Faster slather
Monday May 12th 2014, 3:47 pm
Filed under: advertising,market research,women,wretched excess

I’ve written about this seemingly-vexing problem before, but – given that I just spotted an ad for a brand NEW product – I guess Vaseline wasn’t able to handle it.palmers-rapid-spray-stephanie-fierman

Who are these sad, desperately dry people who are held back from living full lives because their moisturizer goes on too slowly? Maybe we should start a support group: PFILM – People For Instantly Luxurious (Likeable? Liquid?) Moisturizer.

Luxury Auto Ads On Auto Pilot?
Monday January 17th 2011, 9:55 am
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,luxury,market research,US economy,wretched excess

Do you think that Cadillac and Audi know they’re running nearly identical ads?  Cadillac describes its positioning as “red blooded luxury,” Audi “progressive luxury…”

I’m afraid it’s a “you say potato…” kinda thing, at best.

I Guess It Depends
Monday January 10th 2011, 8:11 am
Filed under: advertising,branding,market research,retail,stephanie fierman,women

Disclaimer: I am shooting my mouth off here and have seen none of the research that, no doubt, Kimberly-Clark completed and relied upon before launching this product extension.  Please proceed accordingly.

I saw a couple new television ads recently for “Depend Underwear in colors.” We’re talking about the product that provides an “underwear-like experience” for those who maybe need a little more protection for whatever reason.

Fine, no problem.  I’m looking at this product, its attributes, benefits and other market characteristics as I would any other.

My curiosity focuses on this new product line, in particular, and its supporting advertising.

When I saw the ads, I wasn’t sure what I was looking at, although what I was seeing was certainly derivative.  The ad targeting women looked exactly like a tampon (or “feminine wash” - ick – ad), with gals frolicking and going about their carefree lives, confident that they no longer worry about something going awry.  And the men’s ad looked a lot like a Viagra commercial, with men smiling knowingly at each other on the street, strutting along as if the result of using this product was most certainly going to be an intimate experience.  One of the men actually winks at the camera.  Winks!

My question is this (here comes the “shooting my mouth off” part): assuming the “engineering” in the product is identical to the existing Depend SKUs, how much more market share can K-C expect to gain by creating a Depend line in colors and prints? 
1. It would seem to me to be a product that you buy because you need them (not want them), so how many more units could or would an existing user really buy?
2. Because of the seemingly non-optional nature of the purchase, how many people who would benefit from an adult incontinence underwear product – but who do not currently purchase any – would suddenly be motivated to do so because there’s an option that comes in colors?
3. How much market share is there to be stolen from other manufacturers? K-C claims to be the global leader in the adult incontinence category (a $1.3B category in North America), prices don’t appear to be crazily strewn across the board, and it seems to me that a user of a non-Depend incontinence product isn’t likely to switch just because s/he can now get her protective panties in stripes.  Seems like it could be a high-involvement, potentially scary switch to make.
4. Are you that much more likely to be comfortable taking your clothes off in front of someone else (or your own mirror) because your underwear is blue instead of white?  And how many consumers would view an estimated 50% price hike as being worth it? 
5.  K-C believes that boomers’ product expectations are “much higher than those of past generations.” Good enough, but that doesn’t change the “rational” buying characteristics of the marketplace.
6. An article about the launch says that new packaging provides a more “dignified shopping experience,” but I’m not going there. If that’s the issue, they could have transformed the old packaging.

The company’s VP of North American feminine and adult care brands says that consumers want to stay in their own underwear, so “we want to make our Depend products as much like underwear as possible.”  

That’s nice.  And it’s possible that the “irrational” or emotional elements of the buying process are far stronger than they would appear to be.  There are also reasons that companies develop line extensions that don’t require the new product to be a home run to be successful.  K-C clearly has some reason to believe that its new fashionable line will help it – as the company likes to tell men – “control the room.”

Now With More Groupon! Gets Your Whites Whiter!
Wednesday December 29th 2010, 10:45 am
Filed under: customer service,loyalty marketing,market research,publishing,retail,social media

Is social buying practicing its shark jump already??  Such was my thought (and mild sense of alarm) when I opened this month’s new Harvard Business Review and found a serious-looking article on the phenomenon titled, “Why Employees Can Wreck Promotional Offers.”

The piece is written by an associate professor of marketing at a reasonably prestigious U.S. university, and it profiles his research into the administration of group buying offers from the likes of Groupon, BuyWithMe and LivingSocial

The article first caught my eye because of its anti-worker title, frankly… and then I read it.  The key insight to be gleaned from this academic research is that employees – not just offers – can have a huge impact on the creation of a “positive customer experience.”  Employees’ behavior, the professor says, can even cause the offer to “backfire” if managers fail to prepare employees properly or there is some other reason (e.g. a diner does not tip on a Groupon restaurant offer) that workers may cause a consumer’s initial interaction to be a poor one.

