TURNING CONSUMER DREAMS INTO FINANCIAL REALITY

vintage-259344__340Is this the year of innovation for you? Or is your product development process stuck in mediocrity?

January is always a time for resolutions, fresh starts, good intentions and big plans, and this year perhaps more than other years, companies are looking expectantly towards a promising future (eager to leave 2009 in the dust).

Are you ready for 2010? Are you up to the challenge of this year? Perhaps you worried your way through 2008, optimized operations, cut your staff and limped your way through 2009. But, as the saying goes, “What got you here won’t get you there.” You need to be prepared with an action plan in place to meet the growth demands and expectations that everyone has—from the stockholders to senior management (and even you!). Cost-cutting measures can save a lot, but they are not the engine of growth.

Innovation is.

Typically, innovation comes from your current assets & expertise, whether that be operational excellence, technological savvy or marketplace relationships. But to grow your business significantly, you need two things:

  • Consumer-based perspectives
  • Fresh Thinking

Consumer-Based Perspectives 

While anyone with a bit of creativity can develop a short-term promotion or slap a new flavor on an existing product to respond to a hot trend, what you really want is sustainable growth that you can bank on. That growth can come from new product development, new market development or new business development. Regardless of where it comes from, I guarantee that the most sustainable growth still answers a consumer need, provides something compelling for consumers, and resonates with them.

But you can’t just go ask them what they want…because most times, they don’t know themselves. It takes a certain skill to hear what they are not saying, to read between the lines, to “tease” out a wish list from consumers that they didn’t even know they had.

That’s where Beacon Marketing’s expertise comes in. We’ll ask the “what if’s?”, the “why nots?” and the “Whaddya think?” type questions that may sound like “chit-chat” to the untrained ear but will bubble up into multi-million dollar business opportunities for you.

Fresh thinking

I hear this over and over again; this is what is desperately needed. Most companies have internal product development teams who approach business development with a certain bias. They are so deeply into the business that sometimes they cannot see opportunities that are right before them. By adding an outside perspective and embracing some challenges to the standard “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mentality, huge breakthroughs can happen!

But if you are looking for real growth—I’m talking about real innovation that adds to your overall business—then ground that innovation in consumer thinking and invite a fresh perspective.

Our proprietary process helps identify the strengths and weaknesses of you, your competitors and the category, as well as the likes, dislikes and other consumer perspectives that can turn consumer dreams into profitable realities for you.

We can’t wait to help you; give us a call!

THE ROLE OF CONSUMERS & TECHNOLOGY IN INNOVATION

bulb-40701_960_720I was speaking to a team of kid marketers for one of the biggest brands in America about the process of innovation–in particular, the communication that takes place between those in engineering (scientists, product engineers, product designers, etc.) and marketers during the process of the development of new innovations.

The toy industry is very trend driven, with new toys coming out at least every six months (if not more). Kids always want to know “what’s hot” and “what’s new” in toys. Manufacturers want to deliver on that desire for freshness and newness because it’s good for business. However, this puts a strain on those who must constantly innovate. Some have product design specialists, and some have technology experts. Some have trend watch teams. Each toy manufacturer finds unique ways to bring innovation to the marketplace.

In my work, I’ve had lots of opportunities to work with product designers, engineers and scientists in many different fields. The process of innovation is a combination of looking at consumer wants & consumer desires and figuring out how to meet those desires, while at the same time being alert to new technologies that might deliver new benefits to the consumer. Especially at Texaco, and Scotts Miracle Gro, I had regular contact with chemists and scientists developing state-of-the-art technologies to bring innovation to the automotive industry and to America’s gardens. Scientists were always a vital part of our team.

Sometimes the communication was from the consumer back to the scientists through the marketers. We would research what kinds of problems consumers had, as well as what kind of desires they had– what was on their wish list. We would take this information back to the scientists to say, “Do you have a technology that could solve that problem?” Other times, we would work with the scientists, discussing new technologies, and then, based on our understanding of consumers, determine the best applications for those new technologies. Once we had a few ideas, we would take that back to the consumer for testing and ultimately, new product launch.

Notice that in each case, the consumer must be a part of the conversation. If you work with scientists on emerging technologies and how to leverage those emerging technologies, congratulations! It’s fun work, isn’t it? Just make sure you don’t forget the consumer. No matter what cool technologies you come up with, it must be relevant to a consumer. Consumer must see what’s in it for them. So don’t forget to include the consumer in the conversation!

