Archive for December, 2010

Sorry Paul, Your Kodachrome has been taken away

Progress had done in kodachrome, that wonderful, rich photography film that has brought such rich National Geographic-style images to us over the years.

See this “obituary” in the New York times. Digital technology has done it in, even as it has not yet completely replicated its quality. Aficionados the world over are bemoaning its loss. 

Paul Simon was singing more about having a rich life full of colorful experiences, but his song lyric “Mama don’t take my kodachrome away” resonates nonetheless. A bit of Baby Boomer youth has passed away!

Green Guides Updates – The FTC recommends some reasonable changes

The Federal Trade Commission submitted a proposal last October to update what it calls the Green Guides, which tell companies how to promote the various claims they can promote about their product. The FTC is now digesting the public comments it collected (that window closed on December 10.)

I am curious (and may take a look at some point) as to who commented, and what the balance was between companies complaining that the new guidelines will be too strict, unfairly limiting their right to market their green credentials, and consumer groups interested in more accurate disclosure of said benefits.

We will have to wait until 2011 to find out, but here are some of the recommended changes the FTC proposes:

  • Marketers should not make blanket, general claims that a product is “environmentally friendly” or “eco-friendly.” The FTC’s own consumer perception study finds that such claims are likely to suggest that the product has specific and far-reaching environmental benefits. “Very few products, if any, have all the attributes consumers seem to perceive from such claims, making these claims nearly impossible to substantiate,” said the FTC in their press release.
  • Marketers should not to use unqualified certifications or seals of approval that do not specify the basis for the certification. The Guides make a bigger deal of this that previously: They will advise marketers that the qualifications they apply to certifications or seals should be “clear, prominent, and specific.” No more vague “stamps of approval” with nothing to back it up.
  • Marketers must understand how consumers are likely to perceive certain environmental claims, such as “degradable, compostable, or “free of” a particular substance.” For example, a “degradable product” must decompose in a “reasonably short period of time” – no more than one year.

In effect, the FTC will try to clamp down on vague claims that have no substantiation and attempt to take a free ride on consumer desires to buy ecologically friendly products.

Good marketers, of course, have been taking the high road already, because they know consumers are not stupid. Long-term, the truth will out, and products that have been masquerading as “green” will suffer a loss of market share.

No need, then, to wait for the FTC to make this proposal final. The best course of action is to get started now on adopting its commonsense guidelines.

Printed Yellow Pages Fading Away

For reasons both economic and social, the printed yellow pages that have been around for over 130 years are finally seeing the end of their run as a primary advertising vehicle for small to medium-sized businesses.

A recent seminar I attended by HubSpot (an “inbound marketing” software service provider) confirmed what I had been seeing with my own clients:

Competition from online search tools that are far more scalable and affordable will ultimately drive most businesses to de-emphasize or cancel their print yellow page ads.

Pressure is also coming from the social side: Printing yellow pages uses tons of paper, and many of us receive three or four competing books annually.
People in cities like Seattle are deciding to put curbs on yellow page distribution to cut down on the waste paper all these books become within a year of printing.

Yellow Page publishers are not going down without a fight, of course: Read the rest of this entry »

Social Media Trumps Snail-Mail Holiday Cards

This just in: Younger people don’t send Christmas cards (or Thank-You notes, apparently)

A holiday tradition is fading. The traditional annual greeting card sent snail mail saw its first decline in volume last year, and looks to see another decline this year. And it is not just tough economic times as the cause. Social media connectivity has lessened the need for the annual “touch” that was the primary reason for sending Christmas (or any other) greetings.

According to market research from Unity Marketing, the percentage of consumers buying greeting cards for Christmas fell from 77 percent in 2005 to 73 percent in 2007 and to 62 percent in 2009.

Erika Maschmeyer, 30, is quoted in the Chicago Tribune as having mailed holiday cards only once in her life, in her early 20s, when she had time on her hands. She has no plans to do it again.
“There are so many other ways to keep in touch,” Maschmeyer said in the article. “I stay in touch with e-mail and Facebook. It’s an easy way to quickly see what people are doing.” She stays in constant touch. Why double up with a mailed note (that takes a lot more time and money, btw).

“People are up to date all the time on Facebook,” echoed Kit Yarrow, a Golden Gate University professor who studies the 20- and 30-somethings of the Generation Y culture. “Gen Yers are notorious for not sending thank you notes and not RSVPing. I just think that method of communication is foreign to them. And that doesn’t bode well for the future of holiday cards.”

Greeting card companies are not giving up without a fight, though. They are literally adding bells and whistles to their products to enhance their entertainment value. Indeed, the Unity Marketing press release detailed how some card makers are fighting for young people’s attention.

Examples cited: American Greetings introduced a sing-a-long Christmas card this year — a traditional greeting card with a recording chip that allows the sender to sing along with background music for “Jingle Bells” and other carols. The company also sells a digital slide show card with a small LCD screen that displays up to 50 photos. The card comes with a USB port so recipients can transfer the images to their computers.

That sounds, intriguing, but hefty. Some may balk the cost of mailing such a behemoth. It does, however, point to the key benefit of the mailed card: The creative presentation. Fewer, higher value cards may be the niche that ends up surviving the social media onslaught that is threatening the greeting card business.

What are your plans for holiday messages this year? Leave a comment about it.

Tiffany endures as an iconic brand

I received an unsolicited holiday catalogue from Tiffany last week, and I admit it: I was flattered.  The envelope was instantly recognizable with its classic Tiffany aqua blue.  (I image they say “turquoise”.) And they saw enough potential in my demographic profile to include me. Nice.

I assume they have a decent marketing department that understands segmentation, so the fact that I ‘made the list’ puffed me up a bit.

Being a marketing guy, my next thought was: How did I make the list? What attributes did I exhibit that allowed the software to select me (be under no illusions that some person scanned any part of the mailing list!) After some reflection, my conclusion is my status as an independent business owner, and perhaps my sterling FICO score.

My next step: Scanning the catalogue to see if I could actually afford anything within it. Here is where I reacquainted myself with quality marketing. There is an art to constructing a catalogue, and they did well. Among the $10,000 rings, watches and necklaces were pendants for $195, charms for $100 and the like. I could affordably aspire to a Tiffany purchase.

And that is the point of a Tiffany catalogue mass-marketed to the upper middle class. Induce trial, get them hooked, keep in touch, wait for some of them to make more money to splash out on baubles.

Plus, an independent businessperson buys gifts for employees/clients. This is a big part of Tiffany’s business, so I am a target for that, too.

(Don’t tell them we did most of our holiday shopping at Kohl’s, Target and WalMart this year…not to mention Ross. I wouldn’t want to be tossed off their list!)