“In fact,” he says, “preparing employees for upcoming promotions and obtaining their buy-in is the most important factor influencing a Groupon promotion’s success”… “or any promotion[‘s], for that matter.”

Are we at the point in the shiny-object lifecycle where critical thinking is to be set aside and any piece of content with the word “Groupon” in it can (a) pass as “research,” and (b) make it into legitimate academic journals?

I hope so.  I say that because if, instead, it’s a revelation in our universities’ classrooms that customer service and positive employee engagement are the keys to marketing success, we’ve got a much bigger problem on our hands.

I suspect it is the former, so this too shall pass.

Stephanie Fierman’s Ugly American Moment
Thursday April 08th 2010, 8:56 pm
Filed under: Internet,market research,social media,Twitter,web 2.0

Last week, I attended Columbia Business School’s Brite Conference 2010. “Brite” stands for brands, innovation and technology, and the event is sponsored annually by the school’s Center on Global Brand Leadership.

The two-day happening gave me enough material for quite a while, but let me start here.cj-entertainment-logo-stephanie-fierman.jpg

There was a real mix of speakers.  On the first day, one of these presenters was Miky Lee (Mie Kyung Lee), Vice Chairman of CJ Entertainment & Media, the entertainment division of Korea’s CJ Corporation.

I know – I never heard of it, either.*

Ms. Lee carefully read her prepared remarks in English, sprinkling her comments with video clips from Korean films, cable television, games, recording artists and the like. 

While watching what appeared to be the Korean version of American Idol, I began thinking of my grocery list and wondering if the conference organizers had planned the session to seemingly wander off this way.

The Q&As came.  Ms. Lee answered a few questions here and there.  She was gracious and considerate.  Then an audience member asked if CJ was going to try to break into the United States.  The speaker wasn’t nasty or arrogant; he was simply saying that – to be truly successful – CJ would need to access the American culture market.

Ms. Lee stood oddly frozen at the podium until until one of the event moderators jumped in to say that Korea was far – far far far – past the U.S. in terms of digital sophistication and social media in all its forms.  Facebook, for example, is pre-historic news in Korea, where a vastly superior social networking site, Cyworld, has been operating since 2000. 

Clearly relieved, the polite Ms. Lee thanked the moderator for his comments and then proceeded to explain that the U.S. is no longer the center of the cultural universe in Asia.

“Having grown up in the 50s,” Ms. Lee said that she and her friends worshipped American music and celebrities.   American culture was the center of their universe.  No more. Today, Japan is the center of Asian life.  Kids look to Japan for what’s cool, hip and trendy.

At this point, Ms. Lee was on a (respectful) roll.

stephanie-fierman-cyworld.jpgShe shared a few details about Korean’s online lifestyle. Did you know that Korea is #1 in the world for broadband penetration in the home? This 2009 article puts that percentage at 95%. Ms. Lee said 98%.  They’re probably both right.  And the United States? As of 2009, we were 20th with 60%.

20th.  That’s 2-o-th.  Behind Singapore (88%), Taiwan (81%), the Netherlands (85) and others.  Estonia has higher in-home broadband penetration than we do (62%). Did you know that Estonia, a country with a population the size of Idaho‘s, has an extremely sophisticated information technology sector?  I didn’t.  How about the fact that the creators of both Kazaa and Skype came from Estonia? Nope, ‘hasn’t come up in the line at Starbucks recently. 

I do know, however, that a moving van showed up at Sandra Bullock’s and Jesse James’ marital home last weekend. Whooo-eee! Come back later: my brain is full.

Anyway, Ms. Lee went on to explain how Korea has leapfrogged everyone else in the world with respect to broadband and mobile usage. Downloading full-length feature films at home or playing games and watching TV on a cell phone are run-of-the-mill activities. And then there’s Cyworld, that social network owned by SK Telecom, Korea’s largest wireless provider.  Ms. Lee described Cyworld as essentially a millionth generation of the sites we use in the U.S.: a sort-of Facebook meets MySpace meets Flickr meets IMing meets Blogger. Characterized by CNN as “a license to print money,” Cyworld is used by 90% of all Koreans in their 20s (but also across all age categories) and produces 3x the revenue per user as does MySpace.

And although perhaps she had a right to be, Ms. Lee wasn’t smarmy, or poke-America-in-the eye arrogant: her remarks came across as a 100% sincere call for us to get our *** out of our *** and realize that the U.S is no longer the singular epicenter of cultural or technological innovation.  Seek out what’s happening in Japanese culture, she told us, as well as several other sophisticated countries, including her own. Learn. See. Question.