THERE’S NO SUCH THING AS BAD INFORMATION

Marvel_Studios_logo.svg

Earlier this week, I was sharing research results at Marvel’s headquarters in New York City. This was the day after the announcement of Disney’s intent to purchase Marvel for $4 billion, so the whole office was abuzz about that….exciting news that should do good things for both parties involved … but I digress. That is not the purpose of this post.

 

The purpose of this post is to talk about how we receive information, even supposedly “bad” information. It is a gift… just like feedback (or criticism) is a gift. It’s all in how you look at it.

 

In the discussion of the research, there were some results that were not in line with Marvel’s current thinking, information presented that challenged their current view of their target audience and their beliefs. I was concerned that this information might not be received very well. The question becomes, “How do we react to information that challenges our current thinking?” There can be a tendency to dismiss it out of hand as irrelevant or flawed in some way. That is only human nature…

 

Or we can choose to find the nugget of learning in it. While reviewing the learning with Marvel’s Research Manager, we talked about the insights to be gained and the guidance the information provided. It turned out to be a very fruitful conversation and sparked some great discussion.

 

Are you skeptical about some information that has crossed your desk? Certainly check the credibility of the source, but make sure that you give the information its due. What is the information telling you that might be helpful in your future planning? Be open-minded. It may just be the catalyst to your greatest out-of-the-box thinking yet!

MOMS, THE GREAT RECESSION, AND THE GREAT DIVIDE

financial-crisis-544944__340We are releasing results of our new study that discusses the economic impact on today’s suburban mom. This qualitative research explored how the changes in the economy have impacted a wide spectrum of life activities, including shopping behaviors, vacation planning, daily family activities and parenting. In addition, the study reports on the underlying emotional shifts occurring for both moms and kids. The study focused on moms of children aged five through 12 years old in households with normal incomes ranging from $60,000 to $125,000 annually.

 

Key Findings

 

While everyone has been impacted in some way by this economy, there seems to be two camps that are emerging: the ‘haves’ and the ‘have-nots.’ The “haves” have a stable income. These are the people with salaried jobs who received a regular paycheck. The economic impact has been more of an inconvenience, with minor setbacks, such as a small number of forced furlough days or a salary freeze or a small reduction in salary. 

 

The “Have-Nots” do not. These are the people that have been slammed by the economy. These people are corporate workers who have been laid off, or small business owners who were doing fine and have seen their revenues cut in half (or more), commission-only salespeople who were thriving before and are now barely able to get by.

 

Changing Dynamics

 

The impact of all this economic change on family dynamics has been HUGE. Whether you are a “Have” or a “Have-Not,” all moms shopping behaviors and associated family purchases have changed. The prominence of the economic situation has given all moms a heightened awareness of what they purchase, and everyone is looking for ways to preserve cash, with the increased use of coupons, waiting for the inevitable sales, or forgoing “luxury” activities such as summer vacations and piano lessons for the kids. Dinners out have been cut by 75%.

 

The upside for everyone is that, out of necessity and then, true desire, we are seeing a yearning for and appreciation of “simple.” Going for a walk or playing by the pool has replaced going out to dinner or going to a movie as the family activity. 

 

Underlying Emotions

 

Moms recognize that their world (and their kids’ worlds) have been permanently changed, and the emotional baggage associated with these changes is tremendous. This economy has created a strange emotional cocktail of guilt and fear, anger and self-loathing mixed with gratitude for what they have, a simpler appreciation for their families, and an acknowledgment that a return to simple is actually good for them and their families. This is hard for many to process, especially for the “Have-Nots.”

 

Impact on Kids

 

Although younger and more sensitive kids are being shielded from the effects of this economy, most are not. Moms are either using the current environment as an opportunity to teach their kids about good financial practices, or they are, of necessity, explaining their revised situation with their kids.

 

Why Did We Do This?

 

There have been so many quantitative studies on changing behaviors, but, in order to really serve our kid- and parent-oriented client base, we felt we really wanted to dig deeper, to go beyond the numbers of women using coupons and get to the deeper issues and uncover the rich data for how and why it’s impacting family dynamics.

 

If you’d like to see a more thorough report on Moms and The Great Recession, please contact Rahna@Beacon-Marketing.com.

