Monday, August 24, 2009

The BrandVenture Trendcast Is Right Again!

Too bad there wasn’t a cash bet riding on the predictions.


I’d be cashing in like I had just won the lottery.

Two of my predictions were right on target… right smack on target.

One was part of my 2007 BrandVenture Trendcast.

It was titled “Home Repo. You Can Do It, We Don’t Care.”

It was a prediction that the real estate market would not be down long and the driver of the rebound would be the Millennials who were shortly entering into the first time home-buyers market.

The current issue of Business Week has an article running titled “A Trickle Of Hope For Housing.”

And early on it says… “For the first time since 2004, sales of existing homes have risen for three straight months and at the same time, the inventory of unsold homes has decreased.”

It then showcases Angie Hunter and her husband Craig. They are both in their early 30s and Craig is on active duty with the air force based out of Las Vegas.

As first time homebuyers, the two snatched up a 4-bedroom ranch in a gated community. They got it for $204,000 – nearly half of the $400,000 the previous owners paid for it back in 2005.

Have builders gotten smart yet? … Well I can’t say too much about the locals and the small independent builders.

Case in point… this past weekend, the Athens daily rag newspaper (Athens Banner-Herald) showcased in their Sunday real estate magazine, a planned real estate development that would have a shopping area, a work-from-home office community, coffeehouses and restaurants and a clubhouse complete with pool and tennis courts.

The houses were probably initially listed in the $400K+ range.

Sound familiar?

Our Athens daily rag set off the story with a tight-cropped picture of the three cluster houses and a second tight-cropped picture of an historic estate home.

Problem is those houses were the only ones built and standing in a vast acreage of vacant lots complete with tall weeds.

Oh and as far as the shopping, offices and country club are concerned; something tells me that it may be a looooonnnnggg time before those enter the amenities experience… if ever.

Hard to believe, but KB Homes has gotten smart.

As the Business Week article states: “To cut its construction costs and make its homes affordable to a broader pool of buyers, KB reengineered how it builds.”

A major share of the homes is built pre-fab and they have revised the floor plans to be smaller and more adapted to flexible use of the Millennial Mindset.

Get this… The company reported a 60% increase in new home orders in second quarter of this year and has orders now for 3,800 homes.

It’s the Millennials folks… and actually just the very first wave of it!

Wachovia is both my personal bank and also the bank for BrandVenture. Bank of America is the Bank that holds both of my homes’ mortgage loans. Both of those banks are barely breathing through the rising waters of foreclosures.

Hard to believe, but a credit union in North Carolina called the North Carolina State Employees’ Credit Union has gotten smart.

The Credit Union execs are expected to write a record $2.5 billion in new mortgages this year. Oh yeah… here’s a stat for you to catch… only 0.5% of the loans the Credit Union has written to date are more than 90 days past due.

How are they doing it?

They are meeting in person with every one who applies for a mortgage loan and “painstakingly build a household budget that determines what the borrower can really afford.”

And if the homeowner falls behind on payments, they grant brief 30-day extensions and also send out a loan rep to help the borrower put together a new budget.

In some ways, they take on the role of the parent.

I think that Credit Union understands what personal banking and what the new Millennial Generation first time homebuyer is all about.

So by now, you are probably wondering what was the second prediction that was right on target… right?

Well… back last summer I talked about how the Democrats were cashing in at the moment on the new Millennial voter block. Also in that Blog-logue, I said that the loyalty – or better put – the interest level – would not last.

Why? Not because they would debate the issues, but more basically, the Millennials are well known to be ADHD (remember that they are the ones that birthed the whole Ritalin craze of the 90s).

Simple terms… in a couple months, something else would be grabbing their attention and Obama would be “old news.”

As Cal Thomas who writes for USA Today noted in an editorial on Sunday…

“Obama’s people thought the youthful enthusiasm of the presidential campaign could be transformed into an army that would roll over opposition to its policy initiatives. So far, that army has been AWOL.”

So much so AMOL, just look around and ask how many folks in their 20s have you seen recently at any of the Healthcare rallies – pro or con?

