2008 Holiday Retail Predictions – Where have all the shopping bags gone?

           

I became sensitive to retail sales trends early in my career when I worked with JCPenney on their advertising. I learned shopping mall dynamics and became attuned to the subtle factors that drive success or failure in a retail environment.

 

I got very good at knowing which retailers were going to do well by tracking the shopping bags consumers were carrying. Living in NYC provided a perfect microcosm of the retail landscape and the NYC Subway system provided the perfect controlled laboratory to conduct my research. Within a single train car was a cross section of America’s consumer life – from the highest of the high to the lowest of the low.

 

Year after year, in December I would get a sense of which retail segments were doing well and even which specific retailers. I got very good at it. I knew when Target was on the ascend and when Crate Barrel was the rocking place.

 

So as a matter of habit as I travel the NYC subway system this year like all the other 30+ years living in Manhattan,  I take special note of the bags. But this year, the sad truth is there are so few bags!

 

Normally at this time of year, the subway would be filled with people carrying bags and boxes filled with wrapping paper rolls, new boom boxes, TV and the like. Riders would politely step over mountains of bags. You often couldn’t even see people in seats because they were often obscured by the mounds of bags.

 

But not this year. The bags are so few and far between that I worry because this is probably a truer reflection of everyone’s sentiment versus all the polls or pundits can muster. So with a deep sigh of trepidation… here are my retail predictions for who will have a good December.

 

First, who we predict will not do well…(this is a no surprise list … but just in case):

  • Electronics – Sorry Best Buy
  • Ego driven leather goods, e.g. Prada
  • Ego driven retail stores, e.g. Barney’s, Sharper Image
  • Eco driven retailers – those organic $32 t-shirts are history for now
  • Industrial strength “toys” like Hulk Hogan action heroes or Barbie’s Dream Home  

So now for the “who should do well at least in comparison to most other retailers” list. It is a short list L

  • High end food gifts or food related services, e.g. Trader’s Joe or Fresh Direct
  • Designer oriented, low priced outlets, e.g. Target, high end outlet malls
  • Utilitarian “design” household stores, e.g. Williams Sonoma
  • Books and stationary
  • Crafts or homemade clothing
  • Pampering services as long as they are not decadent. For example a gift certificate for a massage – nice. But a $2,000 Botox gift – not.
  • Quality toys and kid’s stuff will do well.   

 

I am sure this is not an all exhaustive list – but I do hope that this year’s shopping bag prediction poll is wrong. Maybe everyone is having everything delivered to their homes and that’s why I see no bags.

 

I can only hope. Happy holidays to all!  

 

Judy Shapiro  

  

 

Reality TV – the ultimate oxymoron

                                                                                                                               

I keep seeing reality TV shows pop up all over the place. They are a producer’s dream. Cheap, easy to produce – just find a theme, a bunch of people you can exploit, mix it all up and wham you have instant ratings. The first reality TV shows were sorta amusing. But now we seem to take perverse pleasure in seeing just how much public humiliation someone is willing to endure for some bucks or some fame.

Here’s the sad truth – reality TV, exploitative though it may be, get good ratings. Why? It gives us the chance to either feel better about ourselves because we don’t have these people’s problems or we feel worse about ourselves because we would never have the courage, nerve whatever to do what they did to get on TV. We may even feel both better and worse about ourselves for the same reason – because this is this “their” reality – not ours. No matter what we  feel though – we will feel something about ourselves and that is highly ego gratifying.

Now here’s the far sadder truth. Watching reality TV shows seem to be taking the place of our living real lives. We seem content to watch other people living lives – like travel shows about places we should go and see for ourselves or we watch 16 year old bratty kids have ridiculously extravagant birthday parties instead of marking the occasion with some meaningful recognition of the budding maturity in that sixteen year old.

Our virtual world occupies more of our lives than actually living does. Our real lives almost seem like interruptions to our virtual reality.

So let’s remember folks – reality TV is not possible. It is either real or it is TV. It can not be both. We would do well to remember the difference.

Judy Shapiro

Top Ten Marketing Disappointments for 2007

 

How quickly 2007 seems to have blitz’d through my visual frame. One minute I am just throwing out the New Cards joyfully wishing me a great 2007 and hark – here’s the new crop of cards for 2008! Time to take stock and recount what started as promising marketing approaches that either fizzled or were badly executed.

