Monday, December 20, 2010

Stay tuned....

*** Author's note***

This week's T3 coming to you soon.  Due to work commitments, this Tuesday was not a realistic deadline for creating a piece with the kind of quality and value I want.  But stay tuned!  I'll be posting shortly!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

An 'Electric' T3

As according to Mashable, the first 350 Chevrolet Volt vehicles are on their way to their "eagerly awaiting buyers in New York, California, Texas and Washington".  The full national roll out will be taking place in a year and a half from now, but this heralds the first time that the much acclaimed car will be available to consumers in North America.

The Volt comes as a solution to the booming 'green' movement: consumers are demanding more economical and environmentally friendly options (even if it's not them who buy it).  Is the Volt a great eco-car?  Well, it could be.  It has an electric range, and then a combustion engine to charge the car which the electric power runs out.  Some electric cars, such as the Nissan Leaf, run purely on electricity and gain their charge through a plug in unit.  But do you need an eco-car to be eco-friendly?  Absolutely not.

One of the most popular engine choices in Europe is the diesel engine, which is available in practically any model of car.  Diesels burn cleaner, fuel lasts longer and you will save money in the long run.  But they are also environmentally friendly in comparison to petrol models, it terms of economy and efficiency.  But diesels aren't the only environmentally friendly cars: just look at Fiat.  In Europe, you can buy a Fiat 500 (a small car that been out for years and only coming to North American next year) with a two-cylinder engine.  It has got 0.8 litres of capacity!  These engines return excellent fuel economy and environmentally friendly in comparison to other models.

So if there are alternative (and more discrete and anonymous) options, why do we need flash cars with eco-badging? 

As a marketer, I know that the appeal runs deeper than simply wanting to 'pitch in'.  Green products are different by design, not just because of the different materials or processes, but because they want them to be different and unique.  A smart man, by the name of Jay Leno, once said that hybrids and electric cars were bought by people who "want everyone to know the good work they do anonymously".  And I think he is absolutely right.

So what can a marketer take from this, in today's 'Green' climate.

1) If you're green, make sure sure people know it - Especially in North America, consumers want to know that they're 'doing their part'.  But also, they want people to know that too.  Badge it, label it, promote it.  Just look at household cleaners, TV's and cars.  Toyota are huge at this, hence the big 'hybrid' badges and styling cues.  Why does the Prius look like nothing else?  Some would say it's more aerodynamic but it also looks like nothing else. You see it, you think green.

2) If you make the claim, you need to back it up - If you claim to be green, you need to be prepared to back that up with facts.  Branding is about trust, and if your claims can't be trusted, then neither can you.  Don't try and make your product something it isn't: take a reality check and only speak the truth.  Remember that consumers are more sceptical and informed than ever, so make sure you can walk the walk before you talk the talk.  Has the Volt backed it up?  Well, statistics say yes.  But until the car's become properly rolled out, we just won't know.

3) Can 'green' be a USP?  -  No.  Consumers care about the environment, but not at the cost of product performance and price (up to a limit).  If you're product can't do what the consumer wants, then they will look elsewhere to satisfy their need.  Sure, the Volt is environmentally friendly but if it can't take you where you need to go and haul what needs hauling, people will be lining up for their Prius instead.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Brand Loyalty T3

Brand loyalty is a challenge for all marketers, but especially now more than ever.  Consumers have access to ever increasing amounts of data: product specifications, direct comparisons between competitive brands and products, product and consumer reviews, peer reviews, opinion blogs, market research...  Consumers are able to turn this sort of product and brand awareness into superior knowledge about what it is they want and what they want to pay for it.  There are two results from this enormous wealth of information: skepticism and brand loyalty.  Consumers have become much more skeptical about brand promises: it is really the best?  Does it really do what is promised?  To help make better decisions, consumers turn to our research to either refute or support the brand promise and in part, this helps us to make our buying decision.  The other side is brand loyalty, or perhaps more accurately, lack of it.

Many companies has loyalty programs.  Think about any company that you have signed up to.  Chances are you have some sort of Air Miles card or petrol station card (thinking Esso Extra or Petro-Points or some such), if you fly you likely have an Aeroplan card or an equivalent.  You might be receiving e-mails from travel agencies, clothing stores, jewelery retailers and any number of other types of stores, offering you this percent off or coupons for savings.  Some of these work, some don't.  The airline industry is an especially difficult market in which you can create a successful loyalty program.

For example:  you want to fly from New York to London, UK.  You might have an Aeroplan card, that would provide you with reward miles for flying Air Canada or an Star Alliance member.  However, unless you are a frequent enough flier to accumulate the kind of points that translate into meaningful rewards (such as business travellers), most consumers will choose the flight that has the cheapest fare regardless of carrier.  Why?  Because they'll both get you to where you need to go and outside of timing and terminal, offer comparable services.  It comes down to how low can you go, and chances are we'll take the cheapest fare every time.

The airline industry is hardly alone on this.  In Canada at least, the wireless market operates in the same sort of fashion.  I have just switched carriers from one major player to another, and in a large part it was about what can you do for me.  The bills for my old contract were outrageous for the services I was being provided, only brought to my attention when my sister changed her plan.  It was a four-year old plan, well past the maturity of my contract.  No data, nothing fancy and yet my bills were high.  Naturally, my carrier was contacted and asked what they would do to make me a happy camper.  I wanted a new phone, a data plan and whole list of other services that were being sold from other carriers for less than my current bills.  My carrier's plan were complex, add-on heavy and difficult to understand.  Any movement required a significant amount of discussion and negotiation.  At the end of the day, we were hung up on price: my carrier couldn't give me the phone I wanted for the price of the other guy.  So I switched.

So what can a marketer learn from this:

  1. Consumers are smart - Consumers know what they want, the features they want and how much they want to pay for it.  Just look at this article to know what I mean (thanks Shaminda and Alan Quarry for this article).  Try not to muddy the waters with complexity, but be clear.  Selling techniques have changed: it is no longer build them and they will be sold, but find out what's needed and make it available.  Everyone has the same phones now, so you need to understand that the consumer knows the phones they like but is looking for the best service.
  2. Price is very important, but not everything - Price leadership is important, no question.  But not at the cost of all the other elements of strategy.  My example of the airlines was based on comparable service, and where all elements are the same except price, brand loyalty is almost impossible.  If you are trying to build loyalty, sacrificing all your other strategic elements in the name of price leadership means you're missing the boat.  Price leadership will make short-term sales, but for loyalty it needs to be used along with great customer service and maintaining the best products.  Know what you want to compete on and make your strategic choices: sacrifice is the first step in strategy.  Price is not a strategy on it's own, for sales or loyalty.
  3. Brand loyalty is built on service, not price - Just because I switched, doesn't mean I am not loyal or disloyal to any one character.  If you want me to become loyal, that relationship needs to be built on trust and service, not on price.  If I am not given a reason to stay outside of price, I will only go where the best savings will be found.