I am not kidding one bit when I tell you this past week I saw some UGA freshmen replacing their Obama stickers with Wii stickers.

Now your probably asking … while this is all interesting, what does this have to do with my job to sell our brand and generate sales… I don’t work in the housing industry nor the banking industry nor do I work for Wii.

And that answer is simple.

The Millennials are no longer coming…they are here… BIG TIME.

And the models of the past in terms of how people think, how they view reality, what they perceive as reality and how you grab their attention and build equity has all changed.

A couple of brands are getting it.

And a few of the trend folks too!

Get ready… because the BrandVenture 2010 Trendcast is getting posted on our Website on September 28, 2009.

Call me at 404.245.9378 and book a presentation for your brand team!

Hey... we are sometimes telling you something that is right on target...

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Maternal Co-Dependency and Man Space

Maybe I came out of a more “independent” family, but my mother did not live with me nor was involved in everything I did once I turned say…twelve.

She had her stuff that she did and my father had his stuff that he did that left me with a rather independent life to live on my own.

That’s not to say that there weren’t curfew hours and rules about what I had to do and what I couldn’t do, but it wasn’t like my parents – my mother in particular – was living my day-to-day life with me.

I started seeing the shift with these Generation X parents about five years ago when we did some Coffee House Chats among moms and their elementary school kids.

The moms talked about how they went to school with their kid and sat in the classroom with their kid when the kid had study work to complete.

Then about two years ago, we did a website and a series of television spots for one of the universities in Georgia.

The website was fashioned just for parents. The link to the parent site was right below the link the kids hit to learn more about the school. The television spots highlighted the mom and dad’s perspective of college life.

This past weekend here in Athens, the dorms opened back up and the parents along with the students took over the local Target, Wal-Mart, Lowes and Home Depot buying up everything from futons to towels to floor lamps.

While a few fathers could be seen…the moms were out in force!

Last night on HGTV, there was a mom that insisted that her recent college-graduate daughter could not move into her own home because her mother said that the two were inseparable. (no joke!)

Then I saw one of those Free-Standing Insert ads in the Sunday paper that I thought probably hit right into the core of it all.

The ad was marketing Philips Norelco shavers.

The headline read: “I Can Make You The Happiest Mom In The World” and the pictorial featured a comparative line graph of “Mom’s Happiness” compared to “Frequency of Trimming.”

Are the same words going through your mind that went through mine?

“Uncut umbilical cord”
“Virgin Mary”

Okay… I will stop there.

No question that these GenXers came out of the highest divorce rate ever posted among parents. Some of the population statistics say that nearly 50% of GenXers were raised as kids by divorced parents.

There’s also a second trend that is tied to this maternal dependency.

It’s the increasing popularity of what is called “Man Space.”

There’s even a show on HGTV called “Man Land” all about men taking back space in the house that they can call there own.

Gone are the “Family Rooms” and in now are the “Man Rooms.”

It’s the Home Pub, the Vintage Theatre, the Home Office Space, the Game Room, the Car Repair Shop, the Gardening Shed and the Garage Workshop.

When you Google “Man Space,” there’s a book that comes up on titled “Manspace. A Primal Guide To Marking Your Territory.”

The psychologist side of me truly does believe that the GenXer Mother’s are co-dependent with their kids and the guys are into the tribal call of individuality and same-gender bonding.

While the Norelco FSI doesn’t appeal much to me, I would still give them a creative award for at least digging into what seems to be happening out there right now.

The BIG questions are where all else can these Gen X mindset and relationship dynamics empower brands next? Real Estate? Automotive? Apparel? Furniture? Quick Service Restaurants? (Taco Bell and Quizno’s might already be on it!)

Over the years, I have worked with several hospital clients on the development of a Women’s Health Services venture. These range from specific disease programs like Cancer treatment to whole hospitals dedicated solely to women and women’s health.

My bet is that we are going to see both of these trends start to impact healthcare.