WHAT IS HARD FUN?

On Friday, I was interviewed as a “kid expert” by members of the marketing team for a major packaged goods brand, talking about trends in kid marketing, what is influencing kids (and moms) today and providing advice for what the marketing team should be thinking about in their marketing and innovation efforts. 

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One of the interesting questions was, “What is fun?” Having worked in the toy industry for over seven years now, I have a good sense of some of the major elements of fun, and it made me wonder how other brands (that are not outright toys) embody “fun.” Is your brand fun?

 

One of the points that I raised had to do with the concept of “hard fun.” Now, hard fun is a vital element of every video, every sport, every board game, every card game, and many toys (certainly it is a key aspect of LEGO toys).

 

Hard fun is the idea that challenge is good. 

 

Everyone enjoys gaining a sense of mastery, a sense of a job well done, a game well-played, a challenge overcome, success achieved. Video games provide levels so that you can feel the thrill and the challenge of “getting to the next level.” That’s an integral part of the fun.

 

Would you want to play tennis with a two-year old? Probably not (unless it was your own child, a niece or nephew—and that’s a whole different aspect of fun)! You want to be well-matched on the court, to play with someone who will give you a run for your money. Even if you are just watching, you want it to be hard on both sides. The nail-biter, down-to-the-wire Superbowl games are much more fun to watch, even if you are a diehard fan! The triumph is that much sweeter if the challenge is strong.

 

Ever build a LEGO creation? It’s not easy. Taking a pile a bricks and turning it into a spaceship, or a fire truck or a skyscraper or an alien super-bug takes creativity, thought, and a sense of spatial relations. The pride and accomplishment are an integral part of the fun!

 

Of course, the trick is to develop something that is hard enough to be a challenge, yet not so hard as to shatter self-esteem. That pride, that sense of accomplishment must be there, whether using a Wii Remote, a deck of cards, or a ball of some sort.

 

What kind of “hard fun” have you built into your brand? Into your life? If you need more fun in your world, if you want your consumers to see your brand as fun, find a way to add more challenge. I guarantee it will be more fun!

 

If you’d like more advice on what you should be thinking about for your marketing efforts, give us a call. We promise, it won’t be too hard! J

IT’S NOT JUST AN ECONOMIC “BLIP”

Everyone in the media has a different take on the economy, how people are responding to it, and what its lasting impact will be. Certainly, “The Great Recession” is distressing millions who have lost their jobs and small and large businesses alike who are impacted by the new frugality of American consumers.

 

At Beacon Marketing, we have conducted research to see what the short—and potential long-term— implications of this economic climate will be. People are sacrificing dinners out, planning “staycations” and reaffirming their core values as they reconnect to families in non-monetary ways. Over the past year, our country has gone through an amazing shift in thinking, from vaguely being aware that the AIG issues would somehow affect them, to being horrified to open their 401K statements and find almost half of their savings gone, to experiencing the panic of the neighbors, the sister-in-law, the husband out of a job, to then adjusting to the necessary budgetary changes and finding the good in the materialistic cleansing taking place in this country.

 

Recently, in a discussion on MSNBC’s program Morning Joe with Joe Scarborough, Donny Deustch predicted that people would go back to their spending ways once we came out of this current turmoil. That’s not what our research indicates! In the same way that The Great Depression forever changed our grandparents into frugal savers who reused bits of tinfoil in the kitchen, our country will never be the same. Our preconceived notions that the stock market would always be a good place to invest, and that real estate always increased in value are forever gone. The research that we have done indicates that a much more permanent shift has occurred.

 

How is this impacting your industry? Your company? Your product line? If you are to understand how to market to this new mindset, you need to understand it. Find out how by calling Beacon Marketing today. We’d love to help you understand your consumer better so that you can refine your marketing efforts and navigate safely through these economic waters. Just as with our other high-profile clients, trust us to satisfy your research needs.

BEST OF SOCIAL MEDIA

So today’s project is trying to find some great (current) examples of social media done right. I teach businesses about the necessary mindset for using Web 2.0 tools, and I have found that specific examples help them wrap their brains around a concept in a much more tangible manner.

 

So, who’s done a good job in engaging their consumer base in meaningful interaction that builds relationships and company value at the same time?