So – wow. I was intrigued. Who was this woman who read awkwardly from prepared comments and seemed uneasy on stage? (You know what’s coming, right?)

I’m going to make this short so it’s not too painful: Lee received her MA from Harvard in 1986, and served as a teaching fellow there for three years. CJ Corporation – the parent company of CJ Entertainment – built the first and largest multiplex chain in Korea. It also operates the country’s #1 cable network. And CJ’s Mnet Media is the leader in cable music television, music distribution and live concerts.  Variety considers Ms. Lee to be one of the world’s leading film industry executives, and she was the recipient of the CEO of the Year Award from a prestigious business association in her country.  Prior to joining CJ, Ms. Lee was a director or cultural and educational projects at Samsung America. In perhaps her spare time (?), Ms. Lee managed to establish the Parsons School of Design in Seoul and likes to chit-chat with Jeffrey Katzenberg and David Geffen (two CJ partners) about their mutual love of

Oh, and of course there’s also the fact that she’s the first grandchild of B.C. Lee, the founder of Samsung Group, the LARGEST CONGLOMERATE IN THE WORLD by revenue ($173.4 billion in 2008), and owner of Samsung Electronics, one of the top 20 most valuable brands in the universe and the world’s largest manufacturer of electronics. CJ, you see, was originally a part of the Samsung world, although it specialized in some sort of foodstuffs before Lee and her brother transformed it into a media juggernaut.

This woman has seen, accomplished, hungered for and achieved things that only a tiny fraction of the world’s citizens ever will.

I… have no real end for this post, other to say that I’m still cringing a week later.  The world isn’t hanging on our every word and – in many arenas – has already pulled way out in front of the United States. 

And we’re going to use this to recognize that we must be more curious, more open, more interested in seeking out worlds other than our own, right? Right?

Stephanie Fierman Is Not Offended By The Loofah! Loofah!

I am sensitive to dumb and/or insensitive imagery and statements in advertising and the media – I thought that the “How I Met Your Mother” Frosty the Snowman spoof was a little over the top, for example – but this is pushing it.scrubbing-bubble-stephanie-fierman.jpg

A new commercial for the all-natural line of cleaning products, Method, has already been pulled – and that’s a pity.

Droga5’s “SHINY SUDS” is a silly send-up of Dow’s Scrubbing Bubbles commercials.  Method created the video to support the Household Products Labeling Act, which would require full disclosure of harmful chemicals in cleaning products. Here’s the ad (if you cannot see the ad below, click HERE):

Right after the video was posted online, women began to react negatively – and harshly.  A blogger accused the company of “humiliating women” and effectively saying that – if you don’t know exactly what’s in the products you use – “you deserve to be sexually harassed” in your own home.  A reader of the same blog post called Method to tell them that she was “curious of [sic] their perpetuation of rape culture.”

Rape culture? Sexual harassment? The “pornification” of a dull House act about cleaning chemicals? What am I missing here?

Apparently a lot, as the company received hundreds of calls and emails from outraged women before declaring itself a “values-based company” and pulling the spot.

Of course, there are other interested parties who struck back, most notably (a) the advertising community (which asks when brands are going to – ahem – “grow a pair” and tell zealot “idiots” to bug off) and (b) both men and women who say that this “overreaction” is just another example of why many believe that feminism has become a joke.

I’m not going to lean that hard in either direction… but I didn’t see the danger in this video.  What do you think?

Stephanie Fierman Is Pondering Holiday Gifts
Sunday November 08th 2009, 7:24 pm
Filed under: advertising,branding,loyalty marketing,market research,US economy

I knew it.

I knew it, I knew it, I knew it.

reindeer-sweater-stephanie-fierman.gifThere was a bona fide reason that I used to react badly to – well – bad gifts.  Despite my mother’s it’s-the-thought-that-counts coaching, and the annual “You don’t have to actually wear it” rationale, I was powerless to resist the disappointment. 

The whole thing’s a set-up.

Since 1993, Wharton economist Joel Waldfogel has been studying the value created (or not created) by holiday spending, and how we may react badly to gifts because we see the opportunity cost of not buying ourselves something we actually wanted. In his new book, Scroogenomics, Waldfogel tells us that, although warm and fuzzy U.S. folk gave $66 billion worth of holiday gifts in 2007, the value of recipients’ satisfaction is much lower: so low, in fact, that it actually created an “annual deadweight loss of $12 billion.”

Waldfogel estimates such “lost value” from student surveys he’s conducted at Princeton over many years.  When a student is asked to (a) guess the value of a gift and (b) guess the same for items she purchased herself, she will almost stephanie-fierman-scroogenomics-cover.pnginevitably underestimate the price the gift giver paid and overestimate the value of products she buys herself by 18%.