A mother-daughter team may soon replace the wife-husband team in the delivery room. We may even see a special family center developed just for mothers in the sports medicine and treatment section of the hospital.

Is the all male hospital next featuring cardiac care, orthopedics, sports medicine, diabetes and prostate cancer screening…maybe even special wings of the hospital sponsored by a brand like Viagra…the next big trend in healthcare facilities?

If women can have a whole specialty service sector…even customized hospitals, then why can’t men?

Something tells me as I type this blog that we will see more of both of these observations in our 2010 Trendcast that will hit the news wires in about 60 days.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Confirmation Of What's Hot And What's Not

I got confirmation yesterday evening that I did the right thing moving from the city of Atlanta to the cool town of Athens.

That’s not to say that Atlanta isn’t a nice place. And that’s not to say that Athens is the ideal.

But it was a smart move at just the right time!

On Saturday, I received the new 8/17 issue of Business Week. There were two articles that grabbed my attention and believe it or not, I sat back on the couch and read each one word-for-word.

One of the articles is titled “Capitalism, No. Free Enterprise, Yes.”

Turns out that the US Chamber of Commerce conducted a series of focus groups among Obama voters, McCain voters and small business owners. All three groups responded similar: “capitalism” was associated from the top down and government and “free enterprise” was associated from the grass roots up.

“Capitalism” was bad. “Free Enterprise” and “Entrepreneur” were good.

The second article is about Howard Schultz and Starbucks.

The subtitle captures it all: “He’s facing the fact that the once free-spirited Starbucks is now a multibillion-dollar machine that embraces more conventional management.”

In 1987, Schultz purchased six stores in Seattle.

Today, after recently cutting costs by $500 million, closing down 800 stores in the U.S. and laying off more than 4,000 employees, Schultz is still faced with the management of more than 16,000 stores in 50 countries globally.

Why am I sharing these stories in the context of the move of BrandVenture from Atlanta to Athens?

The confirmation experience last night took place at a restaurant/pub here in Athens called “The Globe.”

I doubt that The Globe will ever be featured in the high fashion magazines like Metropolitan Home, but it draws a pretty good representation of who all dwells here in this place called Athens.

One of the waiters at the bar taught religion for five years at the University of Georgia and now works at The Globe as well as records, produces and launches music from local artists in the Asian East.

Another group of guys sitting on the couches were talking about ways they could generate more fuel from corn than the processing model that is currently being used.

There was a couple that came and sat at the bar that was from Philadelphia. He taught Shakespearean Literature at one of the small private colleges outside of Philly. He and I got into a discussion about how Twitter could be used to get students to read articles and blogs rather than the textbooks that many avoided unless they had the Cliff Notes version.

Both the couple and another guy across the bar used their iPhones to text message friends while sipping on the brew.

There was nearly an equal mix of Millennials and aging Boomers. The two groups mix well. If any GenXers were there, they were the DINK version (Dual Income No Kids).

A table of age 60+ Boomers sat and discussed their concerns about the government taking over healthcare and alternative ways that they might modify what is currently out there to work more efficiently.

Along with a good drink, I also ordered two of the special small homemade burgers. I thought that I was about to get something similar to the ones that Burger King is currently promoting.

Instead I got two really great homemade, hand-shaped burgers with fresh lettuce and mayo.

Who says that High Touch and High Tech cannot co-exist?

To be honest, this is what Free Enterprise is all about.

This is what drives creative thinking and innovation. This is what got Howard Schultz convinced that he needed to purchase those first six coffee houses and bring them to life for others to also experience the same thing that he enjoyed about them.

The advertising community in Atlanta is a very inbred lot of very similar “Integrated Marketing Communication” companies. Not only did we not fit, I cannot easily see how creativity and innovation can function in a community of “sameness.”

And here is one last refreshing experience to share. A few hours ago, when I got to about here in writing this blog, I had to take a break and go visit a bank called Athens First.

The banking officer is a nice Millennial guy probably in his early-to-mid 20s. He told me that in a couple of weeks he would be starting classes in the MBA program at the University of Georgia.

