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Blue Flame

June 26, 2014 — Thom Unterburger

Guess whose phone we won’t be talking about (much) next year

It would be easy to dismiss the timing of last week’s announcement of the Amazon Fire smartphone as a cheap attempt to deflect attention from all the bad PR Amazon has been getting lately. Yet, even if it were true, that would be the only cheap thing about it. Turns out the phone is super expensive, especially considering its vendor.

Anyone who follows Amazon’s business knows it is the most horizontally expansive retailer out there and that it deliberately doesn’t make much money on anything. Instead, Amazon is playing a very long, low-margin game of nickels and dimes from repeat consumption across as many product lines as it can offer, at scale. With over 200 million credit cards on file, it will make it up in volume, the story goes, which is why creating as many Amazon shopping venues as possible (Mac, Windows, iOS, Android, Kindle) is key to its model.

To wit, when Jeff Bezos introduced the Kindle Fire tablet in the fall of 2012, he said, “We want to make money when people use our devices, not when they buy our devices.” That’s smart positioning against an […]

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That Was a Mall, This is an Experience

May 9, 2014 — Meg Asaro

Last Saturday, I went shopping at Garden State Plaza with my family. I had been on maternity leave for around 3 months but was now back in the game and excited to be out and about. As a cultural strategist, I was looking forward to some voyeurism; instead I somehow became part of the experience. The thought was, grandma Jean was in from Scotland and who doesn’t like a good shop?

Our original list was minimal–a spring trench and a belt–but we were enjoying the walkabout.

First experience: C Wonder

The jackets here were navy and made of classic rain gear (picture thick rubbery plastic). No thanks. But I did find an adorable floral top. My 5-year-old son was already in the dressing room, giggling away. I found him playing with a touch screen on the wall, organized by mood music, volume and lighting with an inviting button screaming, “NEED HELP? Press me!” Well, it was only to the count of 10 before a dance party erupted with Grandma Jean doing her best twerk to the mood “wonderful.”

Next experience: Anthropologie

Before we could even find the jackets and belts, our attention veered to a cool arts and crafts […]

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What a Difference a Word Makes

May 5, 2014 — Cindy Lord

I had a craving the other day for a big, slutty cheeseburger. So like any other red-blooded American, I drove to the nearest McDonald’s. And that’s when it happened:

“Welcome back,” she said.

Not “welcome” or “good afternoon” or a friendly “hi there!” but —“welcome back.” I placed my order and drove up to the drive-through window and then it happened again:

“Welcome back.”

By this point I am starting to feel pretty special—Sally Field-like on Oscar night (“They like me. They really like me!”)—appreciated, like they really valued my business, and important. They remembered me—how did they know I’d been here before? Yes, I know they were saying this to EVERYBODY. And the odds are way on their side that I have been to McDonald’s before, but it still made me feel good. There was gratitude packed into that phrase.

“Welcome back” had changed my entire perspective on the experience. It wasn’t a new menu item they’d spent years developing or an innovative sales contraption that more accurately (and speedily) took my order. And no pioneering form of payment (Bitcoin, anyone?) to speak of. It was that simple, two-word greeting. I caught myself chitchatting with the cashier because hey, […]

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The Tough Tribe

April 10, 2014 — David Weinberger

Do you remember your first day at middle school? High school? Walking into the lunchroom, unsure of where your friends are and needing to choose a table? You don’t want to be embarrassed. You want to sit with the cool kids. You want to be with folks just like you. At an early age, you realize that who’s at your table can define who you are. Sound juvenile? Sound mean?

Brands are always trying to define their consumers. Customer segmentations help define what type of people make up the customer base and and why/how they engage with the brand. While this is a tried and true method of strategically targeting consumers, it’s also becoming a bit old school. More brands every day are moving away from thinking in terms of segmentation and towards thinking about their tribe. That way they can connect with consumers based on a sense of character, intrinsic motivations and shared values.

To connect with these tribes, which are often made up of people across a broad  demographic, some brands are identifying a cast of characters that really put a stake in the ground. You could almost imagine a lunch table of different, yet like-minded middle schoolers. […]

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Reviving Dead Celebrities, Part II

March 26, 2014 — Sandra Creamer

This is the second post in a two-part series. Part one covered advice for brands with a framework for evaluation. Part two outlines strategies for how to manage building equity for a dead celebrity brand.

In 2012, in a move to recapture those persnickety millenials,

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The Movement to Make Happiness Top of Mind

March 21, 2014 — Nikki Baboun

Yesterday marked the Second Annual International Day of Happiness. Taking a cue from Bhutan, the United Nations passed a resolution that recognized the relevance of happiness and well-being as a fundamental human goal. And it’s not just the UN trying to refocus on happiness—brands, publications, musicians and individuals are in on the act, too:

• Westin hotels just announced a program for guests and employees characterized by six pillars of well-being: feel well, work well, move well, eat well, sleep well and play well.

