Category Archives: Marketing

Use Your Marbles: Buy a Beer Company and Learn to Ride a Bike

Normally I would share web sites via Twitter, but I have three to share – totally unrelated to each other except for mangled headline that I just came up with and didn't feel like cobbling together three Tweets.

First of all, if you happen to be looking to own a beer company – or at least part of one – here you go:  Please take note all you Pabst Blue Ribbon fans out there!

I love really clever uses of technology, and this is one of the neatest uses I've seen in a while.  A very simple concept being put to good use to teach kids how to ride bikes: Gyrobike

Last but not least, is this cool new store that is based out of Chicago but that I can see going national very easily, called Marbles.  Keeping an aging population's brain well-tuned is going to be a continuing theme for business everywhere,  and this addresses is directly. 

Cultural Shifts Among Coffee Shops, Newspapers and Shoppers

A few articles related to our everyday culture caught my eye today:

First, a very short article about the widening generation gap when it comes to "buying American."  I will admit that the idea of "Buy American" is a bit foreign (interesting choice of words) to me.  I didn't grow up in a household that was "always buy American" (we usually had a Honda or something in the family to go along with our GM or Ford), so I didn't have that influence growing up.  I remember when Walmart first started to expand nationally and started to come into the Northeast, their big thing was "American-Made Goods."  As that positioning fell away in favor of "always low prices," it is ironic that Walmart's push for lower cost goods is part of what has driven so many companies to switch to overseas manufacturing.  

However, separate fromthat influence, sales of foreign-made goods have obviously been growing for years, to the point where I think those of "generation y" and younger don't really think twice about buying something made in another country.   We don't remember a time when goods made in an Asian country meant something that would fall apart.  In many cases, we now equate it with a higher level of quality than many American-made products.  And when it isn't, we equate it with being cheap enough to just throw out and get a replacement.  When all of the Star Wars toys you played with growing are stamped with "Made in China" on their little plastic feet, you don't really think twice about buying a radio, TV, or car made in Asia. 

In addition, we live in a more globally connected world, one where you can easily speak with someone in China, India or Japan - not just over the phone, but via video conference, Skype, IM, or email.  Someone who is over 55 may remember when the only way of getting to the Far East involved slow moving ocean liners.  Now we can get there in under 24 hours on high speed jets that fly several times a day.  When you can overcome the geographic distance between people so easily, the thought of holding a physical object in your hand from that same country isn't as bewildering.  You don't question the technology that allows you to communicate or visit with them, so why question the fact that you're using a product made in that country? 

The second article is about the banning of laptop computers in coffee shops.  What struck me most about this article is not about the controversy over whether or not these cafes are doing the right thing for their business, but rather the fact that the articles refers to out-of-work professionals shacking up in these cafes so that they can use the wi-fi connections for the things they need to do: look for a job, pay bills, etc.  We've become so strongly connected to the Internetthat we simply can't operate without it.  What do you do when you do all of your on line "life management" using your work's internet connection, and then you suddenly don't have a job?  You're sitting there in limbo with no connection at home and unable to afford one, and in the meantime you've gone "paperless" with every company you do business with.  Where do you go? 

We may be creating a new type of homeless – those who have someplace to live, but no place to connect.  The "wandering netless" we could call them.  Forget tent cities and a 55-gallon drum filled with scrap wood for warmth under the overpass; we may see former professionals huddling around a router, vying for a sliver of bandwidth.   How long until the stories of widespread "hi-jacked WiFi signals" start to appear?  Perhaps it is just a matter of time until the local soup kitchen offers food, winter coats and free WiFi.  I don't mean to sound flip, but rather pose a serious question – as we become more connected (which most would say is a good thing, unless you want to buy American) how do we survive when we can no longer connect?

Last, but not least, and probably not completely unrelated to the above, is this analysis on what is killing the newspaper industry.  I admit that as net-centric as I am, I still love the traditional newspaper, especially the Sunday paper.  I like the tactile sensory experience of it, and the intellectual nature of paging through, browsing the news and feature articles.  With all the newsletters and web sites I read through during the course of a week, I still find new and interesting information in the newspaper whenever I pick it up. 

So basically, I have a soft spot for the traditional newspaper, and it makes me sad to think of it dying the slow, painful death that it is going through right now.   I agree with the analysis, even if I never thought about it in the way it is described: newspapers weren't in the business of delivering news – they were in the business of delivering ads right to the doorsteps and into the living rooms of their customers. 

As time and technology marched on, far more efficient and specialized ways have replaced that expertise, and in response, newspapers dug in their heels, and shed off some of the thing that made them unique in the first place.   They were able to keep making money by cutting costs and consolidating, but didn't keep their eye on the long game. 

I don't think the analysis offers up a lot of useful advice on turning things around, but I hope that someone out there reads it and figure out a way to save an industry that can be important… especially when you are carrying around your Japanese-manufactured laptop and can't find a place to get on the internet for the latest news!

Marketing and Music

For a long time, I wanted to work in the music industry, but as I networked my way closer to it, I quickly realized – and several people told me straight out – that if you're really passionate about music, the music industry isn't necessarily the best place to be.   Let's be honest – it is called the music "business" or "industry" for good reason.   So I've kept my interest in music personal – just being a fan – while turning marketing into my profession.  Considering the condition of the music business right now, it was probably a smart choice.

However, this means that I still find it interesting to learn about what is going on in the music industry and how music gets marketed.   This morning, a few good articles came across my inbox and thought I'd share and comment on them.