At first I thought MBA? Oh well, this is a bank after all and banks are slow to change.

But then he told me that over the weekend, he attended a session that was hosted by Chris Hank. Chris is an entrepreneurial leader and has recently been added as a guest faculty member to the Terry College of Business at the University of Georgia.

This guy from the bank went on to say that he cannot wait to take the courses that Chris Hanks teaches and that he really wants to be an entrepreneur.

Now that is refreshing!

And moving the company from Atlanta to Athens was the right move to make!

Monday, August 3, 2009

Advertising Funding Newspaper Content -- What Little Is Left!

Newspapers are certainly going through an interesting time.

It really wasn’t that long ago when newspapers actually had true circulation numbers and people really read the stories.

I know that everyone wants to put the blame on the Internet as the agent of destruction.

As the story they tell goes…

”People not only can access the news 24/7 on the web, they can easily get different perspectives of the same story from a variety of sources including those Blogs that have really lead to the demise of the newspapers.”

Back in the 1970s, many predicted that the newspapers were on their way out with television news that was so much more easy to digest…and then, with the launch of CNN, the naysayers all used the 24/7 argument that the papers were soon history.

I know that this is way out there on the limb, but many papers stopped gaining circulation when they lost perspective of what it meant to report the news.

Maybe it was the Washington Post and Watergate that became the cheap cocaine that all the editors and writers scouted out to find.

Maybe it was corporations like Cox, Gannet and E. W. Scripps that found it more affordable to mass produce on the publishing end.

Or maybe it was the accountants and corporate business management that decided it was way too expensive to actually author and present original stories and that the AP stories were just as good and a heck of a lot cheaper to produce.

Whatever prompted the change in news reporting, the papers have gotten smaller and smaller and the news content has gotten worse and worse.

In fact, it is very difficult now to distinguish what is actually the news and what is actually editorial commentary.

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution (AJC) has certainly seen much better days. Earlier this year, the paper canceled circulation in many of the central Georgia counties.

The AJC has reworked the format, but folks I know who still work there all have their resumes out circulating in hopes of finding a job before the paper issues another round of lay-offs...or worse yet, closes its doors.

Where I live now in Athens – a city just over an hour’s drive away from Atlanta – you cannot get the AJC delivered to the home nor can you buy it at the newsstands.

I am sure that the Athens folks will not like hearing this, but the local paper here in Athens is so bad that I celebrate each day they downsize it further because at least a few more trees will get a chance to live.

As a graduate of a journalism school, all we heard back in those college days was how great was pure journalism and how advertising really wasn’t much different from prostitution.

This journalism school I graduated from is known for its annual Peabody Awards that recognizes outstanding writing, perspectives and editorial.

The Academics get their hearts racing just thinking about it.

The Peabody Awards are really not too different than the Addy Awards that together reinforce a strong narcissism-fostering environment.

Yesterday’s local Athens Sunday paper truly captured the current moment in time. There were three times as many pages of advertising inserts as there were of any regular newspaper pages.

Yes…many of the inserts promoted “back-to-school” specials, but there were also ads for everything from toilet paper to vitamins to camping gear.

I wonder how many of the chief editors are picking up the phone today and calling the CMOs at places like Target, CVS, Kroger, Office Depot, Sears and Lowes to thank them for spending the marketing dollars that will bring food on the home table for at least another week or so.

Even though there are the occasional online short videos and pop-up promotions, I haven’t seen any advertising online as significant as the ad content in the Sunday papers.

I sometimes wonder if I were the Chief Editor of the AJC, if I would have gone and cancelled the outer county subscriptions and distribution.

Maybe…just maybe… I would have at least continued the Saturday and Sunday circulation. I know that if I had folks added to my weekend readership, my CPM (cost per thousand) might stay the same, but my revenue would go up.

And maybe…just maybe…. I would have gone out there and found some pure heart journalists that have a passion for reporting the news and keeping the editorial content totally confined to the editorial page.

Something tells me that newspaper publishing might just be in my genes.