• In 2012, the HuffPost launched “a killer app for better living” called “GPS for the Soul,” which also has a dedicated section on the online channel.

• Pharrell is in on it (along with the UN, Happy Feet and Beats by Dre.)

• 27-year-old Dmitry Golubnichy decided to stop and remember what made him happy—and challenged others to do the same with #100happydays.

I think it’s safe to say that happiness is definitely “a thing.” Thanks to #100happydays, it’s become “my thing.”

Let me give you the two-second version of how this all piqued my interest: great childhood, loved high school, slight obsession with my university… and then I graduated and moved to NYC. The […]

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Reviving Dead Celebrities, Part I

March 19, 2014 — Sandra Creamer

This is the first in a two-part series. Part one advises brands on reviving dead celebrities in their marketing strategies, with a framework for evaluating whether or not to go down this path. Part two offers a perspective on how to manage building equity for a dead celebrity” brand.

Resurrecting dead celebrities is not a novel marketing tactic but it’s clearly going through a revival. As Tupac’s ridiculously lifelike computer-generated image at the 2012 Coachella festival showed, it’s becoming easier to manipulate old imagery with modern day technology. So the question is, what should marketers consider as they contemplate using dead celebrities on living brands?

Tupac Shakur’s CGI-rendered likeness from the Coachella festival, 2012 1. Does the celebrity connect with your brand? My interest in dead celebrity revival was piqued by the intriguing but creepy Galaxy chocolate commercial, which aired with unnerving CGI-rendered images of Audrey Hepburn. When dealing with the deceased, the main question becomes: Is this something the celebrity would do if she or he were alive? More importantly, is it tasteful? As the YouTube commentator RubberWilbur wrote: “Is it just me or is it extremely disrespectful to portray a person who is not alive doing something […]

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A Millennial’s Dilemma

March 17, 2014 — Caroline Rice

Mary: “I can’t text, you know, I’m not charming via text.” Anna: “Well maybe you should just stop texting.” Mary: “But it’s not just texting, it’s email, it’s voicemail, it’s snail mail…” Anna: “That’s regular mail.” Mary: “Whatever, none of it’s working. I had this guy leave me a voicemail at work, so I called him at home, and then he emailed me to my blackberry, and so I texted to his cell and then he emailed me to my home account and the whole thing just got out of control… and I miss the days where you had one phone number and one answering machine, and that one answering machine housed one cassette tape and that one cassette tape either had a message from the guy or it didn’t. And now you have to go around checking all these different portals just to get rejected by seven different technologies. It’s exhausting.”

In 2009, He’s Just Not That Into You changed many women’s perspectives on what it means to “date” a man–or at least mine. In the film, Mary, played by Drew Barrymore, grapples with the numerous channels of communication that she has to worry about when choosing to interact […]

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Parents Just Don’t Understand… or Do They?

March 13, 2014 — Jennifer Curulli

As my husband and I prepare to become first-time parents in mere weeks (or days!), we’ve wondered about what kind of parents we’ll be to our new baby. What kind of relationship will we have with him/her (and how will this change throughout life)? Parenting, and the challenges it brings, had me thinking about parent brands and the relationships they maintain with their “children.” What’s the nature of these dynamics? Are they defined by the industry they’re in? The following are some examples of parent brands and their kin: Parents? What parents? The hands-off parents watch from afar. They let their kids run around with lollipops in their mouths and lit matches in their hands. By butting out, these parents teach their children to fend for themselves and learn to right their own wrongs. This approach works mostly in the child’s favor, allowing them to be their own person and grow into their own without the stress of overbearing expectations. On the flip side, these hands-off parents have no control over their child’s actions and their brand counterparts are no different—take a look at two of the most influential global beauty brands of today, L’Oréal and Estée Lauder. Both seem […]

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Birthday Branding: Designing a Brand’s Legacy

March 6, 2014 — Ben Glotzer

2014 marks a significant birthday in my life—all 14,610 days of it. That’s right. Some would refer to this milestone as now being “over the hill,” but I prefer it to be the “starting line” for the rest of my life. Even so, having this 40th birthday under my belt made me reflective, and inspired me to dig through the proverbial mementos of my past in my parents’ attic. I found dusty vintage hat boxes and one of a kind antique tins that my mother never threw away, filled with vintage pictures of a bygone era—pre-braces, frosted bangs, shaved head, pegged Z Cavariccis, XXL Buggle Boy Sweaters, stacks of skateboards, tins of Legos, Topps Garbage Pail Kids, and Wacky Pack stickers. Digging more I came across countless relics of fads from a consumer’s past. It reminded me of how strong a legacy brand has to be in order to withstand the test of time. The brands that we were all raised on and that have transcended generations are the ones that have evolved through the years without losing their relevancy. Every year a handful of these unique brands celebrate their centennial history in some way, shape or form. Whether through […]

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