This tale of two bags is about opportunities yet to be realized.
This tale of two bags is about opportunities yet to be realized.
The thing about inviting customers to give you their opinion is that it gives them the impression that you plan to respond, particularly to feedback that is consistent and overwhelming. Starbucks new social media site, www.mystarbucksidea.com, designed to create an open and visible communication with the brand has received loads of feedback that the company's new Pike Place brand is not strong enough for many coffee lovers tastes and they would like a stronger option available in the afternoons, which now only offers Pike Place as an option. Not get rid of the brew altogether, but offer an additional CHOICE. In response, the company is beginning to sell a second, stronger coffee option in the afternoon, but only in select locations, and touts the successful attraction of new customers with the more accessible Pike Place blend. Trading old customers for new is risky at best and the company seems uncertain whether to return to its connoisseur roots or challenge McDonald's head on, which is a brand cheapener if you ask me. Kudos to McDonald's for framing themselves as a true challenger to Starbucks and getting the brand to bite...Check out this WSJ article for more on the Pike Place controversy.
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One of the most challenging aspects of our country's new green consciousness is that it can be impossible sometimes to determine if what you're buying is really doing more good than harm. For example, did you know that "hypoallergenic," a word many cosmetic companies use to assure women their products are gentle, has, in fact, nothing to do with allergens and no regulations at all as to its meaning? Or that a company can claim its chickens are free-range if they let them out of their cages for just five minutes a day? Or that plastic shopping bags are easier on the environment than paper (though the best solution is, of course, to bring your own)? Diane MacEachern's new book "Big Green Purse" was written on the premise that as the people responsible for 85% of all consumer purchases, women are ideally suited to influence the direction of our planet, simply by voting with our pocketbooks. Here are a few reasons to pick it up:
*Practical, easy-to-understand, guides on which certifications mean something, and which ones are totally bogus
*Advice by spend category (food, gas/cars, cosmetics, household cleansers, etc.) on how to, cost-effectively, shop for green alternatives
*Contact information for companies in a range of consumer categories so you can let them know that responsible business practices matter
*Web addresses for tons of companies Ms. MacEachern has vetted and determined to be eco-friendly, from coffee to wine to household cleansers to home decor and gardening supplies
This is a great guide to have in any household, and something marketers should become familiar with to ensure their brand doesn't inadvertently stray into greenwashing. Best of all, this isn't green for the wealthy, Ms. MacEachern is very conscious of the realities of limited time and money in the majority of U.S. households and offers smart tips for going green on a budget.
Note: this is not an apples-to-apples comparison. Particularly, as we're going to be talking about luggage and soda, which doesn't even fit the apples-to-oranges metaphor. But, stay with us, there is a point. Two articles that came to our attention today - the first about cult beverage co., Jones Soda, in Beverage World and the second about uber-reliable Samsonite's quest to reinvent itself as a luxury brand in the Wall Street Journal (sub. required).
Jones' innovations, like personalized bottle labels and wacky flavor names, are ideas that came straight from their consumers, motivating the 11-year-old company to delve into personalization long before The Individual was TIME's person of the year. At $39mm a year in revenues and a new contract with the Seattle Seahawks, the consumer still is in the driver's seat with this co., even when it's not as easy to execute as a fun product name. As reported in the article:
Late in 2006, the company introduced Jones Soda in 12-ounce cans sweetened with pure cane sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup and has since converted all of its Jones Soda products, making it the first national brand sweetened with pure cane sugar. [Jones' founder and CEO]Van Stolk says he made the move after numerous requests from consumers, yet admits the process had its challenges.
“Financially, you probably can’t justify the conversion in the first year, or maybe even two or three years, but it’s the right move. You have to run your company for the long-term and this is a long-term right decision,” he asserts.
