Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Delivering The Preferred Experience!

I am writing this during the morning hours.

So far I have downed three cups of coffee and just popped open a can of Diet Coke.

No joke…the caffeine really helps drive my discovery mindset.

While sipping down the first cup, I read in the morning newspaper a release that Dunkin Donuts is claiming victory in the coffee war with Starbucks.

Yep. In a “blind taste test” that Dunkin’ Donuts commissioned, Dunkin’ Donuts “beat” Starbucks.

And wow…they actually cite the statistical numbers!

“Of the participants, 54.2% chose Dunkin’ Donuts, 39.3% chose Starbucks and 6.3 percent had no preference.”

Dunkin’ Donuts is certainly on a caffeine-fix with these numbers.

By the way, 476 adults participated in the taste test. That sample base posts +/- 4.4% at the 95% confidence level.

Sounds a lot like the presidential election tracking studies doesn’t it!

Neither the article nor the Dunkin’ Donut website addresses the issue of preferred environment or experience.

Howard Schultz, the founder of Starbucks, asserts that the driver of Starbucks' brand success is the concept of delivering that “third place” in a person’s life. That place besides the home and work where people gather and get anchored in community life and personal exchange.

To be honest, the coffee at Starbucks is rather average.

While “coffee” is in the name, it really only serves as a prop of the Starbucks stage set.

Not to downplay their brand experience, but when was the last time you walked into a Dunkin’ Donuts and saw individuals dwelling there other than the homeless and the workers on break?

The real news may be that a cup of both Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and McDonald’s Premium Roast cost significantly less than a comparative Starbucks Grande Dark Roast.

On the front page of the current issue of Nation’s Restaurant News, there’s an article about another study in which “coffee fans want Starbucks to cut their prices.”

Nearly one third of Starbucks customers have cut back on their visits in the past three months compared to 17 percent of McDonald’s guests and 18 percent of Dunkin Donuts guests.

When asked what would bring them back and visit more often, 65 percent of the Starbucks customers said lower prices, only 24 percent reported even trying Dunkin Donut or McDonald’s coffee, and 48 percent said that they have no interest at all in trying them out and switching brand preference.

When brands reach “middle-age” and market maturity, they often seem to forget the fundamental drivers of their brand experience.

As the Nation’s Restaurant News article reports, Starbucks management believes that its declining traffic can be reversed through the introduction of new, more health-oriented menu items as well as better equipment.

I bet that a lot of the current Starbucks management team came out of those “fabulous” MBA programs that concentrate on the financial and mechanical delivery of products and services. (Note that I did not say the “brand experience”)

I think that Starbucks real competitive threat may just be what they sought out to deliver as an alternative experience…the kitchen table.

As much as the press focuses on the gloom and doom of the economy, people are actually connecting more with family and friends over the “buy one, get one free” cook-at-home convenience meals.

Generation X Cocooners may have initiated the drive, but Boomers and Millenniums appear to be gathering around that kitchen table more too!

Sometimes it makes good sense to package your brand as “David fighting the Goliath.” And yes, Dunkin Donuts does compete against Starbucks on the grocery store shelf, but if they really wanted to battle their prime competition, they need to do a test comparison against McDonald’s and Maxwell House.

And Starbucks…get back to your core brand experience deliverable.

Foster interaction and exchange. Pump up the cushions and invest in those fireplaces. Chuck the stupid way that customers have to pay for the Internet and make it free. New products are nice, but if it means putting those on hold to roll back the prices…do like your Seattle neighbor brand claims and “Just do it!”

Hey…you are marketing an experience, not a cup of coffee.

As I say to our clients, the businesses that we meet with, and other cool shops like ours…Refocus, recharge, get back in the race… and let’s journey!

Tuesday, October 7, 2008

Are You Ready For The ReadyMade Millennium Mindset?

Yesterday was a wild ride on the stock market roller coasters.

By the time I got home from the office, I was all ready to kick back and catch my breath…and I hadn’t even taken my puppy out for her walk!

I really didn’t watch much television last night. The news segments all sounded like repeats from several weeks ago. Same “news” about the market and same “news” about politics.

Ended up reading the magazines that I found in my mailbox. One of the magazines was ReadyMade. As their tagline claims, it is all about… “Instructions For Everyday Life.”

ReadyMade Magazine is a cool place to dwell.

It’s the Millennium Generation’s Better Homes & Gardens married with Popular Mechanics.

This current issue contains featured articles ranging in topics from “Install your own click-tile flooring” to “Hang a crystal clothes-hanger chandelier” to “Seven pet projects for your furry friends.”