I completely understand the psychology of overestimating the value of something I might buy for myself because doing so helps reinforce my purchase decision. What cracks me up is how low our expectations of others are – and how accurate.  The least “efficient” gifts, says Waldfogel tend to be from relatives who haven’t seen you in a long time (and so do not know your preferences).

So suck on that when the niece you haven’t seen for 11 years tells you she hates the color pink – while she’s holding the pink sweater you just gave her.  Your goth niece just can’t help it: her reaction to your lame gift is bigger than both of you.

The only smart things to do are give gift cards (less tacky than cash) or overcome your embarrassment about not knowing her and email your niece to ask what she’d really want.  She won’t assign as much value to the black nail polish, eyeshadow and lipstick as she would have had she bought them herself… but it’s a start.

Stephanie Fierman’s Not Interested In Toothpaste, Either

A new study released by Q Interactive indicates that – while women may be flocking to social networking – they’re not yakking about the favorite baby food or burgers.  While 52% of 1,000 women said that they’d become a “friend” or “fan” of at least one brand, 75% of women in the study overall say that social networks do not influence what they buy.

I had to smile when Q’s president scrambled to make sure that marketers (with money) didn’t interpret the results in a negative way: Q calls the “disconnect” a “huge opportunity” for marketers and says that brands need to catch up to the needs of women online. 

If I were an agency relying on clients, I’d say the same thing!

But what if that’s not true? What if the social media frenzy that’s been whipped up among advertisers is…  overhyped?  What if we find out that women love discovering new ideas and interacting with new people and new communities, but the commercial promise in these interactions isn’t there? What if online engagement doesn’t lead to sales?  What if talking just leads to… talking?

I’m going to watch for new news and information about how women are interacting with social media because – if Facebook and LinkedIn and Twitter and all the other social sites do not turn out to be a brand bonanza for advertisers, we could see a major reset in expectations, involvement and, most importantly, dollars.

Stephanie Fierman’s Choices Stay Close to Home

Yet another result of the flailing economy:  truly new brand launches are faltering while brand extensions are succeeding. 

In 2008, less than 10% of new products were “net new brands,” even though the pace of product introduction was about on par with the last five years. Take a look at the top food and non-food brand launches of last year:


If you remove the pharma/DTC products (which are in a psychic/regulatory/financial class all their own), all the products on these lists are extensions or reformulations.

In the best of times, launching a truly new product is extremely difficult and expensive.  Manufacturing, distribution, marketing – starting from scratch is daunting.  In a recession, success is even more difficult to achieve.

Then there’s the consumer psyche to consider: what are the monetary and non-monetary risks of trying something truly new?  Who hasn’t been curious enough about a new launch – let’s say something perishable that cannot be returned – to try it out?  But when money is scarce, the news is full of stories of imprudent spending and people are making trade-offs among the smallest of purchases, the price of “wasting” money suddenly becomes very high. I will feel foolish if I buy this and don’t like it when there are existing substitutes that I know are good enough.

The other thing that’s noticeable about these lists and others is that the “closest in” extensions win: an existing brand holds a space in the consumer’s mind, a range of functionality and messaging in which that brand has credibility.  Hershey’s can launch new candies, Porsche can introduce a “wireless racing wheel” for gaming, Mr. Clean can (sort of) try out the car washing business.

But a $1,200 Disney Sleeping Beauty fountain pen or Kellogg’s hip-hop streetwear? Not so much.

Stephanie Fierman Wouldn’t Ignore The Ladies

Man, it’s a tough time to be a media company.  What with News Corp.’s operating income dropping 47% (99% in the newspaper business and 97% in the TV division) and both Arianna Huffington and Jeff Bewkes declaring the death of big media, what’s a media mogul – or budding mogul – to do?

One obvious answer IMHO should be an enhanced, more enlightened focus on women, because their behavior is changing and not enough advertisers and media companies appear to be keeping pace.  36% of women claim to be reading fewer magazines and 39% are spending less time reading newspapers.  These are consumers – moms, in particular – who control 85% of all household spending and are worth more than $2 trillion in US spend each year.  That’s “trillion” with a “t.” 

A lot of these women say they’re migrating online.  The fastest growing segment on Facebook is women age 40-50 in the home; moms aged 25-35 with at least one child are heavy online shoppers (see chart); and twitter moms showed Motrin who’s boss in November 2008.  “Power moms” are also increasingly focused on video, and even upload their own on a variety of topics at sites like


The problem is, is anyone listening?

Stephanie Fierman Is A Little Coupon Crazy

There have been several articles recently pointing to the rise in both offline and online coupon use.  While consumers 65+ are more likely to use newspaper coupons and younger individuals prefer online coupons, there’s no real news here given that these stats will change over time as newspapers become less available and older consumers become more and more comfortable on the Web.

In the meantime, don’t leave home – or buy online – without it!

