Saturday, November 30, 2013

It's Very Easy To Get Lost

It’s very easy to get lost.

While the three martini lunch that the Madison Avenue ad agency and media maven craze made famous is long-gone, it’s not difficult to get lost in the pages of Town & Country Magazine and think that everyone, everywhere lives the fashion life.

Madison Avenue and the corporate boardrooms still promote that the fashion live is all alive and well.

This past week, I sipped coffee and read the Wall Street Journal at a local Virginia-Highland coffee house. Two Emory University MBA students at the table next to mine.

The two guys were very professionally outfitted in their blazers, button-downs and ties. 

They chatted about their expectations of their first management job touting the great cities they were aiming to move to like San Francisco, Chicago, New York and Boston. 

They spoke about their ideal career that as far as they were concerned was going to be their first job out of school. 

They spoke about their ideal home and cars, again, things that they would gain access to shortly.

They spoke about the marketplace. 

Not surprisingly, a dialogue filled with perceptions of people and cultures they imagine to exist... at least, the culture painted in their MBA case discussions.

It took a lot out of me to stay focused on the Wall Street Journal. 

I wanted to put them in my car and go on a journey into what really makes up America.

It’s very easy to get lost.

So far, the best part of my Thanksgiving break was going to a McDonald’s on Black Friday. 

I got there early… Just after 7:00am.

Next to where I sat was a table filled with women.  They were using their iPhones to check just what was going on sale, where and when.

I started up a conversation with them. 

I asked them if they were just beginning their shopping spree or had already been to stores.

They replied that they had been shopping since 7pm on Thanksgiving Day … all night … all over the place.

They went on to tell me about the deals they found and how they found some online and some instore.

They were planning to head about 30 miles west toward the “Big City” and then on from there back to their home town. 

As I listened to them share their stories, I could not help but quickly put them into target group “buckets” I am in the process of building for two new clients. 

Both of my clients have businesses located in smaller town America. 

There is a target group I coin as “Blue Sky Homesteaders” and another one termed “Heartland Seniors.”  These two groups make up about three out of every ten U.S. Households.

After I had breakfast, I went to a couple stores myself -- more to watch people than to shop. Later in the afternoon, I was back in the city of Atlanta and had a chance to chat with some folks shopping in the city.

I know what many of you are thinking. 

There are masses out there shopping the Wal-Marts of the America that might represent a share of our population, but really only a small share.  All the rest of the population is much more educated, professional and aspiring. 

Last week, I conducted a discussion group with homeowners who reside in a relatively nice, fashionable, Atlanta neighborhood.  One of my clients is going to be opening up a home design store in first quarter of 2014 and we are putting together their marketing program.

Going into the group, I was convinced that I was going to sit in on a group of women who truly lived in House Beautiful set-designed homes.

No question that the group was upscale. 

Most of the attendees were in their late 30s or 40s. 

When I asked the group to visualize their ideal home space, I was surprised.  The words, “Simple,” “Warm.” and “Clean” were used a bunch to describe the space.  “Fashionable,” “Trendy,” “Luxurious” and “Designer” were not used at all.

In fact, the group voiced how they used HGTV and Home Depot to get ideas more and custom interior designers less.

My client was surprised. 

The high-brow ‘hoods of the past are becoming “more commonplace.”

Lastly, there was an article this past week in the Wall Street Journal that I found very intriguing. 

I actually read the article during that morning coffee in which the MBAs were sitting next to my table.

The article talks about what is driving the new teenage shopping market.

The article has a sub-title that reads, “It’s Goodbye to Big Brand Names, Hello to Cheap Fast Fashion.”

Forever 21, H&M, Target and Wal-Mart are in and Abercrombie & Fitch, American Eagle, Aeropostale and designer labels are out. 

Going into 2014, I encourage my clients and marketers alike to take time out.  Get a breakfast at a McDonald’s and forego the Starbucks. Go to the nearby Wal-Mart and Forever 21.  Spend the afternoon in a Home Depot and chain grocery store.