So here new years revelers is my top ten list of marketing disappointments for 2007.   

1) Beware the Google machine – are you scared yet? They are into radio buying, TV ad space, wireless, software and what next? Companies that get too big too quick implode. Think Time Warner/ AOL.  Everywhere I turn I bump into them – feels like invasion of the Google machine. I am getting scared.  

2) A second life for Second life? Typical. People thought it was the next “big” thing and next thing you know – people start dissing it. Advertisers cry – “is no one there?” and start back peddling. Oh grow up. New ideas take time to jel – learn how it works and use it right and well. 

 

3) A rose by another name is still called affinity marketing. Ok – today it is called viral marketing a.k.a. social media a.k.a. community marketing and on and on. Let’s remind ourselves – that this is just a new name for what 15 years ago we called affinity marketing – described as “birds of a feather flock together”. Today, the basic “birds of feather flock together” concept has not changed but the ways we can deliver the message has increased substantially. The good news is that now we can reach an affinity group cheaper with a lot less lead time or fuss. The better news – you can start this type of program with just a little smarts and even less cash. The best news – it is interactive. The “many to many” model is an engagement model that is ongoing and can be sustained over time. A marketers dream, but don’t let the buzz of “viral marketing” scare you. You can do this type of marketing yourself – and don’t let any social media agency tell you otherwise. 

 

4) SEO can’t get no respect. SEO is one of those unsung heros of the marketing world. But it is often overlooked and underappreciated. Why? Because it is so misunderstood and worse lots of folks out there selling the digital version of snake oil. “Get to first page ranking – guaranteed in 30 days”. We’ve all seen that ad. But find a credible technology provider and you’ll see real results. Better yet. Read up on it yourself. You won’t have to do it – but you’ll know better what to expect. 

 

5) Mobile marketing – like trying to catch a cloud in your hand. I worked on 802.11 back when wireless penetration was barely at 40%. Now that there is near virtual wireless penetration – everyone and his brother (I think I mean that literally) is doing wireless marketing – pushing content, ads whatever to people on their phones. Enough already!!! The backlash will surely hit hard and heavy. Worse – many of these ventures doing wireless marketing are not well developed. If you want to play in wireless marketing – watch your step – 

 

6) Blogging is no silver bullet. Hey I love blogging (ya think J) but don’t think it is a silver bullet to replace good marketing strategy and execution. It is seductive to put all your eggs in the bloggin basket. Resist the temptation. Blogging is a tactic that should be part of a well developed plan.

 

7) Public Relations activities still stuck. PR agencies are stuck somewhere in the 1980’s. They still think that their main goal is to get NYTimes coverage. That’s nice but it does not actually build business anymore. It is far more productive to evolve how PR works. A few “big” announcements deserve to get news pick up but far more often you should focus on what’s news to your prospective customers who can generate revenue. If you plan these two levels of PR – you can get the front page of BusinessWeek and more revenue from customers. That’s the way to unstick your PR.  

 

8 ) Is the shine coming off the PPC model? It is true dear friends and if Google could hear me now they would no doubt disagree. The Google PPC machine has peaked and now is the time to understand how to minimize costs while optimizing revenue. Try this experiment. Reduce PPC by 10% – and track if you see a difference. I bet you won’t. You may even be able to reduce by 20% before you see some drop off.  I suggest you use some of the new tactics to augment what was your PPC budget. You may even see more revenue. 

 

9) eMail marketing – don’t open till you see the whites of their eyes. This is a tough one but email marketing effectiveness is harder and harder to achieve. Between fear of fraud emails, SPAM filters and all else – emails have even less of a chance of getting through. Stick to emails that are to your own customers with real offers. That works better than ever before and focus on other tactics to gain new customers.

 

10) Security in digital marketing. It is a battle many are losing and it is sad to report that even if a site has all the security in the world it does no good if a user’s PC has been compromised. The key is to help your customer stay safe online. If you can, offer them digital safety tips. Better yet – you can offer them great free security software – like Comodo Firewall. It’s free, it works and your customers will appreciate the tip. They stay safe and you can be assured that they will remain secure customers.

 

So here’s my wish to you all for 2008 – may your marketing be fruitful and frugal – and to all a good night.   