I’ve become accustomed to checking online for coupons and promotion codes prior to making either a store or Web purchase.  There is an art to this and, once you get the hang of it, you’ll become savvier about what sites are likely to bear fruit and which will not.

There are four general categories of sites I’d recommend you consider:

1.  Aggregators – these are sites whose sole purpose in life is to offer coupons and “promo codes” from many retailers, typically across multiple industries.  Some examples would include: the best-known source for printable online coupons



2. Industry-specific couponing/deal sites:

Rental cars: RentalCarMomma
Grocery: CouponMom, GroceryCoupons, TheGroceryGame
Hotels:  Roomsaver, HotelCoupons
Computers, peripherals and accessories: TechBargains

3. Clubs and affiliations that may offer codes and deals:

WorkingAdvantage, StudentAdvantage and VeteransAdvantage
Alumni clubs (check yours)
Bulk buying clubs such as BJ’s Wholesale Club and Costco (Yes, the old Entertainment Books still exists…)
AARP (American Association of Retired Persons)
AAA (American Automobile Association)

4. Forums – some activities tend to make people want to vent (like having to take your shoes off at the airport…), and folks on these sites love to let others in on a deal:

Airline travel, rental cars and hotels: FlyerTalkWebFlyer, FlyerGuide, MileageManager
General shopping (usually bricks and mortar stores): ShoppingForum

If you’re set on a particular brand, it only takes a second to check out that company’s own site, too.  KFC, for example, has a pre-set button on its home page pointing visitors to printable coupons.  I’m actually surprised that more brands don’t take advantage of this simple way to build a solid customer database.  If a consumer is a fan, he will part with valuable demo and psychographic information in exchange for a steady stream of deals delivered by email.

And as a final tip: consider opening a brand new email account exclusively for your interactions with coupon and promotional sites.  You’ll be able to see all your coupon- and deal-related email in one place without clogging your own email inbox.

So start looking for coupons online and, pretty soon, you too will understand the nirvana of “stackable codes…”

Stephanie Fierman Is Talking To Consumers
Tuesday April 14th 2009, 9:26 am
Filed under: kids television,licensed content,market research,publishing,retail,women

Here’s a quick post about an article about Disney in the The New York Times today.

The piece is all about a Disney researcher considered to be “the kid whisperer.”  Her job is to help the company understand the needs, wants and desires of boys age 6 to 14, and then use this information to drive incremental revenue.  While 40% of the audience for Disney Channel is male, for example, girls continue to drive an outsized percentage of  (merchandise) sales.

The article follows Kelly Peña as she walks through boys’ homes, unearthing insights such as – while a 12 year old is trying to be tough and mature – he still as stuffed animals on his bed.

While in-home anthropological research is becoming de rigueur in consumer packaged goods, it’s a pretty big deal in the entertainment space, where executives or creatives often believe they “know the target” and pursue a product development process not necessarily informed by real people and their real behavior.

This is a huge simplification, but there is a fundamental difference in both B2B and B2C companies alike that build something new by starting with their customer target’s belief systems and behavior vs. those who start with the best product development process.  I was trained in customer segmentation – start with the consumer (or business target) – and build “to suit” – but not everyone is.

If pursued with rigor, I think this type of development work could be extremely helpful to the process of creating new entertainment vehicles and entertainment-inspired merchandise. 

Stephanie Fierman Isn’t Taking Your Survey. That’s A Problem.
Wednesday April 08th 2009, 5:28 pm
Filed under: market research,stephanie fierman

I am hyper-sensitive to market research that is somehow flawed, or lopsided, or misrepresents the group being tested.  I’ve written a few posts on this very topic – here’s one on galvanic skin response, and measuring brand affiliation and a relatively new post on how Fuqua and the AMA mixed and matched some concepts on a questionnaire that IMHO compromised (some unknown percentage of the) results.

I’m into (a) crafting effective research vehicles and (b) making sure I’m talking to the people I think I’m talking to.

So I found an article in The Wall Street Journal today very interesting.  In an online poll, and the National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unwanted Pregnancy recently found that 1 in 5 teenagers have shared nude or nearly-nude photos of themselves on cell phones or the Web.  The article’s author, Carl Blalik, points out how this statistic has taken on a life of its own in the media.  20% of our teenagers are engaging in this dangerous behavior!! GAH!

The problem is… probably not.  Long story short, the research firm the two entities hired surveyed teens and young adults who had previously signed up to take online polls and surveys.  To many, this means that the survey polled individuals already predisposed to being on the Web a lot and engaging in technology-oriented activities. Then there are questions about who even in that group responded: the environments in which those surveyed could be dramatically different, for example (an 18 year old living at home may be different from one at college who might be different from one who is working full-time).  The research company did not normalize for the multiple factors that could affect the integrity of the research… with the biggie being that it’s highly unlikely that responses from a random sample of all teens in the given age ranges were captured.