 

I’ll put this out there as a list to get some conversation started, but if you have others, I’m all ears:

 

  • Entertainment industry
  • Charity Tie-ins
  • Viral campaigns
  • Blogs
  • Video
  • iPhone Apps
  • kids campaigns
  • Mobile marketing

 

Tell me:

 

  • What did they do that was so interesting?
  • Why do you think it was so great ?
  • How did they do it (what elements did they use)?

 

You can post something here as a comment or send a tweet to @Rahna.

 

Thanks!

“I NEED MORE COWBELL!”

I attended a workshop last week at the Simsbury Library, where Suzi Craig was talking about social media. It’s a topic I’m always interested in, and I always learn some little thing that I didn’t know before…. But sometimes what you learned has nothing to do with the topic presented. Such was the case for me.

 

Start With The Strategy 

 

First, the mass of confusion surrounding social media continues to beg for a strong sense of strategy to be brought to every digital media discussion. Why are you thinking about engaging in social media? What are your objectives? Answering these two questions will drastically simplify any further conversation with any social media expert.

 

Understand Your Audience.

 

She told the audience that she had sent a “tweet” out to her followers:

 

hey Twitterverse: talking Tweets, Posts and more with Simsbury CT crowd. If you’re out there give us more cowbell at: #simsburycowbell

 

She was asking for people to send a tweet back to her so that, as she displayed her Tweet Deck on screen, messages directly to the audience would appear. The audience of mostly 40- 80-year-olds had been struggling all night to wrap their brains around the basic concept of Twitter…. and now, when she started talking about “cowbell,” the audience collectively cocked its head, puzzled, and asked “Cowbell?” One brave soul raised a hand and asked, “Is cowbell some kind of Twitter phrase?”

 

For the few in the audience who understood this classic Will Ferrell-era Saturday Night Live reference, this comment was comical. The presenter tried to explain her meaning and then deftly turned to the misunderstanding into an opportunity to have the novice audience learn how to use YouTube by giving a homework assignment: “You need to go home and search YouTube in order to find the referenced clip (when I went to YouTube, I found that the clip has been taken off!).

 

So what’s the lesson?

 

Remember your audience. 

 

When you are with a theater full of octogenarians, you can talk about the 1950s in a very different way then you could with a general I audience. For one, the 1950s constitute the past–is in history, something to be studied, and for the other, it constitutes their past. As a marketer, you need to speak to your audience in a way that resonates with them.

 

And by the way, if you don’t understand the cowbell reference, follow the links I have provided for a cultural education, Saturday Night Live-style.

 

I’M IN LOVE WITH SKITTLES.COM

I love what the skittles.com team has done.

Just this week, skittles.com made a seismic shift in its website. They made the bold move to transition their home page away from a standard, brochure-type web page that touts the wonders of Skittles, replacing it with a dynamic page that automatically monitors digital conversations. Monday it was a Twitter Feed, Tuesdayfeatured their Facebook Fan page, and now the landing page redirects you to the ever-evolving Skittles facts posted to Wikipedia. While the more “corporate” product-driven information is still there, the brand has embraced the consumer whole-heartedly, saying, in effect, “Whatever conversations our consumers are having is way more relevant and interesting than what we ourselves could say.”

 

I LOVE IT!

 

It’s just a sign of things to come.

‘TIS THE SEASON TO ELF YOURSELF

Okay, I love clever, funny pass-a-long emails just as much as the next person, but as a responsible digital branding expert focused on helping companies create relevant on-line engagement, I am struggling to see the relevance between Office Max and Elf Yourself. If you’ve never seen this fun holiday application (which is almost as good as the classic elf bowling), you can see a recent Elf Yourself dance done using my lovely family at http://elfyourself.jibjab.com/view/8RBn5ALLcMBFlwxvYvJb (notice my husband’s grimace; that is truly how he would look if he were forced to dance like that!).

Definitely, there are pure impressions that Office Max will get just because so many people will elf themselves this holiday season. but where’s the relevance? The dance could be done in an office, distributing office products, or sponsored by a musical group, with specific music behind, or anything more relevant. It just feels like gratuitous exposure that was done for the raw numbers but wasn’t thought through to the finer details a real missed opportunity!

If you work at Office Max and are reading this, please let me know how same store sales are doing versus year ago (or whenever you weren’t involved with Elf Yourself)! I’m dying to know.