First is one called "The Art of the Gimmick" that is about the successful marketing that the band KISS has done over the years.   I really don't agree with her view that rock n' roll had become like a "pair of old shoes" in the late 60's.  Considering that the late 60's and early 70's is a period of robust creativity – The Who came out with "Tommy" in 1968 and "Who's Next" in 1971.   Rolling Stones had "Let it Bleed" in 1969 and "Sticky Fingers" in 1971.  There were also seminal albums from Led Zeppelin, Black Sabbath, and on and on.  In fact, now that I really think about it, this blogger isn't even thinking right – the "old comfortable shoes" statement is just downright WRONG. 

But I understand what she was trying to set-up: how successful KISS was at creating a "hook" (probably a better name than "gimmick") and parlaying that into commercial success over four decades now.  I think you could easily make the argument that KISS has simply become a merchandise machine, really not focusing on the music at all.

But that was then, and this is now, and the music world has changed, especially on the business side of things.  Record store chains have closed, and sales are way down.  Things have moved online and music has become so easy to get that it has arguably lost some of its value.  But there are people out there trying to be creative in getting music into the hands of fans. 

First is this list of "10 Weird Ways to Distribute Music" from Wired magazine.  I haven't personally obtained any music in any of these interesting manners, but I'm sure it is just a matter of time.

Second is this very interesting article about Radiohead's manager working with two other partners to create a venture that is designed to help develop artists and bands by investing in them and guiding them to success.  Smart, I think – it gives the artist the capital they need to perform the functions that a traditional record label would have done if they could get signed, but can't because labels are only looking to work with the biggest sellers.  

The most intriguing part to me was the last sentence: "Meanwhile, EMI, a major label, is unbundling music services such as touring and merchandise and making them available to bands that are not signed to their label."  I did a visible double take after reading it.  This is a major label rethinking how it goes to market and realizing that the old model doesn't work, but there is still a demand for its services.  It is something to keep an eye on to see if it is successful or not.

Where’s “Other”?

I just took a survey and the last question was asking me to indicate my gender, as shown below:


Now, I’m sure that there’s a perfectly good reason for them feeling the need to tell us survey takers to select only ONE answer for this, but I’m not sure I want to know what it is.  Did this particular survey designer have an issue with a lot of people trying to click on BOTH genders?  At least with that little bit of instruction I can narrow down my answer.  I have a 50-50 chance of getting it right!

Date Night at Olive Garden

There is an Olive Garden commercial that has been on for a while that shoes an attractive woman walking into an Olive Garden restaurant (doesn’t matter which one, now does it?) and being asked by the hostess if she can be of assistance.  The woman says she’s looking for her date, who is "very handsome… and his shoes are probably untied."  At this point they cut away to the infuriatingly cute kid calling out "MOMMY!" which makes us all chuckle and laugh oh so much.

However, every time that commercial comes on, there’s a little part of me that hopes the camera will cut away to someone resembling Barney from The Simpsons bending over to tie his shoes, exposing his plumber ass crack, then falling over himself, landing at the woman’s feet in a drunken stupor, looking up at her and saying "Heeeey baby!" 

As the final payoff, after the Olive Garden the drunken fool looks up her dress and declares "Whoa… no underwear! It’s my lucky night! *hic*"

Just once…

Venting and Ranting

Rolling Stone has been a favorite magazine of mine for a long time now.  I’ve been a subscriber since at least my early teens, which means I’ve been a steady subscriber for about 15 years now.   I’m a loyal customer and depend on the magazine to keep me up to date no new music, good movies and more.  Definitely one of my top choices for pop culture information.

However, they are ruining my love for the magazine with one poor customer service effort.  Their 1,000 issue recently came out and I never received it in the mail.  Maybe it was stolen, maybe it was lost in the mail… who knows?  Point is, that after 15 years of subscribing, the first issue I don’t receive is one that I was really looking forward to.  It was a disappointment, but I was confident that they would set things right and send me a replacement issue.

So I hop on their web site and quickly discover that there is no way to reach a person – you need to do customer service through a web-based form.   So I shoot off a polite email explaining the situation and instead of getting resolution, I get this insulting piece of cookie-cutter response:

Thank you for contacting Rolling Stone Magazine.

We are sorry to inform you that the issue you requested is no longer 

We have extended your subscription one issue for each issue requested.  
The new expiration date will appear on your address label in the near 

Thank you
Rolling Stone Magazine

Obviously, not only did they NOT resolve the problem in the way requested – by sending a replacement copy of the issue – but they extended the subscription by one issue, not two, which would have been more appropriate, since it was a double issue.

I send back a more terse email and they come back with an offer to extend the subscription by TWO issues.  Still no replacement issue and still saying that the issue isn’t available, which struck me as strange, to say the least.  Turns out it is indeed a farce, since if you follow this link, you’ll see that they are still selling it. 

So I can’t get a free replacement issue, though I’ve done nothing but dutifully pay my subscription every year for over a decade, never complaining or asking anything more of them, BUT, if I want to give them an ADDITIONAL $20, I can certainly have a copy of the magazine that I never received. 

It really is enough to make you wonder if this a scam… I’m sure that this would fall under FTC wire fraud or USPS mail fraud regulation.   I’m not even going get into the "spirit of Rolling Stone" and how they are betraying their roots of the 60’s and hippie-dom by screwing over a long-time subscriber.

I’m going to go do some deep breathing exercises now.