Do it before your corporate marketing team meets or the ad agency comes in with a presentation.

Its very easy to get lost. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Oh Canada...Keep Innovating And Carry On!

I am writing this blog post from the Toronto airport.  In a couple of hours I will be bound back to Atlanta… and the U.S. 

Yesterday, I participated in a conference of Canadian marketing leadership that crafts business, marketing and interactive strategy around neighborhood lifestyle groups.

Environics Analytics was the conference host and is the top Canadian provider of market segmentation modeling tools including Canada PRIZM.  Environics Analytics celebrated their 10th anniversary yesterday, something that I could identify with since EXPERIENCE celebrated its 10th anniversary last month.

I know that many of you are probably wondering if a conference built around segmentation modeling was boring “with a bunch of numbers and stats.” 

I applaud the Environics Analytics team.  Their corporate “mascot” is actually a real live tech nerd that has a very interesting… even engaging… personality.

To answer what some might be thinking … was this a boring event?… the answer is a flat out… NO.

Not only was the day not boring… it was actually very inspirational.  Yes… I said inspirational.

There were more than 400 people at the event.  There were around a dozen different presentations made available to attendees during the day.  The individuals presenting shared hands-on experience using the Environics tools in their marketing programs.

I was one of the presenters. 

No question that a share of the individuals presenting matched up against the statistical nerd stereotype.  Their presentation charts had lots of tables, graphs and numbers.

My presentation did not have many detailed tables, numbers and charts. Some folks said I might have been the most animated up on stage.

I enjoyed interacting with the group and I heard more people laugh and less people snore.  When you make a presentation, that’s good feedback.

What struck me about half way through the day was that this group of marketing leadership truly placed value on understanding the human dynamics of the marketplace. 

They talked about the emotional character of their markets versus rational attributes and benefit deliverables.

Those human dynamics provided deep insight on how the product service experience needs to connect and reinforce brand relationships, dialogue and exchange.

While my presentation was in part about my history of working with neighborhood lifestyle groups over the last 30 years; the main focus of my presentation highlighted how its currently being used by my client, Shaw Floors and affiliated retailers.

One of the Shaw Canadian retailers came up and presented part of the story with me.

Carl French, part owner of a flooring store called Speers Road Broadloom is a peer I continue to learn from and admire.

He is passionate about his business.  He is passionate about adopting new ways to drive sales. 

He is innovative in how he uses marketing insight like lifestyle-crafted target groups to craft his marketing and sales strategy.

Any one who has read a number of these blog posts knows well that I have not found too many corporate leadership groups that are brave enough to reach beyond the drone of conventional marketing practices. 

It’s unfortunate when a business gets absorbed with stats and numbers to the point that innovation ceases and even the most basic understanding of human behavior gets tabled.

I found it very interesting how other presentations at this conference addressed interactive and social media and how they spoke more about the human relationship dynamics and less about how many “friends” were part of the groups.

SEO mechanics were downplayed and more dialogue focused around the character of the interactive relationship.

Times have changed radically since I first started working with neighborhood lifestyle groups… and it’s not just the advent of the Internet.

As I sit at the airport and soon will be back in Atlanta, I leave with a much stronger sense that what I post on this blog and what I share with clients and partners is right on track. 

Perhaps what I enjoyed most during the time with the group yesterday is that I can count on one hand how many times I heard the word, “research” used by attendees and presenters.

Perhaps what I found most entertaining was a presentation on comparative political mindset found in Canada versus those in the U.S.

The Canadians found it very amusing that they were much more focused on a shared vision of better good than the Americans… who, in turn, were much more focused on this essence of what is the right thing to do and a government of rules.

They also found it amusing that the Canadians post higher incomes than the Americans.

As I board the plane back to Atlanta, I look forward to hosting the Canadians some time soon in the ATL and get a chance to show them a glimpse into our country of nearly 300 million folks compared to their just less than 30 million.

Onward into 2014… Keep Innovating and Carry On!