No one tried to hijack the research, no one had ill intent – there are no bad guys here – but this kind of thing happens.  And if the flaw isn’t caught, results fly into the universe and end up on the news every night.

Here’s a real-time, personal example.  Yesterday, I received an email from a company I don’t know anything about called Advertiser Perceptions (and a reminder email today). The email asked me to click on a link to take a “Media Influencer” survey for which I would receive an honorarium of $20.  I do take online surveys here and there, and $20 bucks is OK, so I started the survey.   And it went on FOR-EV-ER.  That’s when I noticed that the cheery email copy said that the survey wouldn’t take more than 30 minutes.  30 minutes??  A half hour for $20 so a bunch of advertisers could figure out what to sell me?  No chance, no how, not going to happen.research.jpg

So what kind of segmentation did Advertiser Perceptions do before they sent these emails?  Are they offering the same honorarium to an ad manager fresh out of college and a marketer with 20 years of experience?  I’d assume yes, and therein lies the garbage-in-garbage-out problem of the day.  If Advertiser Perceptions does not adjust for this bias, they’ll end up with a non-random sample of people who have the time and inclination to sit at their desks for 1/2 hour and take some third-party survey for $20.*

I can’t tell you exactly what that sample will look like, but I can guarantee it ain’t random or representative of the entire prospect list. 

And there you have it.  Caveat Emptor.  Ask questions.  Does something “sound right” to you?  Because maybe it is… and maybe it’s not.

Stephanie Fierman Says It’s Bad, But Love Helps
Thursday April 02nd 2009, 10:58 am
Filed under: Internet,market research,retail,US economy

Online retail sales are bleak – no question – but there are some opportunities for sharp loyalty marketers.


I say that because some gift types actually saw an uptick around Valentine’s Day this year vs. month prior or year prior or both – ok, the only gifts in the latter category were pets and outdoor gear, but still…

Internet Retailer looked at both shopping cart completions and sales totals for February 09 and gifts, pets, jewelry and sports apparel & gear all saw increases in the percentage of orders that were completed vs. February 08.  That does not mean that order sizes increased – ticket size, in fact, decreased in all of these categories – but more customers completing any orders offer a smart online retailer the opportunity to capture:
– incremental email addresses
– more refined SEO information
– additional data about the relationship between ticket size and order completion
– increased data regarding site visit and purchase behavior

All of these factors permit more accurate and efficient site design and offer development targeting a broader consumer base.

‘Definitely a glass-half-full approach to some pretty dismal numbers, but both more and less of just about every kind of behavior online can make you a better marketer over time.

Stephanie Fierman Presents: The Tone-Deaf Ad Of The Week
Friday March 27th 2009, 10:01 pm
Filed under: ad agency,advertising,branding,market research,retail,US economy

While I’d prefer to come up with these on my own, I’m afraid that I would be the one who’s hard of hearing if I didn’t pick a recent Pepsi ad for G2 (low-calorie Gatorade) as the tone-deaf ad of the week.

You can see what Pepsi was trying to do almost immediately, but BLAM:  this thing has really come back around and smacked them in the head.  This means Pepsi now have something in common with AIG – but I’ll get to that later.

The spot switches back and forth between NBA player Kevin Barnett and a normal, suburban-looking guy – also named Kevin – swimming like crazy.  The voiceover also switches back and forth and herein lies the problem.   In trying to write a standard “athletic striving” ad, they get seriously tangled in a lot of language that many are considering cruel and insulting to people who have lost their jobs and are otherwise suffering because of the economic crisis.  See for yourself (if you can’t see the ad already, click HERE)

When I first heard about this controversy, I really, really wanted to support Pepsi.  Then I saw the ad, and that became impossible.

The lines hurtle between insensitivity and cruelty:

Garnett: “I’ve never been handed a pink slip and “I’ve never had to tell me wife ‘We can’t make the mortgage.'” (Kevin “The Big Ticket” Garnett has a $24.75 million NBA contract)

Normal Kevin: “I’ve never had to fill the holes in my sneakers with cardboard.”

That last one IMHO is the most offensive of all.  Normal Kevin appears to be taking us past unemployment and foreclosure straight on to visions of being homeless in the park.

The tragedy here is this was completely unnecessary.  The financial services companies got into trouble for how they handled their (financial services) business! Gatorade just runs right into a buzz saw for no reason at all. 

And so, let me wrap up a Friday by coming back to how Pepsi is now an AIG comrade.  Both companies have fundamentally failed to grasp how people are feeling today… how many people are suffering.  1.3 million children in the United States were homeless at some point in one year – and that was before the recession started.  I would assume that many of those children have had to use cardboard to plug the holes in their shoes.

