and service brands.

Here at BrandVenture, we believe that successful brands capture that “third place” category of “experience” brands.

We also have long chucked the business textbook “USP” – the Unique Selling Proposition… and replaced it with the “EIP” – The Emotional Ignition Point of the brand experience.

“Integrated Marketing Communications” is also a term that is banned from any use at BrandVenture.

All the ad agencies claim expertise in it. That’s fine with us.

This year, we rally around what we term as the “Sustainable Brand Experience.” It’s what needs…no, let me reword this… it’s what must be delivered by brands…protected and preserved.

The time around that kitchen table is a Sustainable Brand Experience that McDonald’s cannot duplicate.

Schultz hears the calling.

I hope others like Schultz hear it too!

Monday, January 7, 2008

The Sunday FSI New Product Surge!

When the economy goes south and sales don’t hit goals, the first thing that’s cut is the advertising and marketing budgets.

Well…either the CFOs are still on their holiday bowl game vacation or they’re still on the Champaign fix from last week.

Get this… this Sunday’s Atlanta Journal-Constitution had more than 300 free standing insert (FSI) ads! I even had to double check to make sure that there weren’t any duplicates.

I hope the creative directors and designers that put the ads together don’t take this personal, but after cruising through the ads, I kind of felt queasy.

Here are some of the featured products!

Whole Body Cleanse

The copy tells it all… “Whole Body Cleanse internal cleansing system is your first step toward diet success.” It “removes toxins and excess waste” and makes you “feel cleaner, lighter and rejuvenated.”

Wow…I especially like that “lighter” part.

Also with an FSI ad that’s marching to the same beat… Airborne… an “immune support supplement created by a school teacher” that protects you from the environments found in airplanes, offices, schools, restaurants, health clubs and theaters.

Ex-Lax…is there any joint venture opportunity here?

Triaminic Flowing Vapors

It’s a battery operated mini desktop fan with disposable vapor inserts.

The desire for the full sensory experience gave new birth to Glade with their plug-in room refresheners.

Today, you can get room refreshners with one cartridge insert, two cartridge inserts, battery-power fans, built-in nightlights and even with special programmed night time light shows.

New product development not only has found a way to extend a product idea, but in doing so, has also found a way to raise the purchase price!

Theraflu Vapor Patch

My Italian grandmother used to use Vicks and its “soothing vapors” for “nighttime comfort” whenever she had the sniffles.

The Theraflu Vapor Patch does the same thing without the mess!

By the way, the Triaminic Flowing Vapors and the Theraflu Vapor Patch have more in common than you may think…they are both products of Novartis Consumer Health!

Novartis is quickly becoming the next P&G!

Jolly Time Popcorn Healthy Pop Butter

“Oh Yum!” And who said that butter laden popcorn couldn’t be healthy! Jolly Time Healthy Pop Butter is 97% Fat Free with 0 grams Trans Fat.

But if you still feel guilt eating the carbs…you should get a box of the Jolly Time 100 Calorie Healthy Pop Kettle Corn.

It’s amazing how perception can change reality!

Krispy Kreme

Move over popcorn, the doughnuts are next in line!

Not only is the product interesting…the ad design is a showcase. No extensive fancy copy…just the headline, sub-head, BIG product visual, coupons, logo and 1-800-number.

“0 Grams TRANS FAT! 100% Delicious!”

And the BIG product visual includes jelly, chocolate covered, glazed and crème filled… all with 0 Grams TRANS FAT!

Again…it’s amazing how perception can change realtiy!

Also with an FSI ad that’s marching to the same beat… Lean Pockets Whole Grain with Whole Grain on the Outside and Real Cheese on the Inside.

Joint Juice

Don’t go there.

With bottled water now selling at a higher price than any of the soft drinks and brands like Gatorade launching fitness waters like Propel, its not a shocker that medicinal brands are next.

Joint Juice is specially formulated to “Hydrate Your Joints”. As the copy reads: “Cartilage, your joints natural shock absorber, loses water over time and could use some hydration to keep working.”

Each bottle or can includes 1500mg of Glucosamine. Glucosamine is produced commercially by the hydrolysis of crustacean exoskeletons.

Wow! Talk about recycling going Green!

Crustaceans include lobsters, crabs, shrimp, krill and even water fleas!

Don’t be too dismayed if you don’t get into the fishy taste…

Joint Juice comes in flavors… Kiwi Strawberry and Tropical Fruit are featured in the FSI.

Other Products

8th Continent Light Soymilk (isn’t soy milk light to begin with?), Dannon Light & Fit, Palmolive Scrub Buster with MicroBeads, Green Giant Giant Bites (note: baked, not fried – wheh!) and Yoplait GoGurt Portable Yogurt.

Yeh…there were ads in the inserts too for mainstay brands like Tide, Red Lobster, Sears Optical, Betty Crocker and Progresso Soup.

But do you get a sense that the market for even the classic FSI products is changing quickly too?