Don’t know about all of you reading this blog, but I find myself spending a lot of time in the search for stretching the dollar and doing cool things at a lower price.

Some of the pet projects are just downright cool. One of the projects is all about converting old luggage to a “Jet-Set Dog Bed”; another is about how to build a “Litter Box Hideaway.”

And by the way, I bet many will find it interesting to know that one of the featured projects in the Click-Tile Flooring article is titled “Shagadelic Headboards” in which you use the cheap tile carpeting as part of your bedroom furniture.

Is that cool or what?

The section titled “Home Fixes” is the one that I find most entertaining. It’s essentially the 2010 version of “Hints From Heloise.”

Here’s a couple of this month’s Fixes:
-- Freeze Frame… Getting wax removed from candle holders by freezing them
-- Vodka Tonic… Using Vodka to extend the life of razors
-- Peel The Heat… How to use orange rind to start the evening fires
-- Save Face… Removing the make-up with olive oil

Last week I lectured at Auburn University. I asked the students and faculty how many of them read ReadyMade Magazine.

Only a few raised their hands.

I also asked some top C-Level management at a corporate retreat about a month ago, how many had heard of ReadyMade Magazine.

Zero raised their hands.

C-Level management is quickly having to learn how to make dollars stretch. Maybe we should all launch a ReadyMade Magazine designed around company management!

If you have never paged through this publication, you really need to.

In this economy and with the bulk of the Millennium Generation graduating college, this is the mindset and design-set that is going to be driving the consumer wallet.

It is all about how they think and all about what they do. And brands that want to sleep with this generation of the marketplace are going to have to embrace it BIG TIME in REAL TIME.

After reading it last night, I actually got a good night sleep.

On one level, I figured I could still be hip and cool even if Wall Street collapsed. On another level, it confirmed what drives me to do what I do in challenging the very conventions of the tried and true.

Just think… ReadyMade could be you too!

Hey…go change into those jeans, pack a few Red Bulls and let’s get into my Mini and journey!


Wednesday, October 1, 2008

Let's Connect In The Second Life Of Second Life!

Do you have an Avatar character?

I ask that question to a lot of clients. They nearly always come back with the sane question… “What is an avatar?”

My response is always the same. “You need to find out and have one.”

The current issue of Fast Company Magazine features an article titled “The Second Life of Second Life.”

Its all about how the fundamentals of relationship marketing and customer dialogue are now being applied to brand interaction points with the virtual world of Second Life.

Everything from the core service and product experience deliverable within the Sim to the dialogue and follow-up relationship.

How many of you know what “Sim” means?

Sim is the physical location or weblink of a brand or activity within the virtual world.

Joni West, a designer and creator of signs for stores, is featured in the article. As an avid user of Second Life, Joni realized that billboards, commercials and streaming video that appeared on most of the corporate sponsored islands, fell flat with Second Life users who wanted to interact...not sit back in a passive stance.

As Fast Company notes; "Joni instead concluded that companies should try to spark user-to-user discussion."

My Second Life avatar is Kevo Muggins.

He’s a cool dude that hangs in the online clubs, parks and art galleries.

When I physically visit similar environments in the real life world, its not always easy to get dialogue going with others.

But… in Second Life, Kevo has no problem getting dialogues going with both the guys and girls. Kevo has a close-knit group of other gallery show groupies like Lerska, Janeine, Calla and Geffrey.

Smart brands are jumping into Second Life and tapping into the relationship dynamics too! Big brands like BMW, Coke, Sony, Virgin, Apple, The Weather Channel, Colgate, CareerBuilder and NBC.

Some of their Sims are engineered around novelties and promotional dynamics of the physical world. Others are truly interactive.

For example, American Apparel has a virtual store where Avatars can purchase products. The store is located on Lerappa Island…(okay…maybe they stole the naming strategy from Oprah)…and what’s cool about it is that you get discounts on clothes in the real world for online purchases and visa versa.

In the last 10 days, life in the real world has been riding the roller coasters of Wall Street and Washington.

The volume level of individuals going online to interact with others running the gamut from Facebook to Second Life to Kaneeva is at an all time high.

While the analytics may still be crunching away with the numbers, something in my gut notes quickly that the online and virtual world relationships may offer many folks with an alternative, less stressful and less confrontational world.

Kevo is just as much into getting fellow avatars to venture out into discovery and journey as I am.

So go log-on to Second Life, create your avatar, then come join me at SLMoCA… the Second Life Museum of Contemporary Art!

Hey…Let’s journey!