If you think I am overdramatizing, I would respectfully suggest that you could make a mistake not dissimilar to the ones made by Pepsi and the banks, either while on the job or at a cocktail party.  This is vast, vast pain.

I am counseling clients today to look hard at the need to advertise.  If you are running ads, make sure they are seen and tested with a much broader swath of consumers and experts – ones who may not be in your target audience. 

Is all this fair?  NO ONE CARES.   We are all in the business to sell, of course, but think long-term.  If you’re not 100% secure in next week’s flight, cancel it.  Because getting this wrong could negatively affect your brand’s reputation for years, if not a lifetime.

What Happens If Stephanie Fierman In 26B Wants Something Else To Drink?
Tuesday March 24th 2009, 4:45 pm
Filed under: branding,cmo,customer service,loyalty marketing,market research

Yesterday’s Wall Street Journal had an article about the knowledge management and CRM strategies that are filtering into the U.S. airline industry.  Huzzah!

While I’m sure many airlines are experimenting, this particular piece features Alaska Airlines, where Steve Jarvis, the company’s head of sales and customer experience (and a man intensely focused on delighting high-value customers), talks about what they’re doing and learning along the way.  Wordlessly delivering a frequent flyer’s favorite drink (in coach) “is not about the cocktail.  The point is the recognition and thanks for your business.”  stephanie-fierman-service.jpg

As a frequent flyer desperate just to be treated like a human being when I get to the airport, Steve Jarvis is my hero for recognizing that it’s good to be nice to people you need and actually doing something about it.

This will not be easy.  The foundation of my entire career is customer segmentation and CRM.  I know – in technicolor – how gigantic the technological and personal demands can be inside a company determined to change.

For starters, identifying even what customers do today – at every touchpoint – requires considerable data alignment.  As with banks, airlines tend to have (a) outdated systems, that (b) don’t talk to one another.  So whether a customer buys a ticket online (and when and for how much) is likely to be invisible to a gate agent.  A phone representative most definitely does not know about the luggage problems you’ve had 2x this year already, and a customer service rep at the airport has no idea whether an email notification re. a cancelled flight was delivered to you or not.  If this information exists, it typically sits in silos that either must be refitted or, sometimes, blown up entirely.

Second, the modeling capabilities needed to capture and place a quantifiable value on behavior – evolving usually into some kind of score that informs the type of service a customer receives – is imprecise at best and far more sophisticated in industries that have been at this for decades, like banks and credit card companies.   The European airlines have a jump on us, though, and that’s good news for the learning curve.

Third, the really-really stripped down implication of all this work is that the value assigned to a customer will change the marketers’ human behavior.  This is very hard – far beyond basic training and comp changes.  In a crowded airport, you finally reach the counter, already yelling, and the agent is supposed to capture your name, “read” your score and follow the instruction that would be appropriate for a customer with that score.  Good luck.  It’s doable, but must be implemented with patience and empathy.

So if this is the direction in which the airlines realize they must head… fantastic!  There are a lot of weazened but wise customer experience/CRM/segmentation veterans out here whom I’m sure would want to help.  I, for one, will continue to watch for hints of progress, both on the plane and off.

Stephanie Fierman Does The Funky BOGO
Monday March 23rd 2009, 7:29 pm
Filed under: advertising,blogs,branding,loyalty marketing,market research,US economy

stephanie-fierman-vault-taste-challenge.jpgAs a promotional tactic, BOGO (Buy One, Get One Free) has been around for decades.  Now Coca-Cola has put a fresh spin on the concept.

Coke is offering a free bottle of Vault (its own Mountain Dew competitor) when you buy a bottle of Mountain Dew – a program it’s calling the “Vault Taste Challenge.”  That’s right kids, Coke is giving you its product for free when you buy the competition.

Based on the sites I’ve scanned, no one seems to remember any other marketer trying this; it’s really fascinating if you think about it. 

Why doesn’t Coke just offer coupons to get its product free?  A couple reasons: (1) The gimmick is getting a lot of mostly-positive attention in the marketing world – when was the last time an average free coupon landed on the  of AdAge? and (2) Maybe Coke actually thinks that a one-on-one taste test will show customers that Vault tastes better.  Mountain Dew has an 80% share of the citrus segment and Vault has 4% so Coke doesn’t have a lot to lose.

I feel I must report that some are griping that the program will be super-expensive, and that “a few million people” who might not have otherwise bought a Mountain Dew will now do so in order to get a free Vault.  Not likely.  Given the recession and the particular preference for citrus soda that a shopper either does or does not already have, I don’t think that helping the competition (with its 80% share) is a real concern for Coca-Cola in this instance.  No, in this case, Coke can only win with the press and the public.  And you gotta give the company points for guts.