Contrast this with Samsonite's struggles to convince consumers their bags are as hip as Coach or Louis Vuitton. In addition to a much needed design overhaul, (bags featured above were created by Alexander McQueen) the brand has included celebrities in it's print ads ranging from NASCAR driver Danica Patrick to Virgin founder and CEO Richard Branson. Recently Samsonite retained Christina Ricci as it's first Hollywood spokesperson. In the article, brand experts muse on whether the name will ever be able to support a luxury positioning and overcome it's over 90-year legacy as the sturdiest suitcase around. Our question is where the consumer voice is in all of this? Coach, which Samsonite Chief Executive Marcello Bartolli cites in the article as a brand he admires, invests heavily in consumer feedback, as reported in one of our earlier blog entries. With Ricci tapped as a spokesperson, and the company's efforts to entice Sarah Jessica Parker and Cameron Diaz with free product in hopes they'll be photographed with the bags, seems the market they're going for is primarily women. How about engaging those customers in a dialogue? "Sturdy" may not be able to be overcome, but should it? What advantage does it have? Could it be blended with fashion/sex in a cool and interesting way that doesn't ask shoppers to suspend reality? The tough/sexy message could be pretty irreverant and appealing. Take one of Jones' spokeswomen - LA Ink's Kat Von D. Ricci may be tough in certain roles but as a petite waif who likely doesn't tip the scales past 100, Kat has it all over her on sturdy and Von D's sex appeal is undeniable. If Samsonite makes their customers a partner in this turnaround, the way Jones has from day one, the opportunities for engagement and growth will feel less like target practice and more like a direct hit.
Michelob's low carb Michelob Ultra and new line of fruit-infused beers are clearly designed to appeal to post-collegiate women who prefer wine or cocktails to downing a brew. Michelob Ultra TV and print ads show fit men and women engaged in outdoor activities followed by a night on the town. The exercise connection feels a little forced here but I think it's getting at a lifestyle and I appreciate that both genders are included. The fruit-flavoring is lost on me as well but there may be a market there. Time will tell. However, a recent cover story in Beverage Industry (yes, we read from ALOT of sources) profiled New Belgium, maker of Fat Tire and other microbrews, that made me crave beer in a way I hadn't since the last time I donned blue mascara. Yes, it's great tasting beer but the company's sustainability policies (in 1999 they subscribed to 100% wind powered energy - long before green became trendy) and value they place on their employees (after one year employees are offered ownership in the company; five year veterans get a two-week trip to Belgium) were what really made me want to seek them out on the shelves. Does this mean I'll leave wine behind for beer? No. But when I do buy a six pack I'll make sure it's one of theirs and - here's where it pays off for New Belgium - I'll keep my husband stocked with Fat Tire, whether it's on sale or not. And, I'll tell other people. Starting right here.
Click here for their inspirational vision and story - this company is the real deal - and that always connects.
Suddenly we all get it. If we don't change how we grow, manufacture, fuel and dispose of things, we're going to have BIG problems. At least we think we get it, or we very badly want to. Turns out it's not that easy. The month of April, which includes Earth Day, has brought a flood of media articles on companies providing products or services to help us live green. Peppered with words ranging from sustainable to carbon neutral to organic to natural to environmentally-friendly, it's not always clear what these terms mean or how we can tell if the companies professing to embrace those policies really do. A small sampling of this week's green announcements:
Wal-Mart's green efforts have been a double-edged sword for the retailer, inspiring criticism from a wide range of activist groups for misleading the public (often expresssed by the term greenwashing) about the amount of organic products they carry (a recent Business Week story counted 200, Wal-Mart insists it carries 400) as well as deliberately mislabeling products as organic. Cadbury Schweppes removed the "all natural" claim from their 7-UP packaging last summer after they were threatened with a lawsuit for misleading the public when high fructose corn syrup remained one of the soft drink's key ingredients.
The current jargon, technical terminology and confusing laws around what makes a product "green" or "organic" don't help consumers to easily navigate what is and isn't true. Most of us just want to do the right thing, as evidenced by the response to Wal-Mart's new research initiative, The Live Better Index, which is designed to offer the company an "ongoing barometer of consumer attitudes and shopping behaviors." A sampling of response as reported in Media Post -
While 57% of Americans now say they are extremely concerned about the environment, only 43% of those in the Wal-Mart survey think they will be "extremely green" in the next five years. And only 11% of Americans say they are "extremely green" today. Overall, 62 % say they would buy more eco-friendly products if there were no price difference.
Sustainability will soon be a part of every brand's strategic platform, but how that is communicated to customers and the public at large will be critical. Our advice - keep it simple. A cue we can take from Wal-Mart is the simplicity of the "one organic pajama pant x 180 million customers = a million less pounds of pesticide" equation. Easy, accessible, with a quantifiable impact.
How can your brand simplify it's socially responsible messaging so that your customers can understand, participate and - most importantly - always count on you to deliver?