Judy Shapiro

Ten Marketing Heresies You Should Start Believing In

 

Heresy is a loaded word – evoking in equal measure poor souls suffering some unspeakable death for the sake of an idea and the visionaries whose ideas were so ahead of their time that it often took decades or centuries for it to be proven true.

So when a friend recently said that an idea I had mentioned was “heresy” – I was taken aback. Strong language indeed.  And if something is declared as heresy the intention is to snuff out its spread for it may actually be true.

That got me thinking about all the marketing heresies I actually believe and much to my surprise, I have developed a fairly extensive list of these “heresies”. When I think about my start in marketing at an advertising agency working on Procter & Gamble or AT&T businesses, I also realized I was well trained (even maybe a little indoctrinated) in the well established marketing principles.

But that was in the 1980’s when generating awareness was based on large advertising budgets and large advertising agency expense budgets. Today, the goal is the same – getting broad awareness or “brand buzz” – but we must adapt our thinking and in some ways accept what would have been considered marketing heresies even just a few years ago.

So here is my list of marketing “heresies” … heresies that help build business if you can believe in their truths.

1)  World class marketing does not necessarily require an agency or consultant.

This one was particularly hard for me to accept as my heritage lies in the agency world, but is true nonetheless. Agencies largely can not bring innovation to clients because their business model is not geared toward that. Agencies do well in executing established programs that do not require a high level of non billable research investment. Often new programs require agencies to first get up the learning curve and they can’t bill for that. That means they usually stick to what they know – they make more money that way.  

2) “Hands on” experience is better than having consultants or agencies do the work for you.

Related to the above, and to be honest, I was not eager to believe this one  – but it is true nonetheless. And it is particularly true when working with the newer marketing tactics.  Since agencies are often not the innovators, in order for you to direct agencies well, you have to have hands on experience. Without that “hands on experience”, it is more difficult to get accountability.

“C’mon”, I hear you say, “how practical is that? Certainly, an ad executive can not get bogged down in implementing lots of programs.” I understand. I was used to an organized, compartmentalized marketing world – the copywriter wrote copy, PR agencies did the PR, the promotional folks managed emails. Doing it myself seems almost sacrilegious.

But it was not until I started to do the work, that I learned the most and I credit the CEO of my company for making me to do it (over my constant and eminently annoying objections  I might add). So take it from someone who had to learn the hard way, marketing is about staying current and being able to understand how people will respond your programs. Working the work yourself (as much as you can) really helps improve the quality of the work. And then you can begin to demand better quality from your agencies. 

3) Stop chasing measurement of specific marketing programs — but do measure all of marketing.

Sorry Virginia – but it’s time to put this long held holy grail to rest. Not every marketing program can be measured. Perhaps in some future time when we can measure what a person is actually thinking can we measure each marketing program.  The best we can do is measure an action that a marketing program may have generated – but that’s about it. The goal rather should be to measure marketing as an organic whole. 

Make sure you are looking at the right metrics. Of course – revenue is important, but I find volume metrics are also very important and a more sensitive measure to monitor marketing effectiveness. Increased sales revenue is often a function of price increases and/ or new product introductions. But to see if marketing is working efficiently, measure the order volume of a product from one year to the next. The volume measure is blind to changes that price increases could mask. If revenue has grown, but not volume, take a deeper look to see what can be done to improve this. 

4) Generating “brand buzz” is no longer a function of money.

The P&G model worked in its day. Buy GRP’s (Gross Rating Points) on TV, then awareness would go up and with it sales. Pretty straight forward and agencies marched right along. Large budgets drove large fees. It was a symbiotic relationship. But now the model is different. Creating awareness is a function of public relations, viral marketing and SEO programs. All of which are relatively low cost. PR agencies don’t understand viral marketing much and social media agencies don’t understand PR at all. None of them have a clue about SEO. So creating brand buzz means creating a new model that is not dependent on cash – but dependent on smarts.  

The recipe therefore is to integrate viral relations with public relations and SEO to drive search volumes. Then the more people will search for you the better your chances of getting them as customers.   

5) “Free” can build business – but it needs to be a real deal.

How many emails do we all get that claim free iPod or free this or that. These emails do seem to generate response but it has a dark side. The “free” deal is often tainted and that is worse than doing nothing at all. In a drive to generate revenue, keep free as it was intended – really free – not partially free or free if you buy this or that.

If you are making a free claim – really mean it (and be sure you can afford it) Then you’ll make money.