So, rock on – promotional innovation is not dead!  I hope that some sort of results are released; it’d be interesting to see if Vault does the Dew (get it?).

Stephanie Fierman Knows Not To Ask About Your Relationships
Wednesday March 18th 2009, 9:42 pm
Filed under: branding,cmo,market research

I am often surprised at the shallow definition some have of marketing or its true meaning…. but I would not expect this from a top business school and marketing association.

According to a new article published by eMarketer, Fuqua and the AMA fielded a survey last month among 581 marketing executives “to find out how top marketing officers around the country are dealing with adverse economic conditions.”  Here’s a deck that Duke created to present the research findings.

I have not seen the survey to see the exact wording of the questions but the article says that price dominated when the CMOs were asked about customers’ top priorities in the next year.   Here’s a graphic of how their answers shook out:

 I would respectfully propose that this is a serious problem of garbage in, garbage out.   Concepts such as “innovation” and “trusting relationship” – particularly the latter – address the very essence of a brand.  No one is going to say they love Apple because of their “relationship” with the company.  Price and quality can be seen and touched: trust and value cannot be. 

That does not mean that the latter concepts are less important – they are in fact, what drive the notion of “value” (which, after all, is only a product’s competitive blend of price and quality) over a long period of time. 

But on their own, ideas such as these are not palpable to the average buyer.  My “relationship” with a brand is like oxygen:  I can’t see it, but I know when it’s there and when it’s not. 

And I’m not even going to get into how truly problematic it is to force-rank “brand” as a consumer priority on a list that also features “price” and “quality” during a recession.   Big-time apples and oranges.

How Much Would You Pay For Stephanie Fierman’s Money?

The Web has a wonderful ability to make historically opaque businesses and transactions far more transparent and accessible.

The Internet did this for car buying years ago:  between Consumer Reports,, CarsDirect and a myriad of other sites, the shopper who would have previously driven to whatever dealerships happened to be local now has a lot more bargaining power… and can buy a car from anywhere in the country if the (online) price is right.

To that end, I recently commented on a TechCrunch story about a new company called DriverSide.  Like RepairPal, intends to help cash-strapped consumers more effectively maintain their cars instead of having to sell or replace them.  My point was that these sites will only begin to reach their real potential when a user can write his/her need and have mechanics compete for the work via online bids, a la an eBay auction.

Almost right after I posted this comment, I stumbled on a unique application of this concept from the Netherlands: Spaarbod.  You thought Bankrate made it easier to shop for interest rates?  Spaarbod permits Dutch consumers to specify how much money they’d like to bank, for how long and on what terms, and the site (like Bankrate) returns the best rates publically available at the time.  You can accept one of these offers immediately, or Spaarbod will send your request (minus your personal information) to participating banks who can then bid on your money.  Within 24 hours, you get an email listing the five highest bidders. 

The service is free to use, and winning banks pays Spaarbod a commission when bids result in new deposits.stephanie-fierman-spaarbod-logo.jpg

It’s not difficult to imagine these auctions going live, where each participating bank would have an employee bidding in real-time for a user’s deposit.   

Heck yeah!  And why do I have to shop around for the privilege of giving you my money anyway??

Such a seemingly simple idea but  on a marketwide scale  this model has major implications for advertising and marketing overall.  If engaged consumers (buyers) approach marketers (sellers) when they are in the market for a seller’s services, those sellers could potentially spend far less money on spray-and-pray mass marketing… and pass the savings on to the customer in the form of lower prices or, in this case, higher interest rates.  The advertiser is likely to spend less and the customer gets a higher-value, more customized outcome. 

Doc Searls (who also may have been the first person to use the word “conversation” in a marketing context) first coined the phrase “intention economy” to describe the idea of markets designed around engaged buyers instead of message-pusing sellers.  I’ll explore the intention economy in another post.

Stephanie Fierman Is (Still) A Huge Tappening Groupie

It’s been nearly 18 months since I interviewed the marketing and communications brains behind the highly successful tap water effort, Tappening.  Man, time flies when people are out saving the planet!

I also covered Tappening’s first ad campaign right HERE, which took iconic imagery and – without being too heavy-handed – delivered a hard message about the global impact of bottled water.

Mark Dimassimo and Eric Yaverbaum created Tappening as a fun and meaningful consumer movement to sensitize everyone to the financial and societal costs of bottled water and to “make tap water cool again.”  Since then, the effort has gone so public, and reached so many fans, that not only are average people making fan videos on YouTube but the effort was recently the cover story of Brilliant Results magazine.  To see a pdf of the cover and the full story, click HERE.

Keep up with Tappening:  it’s not only a model for how to create a messaging phenom from nothing – drinking tap water is a quick and easy step you can take to help preserve our world and save money.

Brilliant Results-Tappening