6) Search volume is highly manageable by marketers.   

Really truly. Stop thinking about search volumes that happens in a detached way from what you are doing. You can manage it, increase it. Tune it like you would an engine and your volumes will go up. 

7) Develop a refined sense of “roughly right”.

In today’s lightening fast world, perfection is not an asset anymore. It is far more useful to have a keen sense of “good enough” and get programs out there than to continue to work a program until it is perfect. Mind you, this heresy does not apply to all marketing tactics – but certainly to any tactics that lives in the online world. It is far more productive to get something out and refine it over time than to wait 9 months to get it perfect. If a program can get out “roughly right” in 4 months and generate some revenue, isn’t that far better than waiting nine months. I bet the extra measure of perfection does not compensate for the lost months of revenue. (I should add – I still struggle with this one – but hey – I’m still learning).

 

8 ) Letting customers openly voice thier opinions – good and bad – is a powerful brand building tool.   

 

I was having a conversation with a friend who runs the marketing for a manufacturing company and they wanted to create a user forum but decided against it because he said, “one bad opinion could really do damage.”  Well I heartily disagreed by explaining that bad feedback is going to happen anyway – but by creating a venue where you can manage the feedback, that gives you tremendous opportunities to turn that around. So don’t be scared of what customers may say within a forum you create – be more scared of what they say about you without you ever knowing. 

9) There is never one way to solve a marketing problem.

I tend to have strong opinions (you wouldn’t have ever guessed that – right :)) and believe that I am mostly right most of the time. I still believe that but now I know that others could be as right as me because there is always more than one way to skin a cat. So while I may be attached to my way – I can now whole heartedly follow other ways because they will deliver results too.

10) Last and perhaps more important — passion sells.

The corporate tone with a measured approach rarely makes anyone take notice. Rather, for marketing to work, you should be passionate about it because then it comes through in the work.

Resist the urge to think about another product launch as just more work. Get excited about the product. Learn why the developer designed the product the way they did. Too many times we become blasé about what we are doing and evaluate a new product through the lens of the product gaps. I am fortunate to work at an Internet security company with a CEO who is as passionate about every new product as though it is his first. That kind of passion is contagious and permeates everything. Try to turn yourself on when doing this type of work. It keeps the work fresh for your market and exciting for you. It doesn’t get better than that – does it?

Now do you believe?

Judy Shapiro

The Six Step Plan to Claim Your 15 Minutes of Fame

 

Thanksgiving is here and with that the frenzy of holiday marketing truly explodes around us.  Everyone selling just about anything is vying for a piece of your mind and ultimately a piece of your pocketbook. And if you are like many businesses, the holiday season accounts for a big part of your yearly business – one way or another. 

So friends, here is a six step plan to make your name better known out there – (OK – maybe it won’t be a household name – but it will get you noticed.)

1) If you have a blog – flaunt it. Post regularly if you can – and be sure to sign your name to end of the post. You’ll be surprise how quickly the name will get picked up by Google. If you’re in the service business this is especially helpful.

2) Register your blog with Technorati and other directories.   Costs nothing to do and will beging to get you some traction.

3) Get your friends and family to cross link to your blog or site.  Yep – this is where networking helps. Ideally, get as many links into your site as possible – that is a key measure of importance to Google.

4) Don’t be afraid to give something away for free.  It may sound counter-intuitive – but giving something of value for free does generate business. People appreciate honest value and they will reward you with their business. But be straight in your offer – no hidden clauses or surprise fees. That will turn them off faster than a bulb gone dead.

5) Promote any brand recognition you can.  If you have won any awards or competitions that have branded cache, do a press release and send it out. You can send our press releases for free. Some of the biggest distributors are http://www.free-press-release.com http://www.prleap.com

6) Participate in the conversation.   Or, become an expert by responding to articles and other people’s blog. You will definitely see an uptick in your recognition.

Some things I mentioned are quick hits and others take time. But follows these steps and soon when someone Google’s your name, they will see exactly what you want them to see.

Happy faming.

Judy Shapiro

The Top 5 Myths of Viral Marketing

 

I am surprised at how mysterious this wide world of viral marketing is to many of my colleagues. It reminds me of the days when companies were first learning about  the Internet. Companies were slow to climb on the Internet learning curve then and now I feel like this is a mass déjà vu moment again.

So to help accelerate the learning curve this time around, I’d like to explain what viral marketing is NOT  because it’s easier first to explain what something is NOT and then you can better understand what it is. So here is my top five list of what viral marketing IS NOT. Take note comrades – nothing is a silver bullet and viral marketing is no exception.

1) Viral marketing does not cost a lot

It is a mistake to assume that viral marketing is something that happens if you sprinkle pixie dust into the Internet engine. There are costs but it is often hidden. Great viral marketing is about participating “in the conversation”. That takes time. The “time is money” cliché is true. And guess what – since there are no automated tools to participate in the conversation – participation can be time consuming and therefore not cheap.

 

2) Build a blog and they will come

Sound familiar? Marketers rushed to create websites using that mantra and we know how that ended. Getting a blog going is just the beginning but for it to help create brand buzz requires time and diligence and patience. Blogging at its best can give your brand a personality and a way for people to engage with you. But it needs care and feedling just like any other marketing tactic.

 

3) Viral campaigns can’t be planned – it just happens

On rare occasion that is true. But here’s the reality – most viral marketing successes are the result of careful planning, good execution and a sound strategy. Just like any other marketing campaign.

 

4) Viral marketing can take care of itself

Successful viral marketing is no different than managing a successful direct marketing campaign or advertising campaign or public relations initiative. It must be measured so it can be managed.

 

Which leads me to the final myth …

 

5) You can’t really measure a viral campaign

This is arguably one myth that does the most damage and is a myth that agencies like to promote. After all, it is in the agencies best interests to convince clients that viral marketing can’t be measured because then there is no accountability. But not only is viral marketing measurable – it is in some ways easier to measure than many other tactics. You can measure traffic volumes, responses to blogs and more. So next time your agency hems and haws about measuring a viral marketing campaign – keep looking. You can do better.

So now that we have debunked some of the biggest myths – what now? Let’s talk about what’s a good way to execute a viral campaign. There is a new disciplined type of viral marketing called “content campaigns” that uses an emerging model, PVR – public + viral relations. This means that all content is focused on a few themes and it is distributed across all media – PR, SEO, corporate blogs, white papers, seminars etc etc. By coordinating content creation and distribution, you can optimize search volume and that my friends is how business gets done today.

Buzz that.

 

Judy Shapiro

It’s all about share of mind

There are lots of ways to reach people online - blogs, podcasts, social networks, YouTube. You name it and a new tactic seems to come out of the woodwork every other day. And sure – everyone wants to get noticed but in business, getting noticed is nice but getting lots of quality attention is even better and that’s the name of the game.  

Getting noticed by people who can advocate your product or service is the secret sauce to successful PR and viral marketing (a.k.a. PVR – public + viral relations ). From social networkers and customers to the press, Trenchwars is all about fighting the visibility battle & winning!  

Here are some practical steps you can take to start your own PVR trenchwar campaign.   

1) Start simple.

Set realistic goals that you can achieve.  A starting goal for instance might be to just identify the big bloggers in your segment and track them. Respond to their posts and if appropriate submit content to them. 

2) Track your progress.

Sign up for Google alerts about your company, your competitors and your industry. See who’s making noise and how. There are valuable lessons. This service is free and it is chock full of insight. 

3) Incrementally add tactics.

Once you are comfortable in the blog-o-sphere – add one tactic at a time. Maybe you do a fun YouTube schtick. Post and experiment. Learn how get traction. Then be more aggressive – add more tactics as you master their value to your business. 

4) Create a User Forum. 

This is a powerful way to engage your customers (and competitors). Get social networkers to be moderators. They will be happy to play as it gives them a platform too. 

5) Work the Press Release Angle.

Create a PR engine by sending out lots of releases (and I mean lots). If you can stand it – try and do one a week. There are tons of free distribution channels out there so the only cost is your time to create the release. Your goal should not really be to tempt the New York Times to print a story – but rather to gain visibility to your target. What is news for the media and what is news to your prospective customer is entirely different. Recognize that distinction and play it up. As an aside, remember releases are usually written in a “neutral” third party voice. Stick to that – it sounds more credible. Again – you will see how you are doing via the Google alerts. 

Finally – be patient. It can months of work before you start seeing results – just like farmer can not reap the wheat without first doing the prep. With patience, your crop will come in :)  

Judy Shapiro

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 2,193 other followers