Babies: The Ultimate Brand Loyalists?

Editor’s note: This entry was first published at Beneath the Brand, a marketing industry blog.

There are a few emerging age groups on which marketers are increasingly doting: 0 to 20 and 12 to 34. If that seems a bit broad, that’s because it is, and intentionally so.

The basis of the American capitalist economy is changing. The Institute for Supply Management recently released its report on the state of the manufacturing industry for the month of July, and the numbers weren’t good: July of 2011 experienced the first contraction in new product orders since June of 2009, although export orders held steady (no doubt indicative of the wavering dollar value). So what does that mean for the American economy, and how is it tied to the marketing industry?

Consumers, in the traditional sense of the word, no longer have much of a demand for manufactured, tangible products, it seems. In a consumer-based economy that hinges on production, how are companies to grow if demand is shrinking? By selling new needs to a new consumer base. And in the pursuit of new customers, companies are shifting their marketing strategies to target a younger and younger demographic. First, “youth marketing” was the buzzword. Then, it was fine-tuned to the “tweens.” Now, newborns are the new base.

While children must have mastered basic language and verbal skills in order to communicate their preferences, research indicates that language is not necessary in order to form those preferences. Even as early as 1998, Norma Pecora wrote in her The Business of Children’s Entertainment  that “as we move into the 21st century, children are well-trained consumers able to associate Ronald McDonald with good things before they have learned the language.”

The C-levels at Disney must have read Pecora’s book, because in January, 580 American maternity hospitals opened their doors to company representatives that visit new mothers with a welcome present for the infant: the Disney Cuddly Bodysuit. The cozy, adorable bodysuits — often donning famous Disney protagonists — are complimentary, so long as Mom is willing to sign up for e-mail updates from DisneyBaby.com, the new corporate initiative.

“Apparel is only a beachhead,” Andy Mooney, chairman of Disney Consumer Products, told the New York Times. Disney Baby also offers nursery, on-the-go and meal-time products. Mooney is also working on a loyalty program that incorporates soon-to-be as well as new moms. One idea being discussed is offering free theme park tickets to pregnant women that sign up for e-mail alerts. “To get that mom thinking about her family’s first park experience before the baby is even born is a home run,” he said.

If a baby can connect with a brand before even learning to speak, the chance of creating life-long brand loyalty — and with it, a sense of brand identity — is much more likely than if a child’s first encounter with that brand is at, say, the age of 5. And once that child learns to speak and communicate with his or her parents and grandparents, suddenly you are talking about real influence over real dollars.

As the baby wearing the Disney Cuddly Bodysuit turns into the tween watching Mylie Cyrus on the Disney Channel, and then turns into the 20-something buying movie tickets to Shrek for date night, it’s reasonable to presume that that 20-something will be glad to sign up for an e-mailed newsletter about all things Disney Baby in exchange for free tickets to Disney World. That person is a marketing happily ever after. The transition is seamless, with some overlap among traditional age groups. A 22-year-old sitting in the movie theatre watching Shrek could well be sitting next to an 8-year-old. Nostalgia sells, and it works because consumers are introduced to brands at an ever-earlier age. Rather than creating a sense of identity by geography or religious background or gender, children are learning to create a sense of self around the brand with which they identify. That sense of identity broadens focal demographics considerably when regarding age.

Unfortunately, this aspect of the industry does not bless marketers with the luxury of simplicity. As the adage goes, with great power comes great responsibility. Youth marketing can provide a great service. Companies that align their brand image with social issues, for instance, can help increase awareness of those issues and help young people discern what is going to be important to them as civilians as well as consumers. Or perhaps a company can
become synonymous with a lifestyle — Nike has accomplished this with great success. The trick, then, when targeting the youth market, is to do so with ethical conscious.

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The Magic of a Story

Editor’s note: This entry was originally published at Beneath the Brand, a marketing industry blog.

Ten days ago, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, Part 2 enjoyed a record $43.5-million premiere — and that was just the midnight showing. By the end of the first day at the box office, the final Harry Potter installment had earned a whopping $92.1 million.

While Part 2 exceeded anyone’s expectations, the success shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone following the $15-billion brand empire built around The Boy Who Lived. Harry Potter is so much more than a gangly teenage wizard; Harry Potter is arguably one of the best-recognized brands in the world. If you’d like to read any of the seven books, you have 67 languages from which to choose, including Latin and Ancient Greek. If you’d like a more interactive experience, you have 10 video games from which to choose. If you’d like an even more interactive experience, you can take a trip to Florida to vacation at the Wizarding World of Harry Potter.

None of this came about by accident. While Joanne Rowling relays a fairytale story about being stuck on a train when the idea for Harry Potter came to her, the actual idea for the narrative was the only spontaneous aspect of Harry Potter as the world knows him now. Bloomsbury Publishing immediately identified a target demographic — children 9 to 11 years old — and asked Rowling to recreate herself with a gender-neutral name. Not having a middle name, she used her grandmother’s name, Kathleen, to create a second initial. Suddenly Joanne Rowling morphed into J. K. Rowling, which her publishers thought would be less off-putting to male readers.

Like the author, the first Harry Potter book has two names. Americans read Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone, but the rest of the world read Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. Again, the marketing minds behind the book wanted to make it as accessible to as wide a demographic as possible, and they thought that an American audience would respond better to a sorcerer than a philosopher.

Tweaking semantics seems like trivial stuff, but making minor adjustments to customize your product to a target demographic sets the approach for an assertive marketing strategy versus a laissez-faire dud. And one of the reasons that Harry Potter is such a world-wide hit that transcends geography, age, and gender is that its product is one of the most sought-after by humankind: a good story.

Try to categorize the Harry Potter series into a single genre. It’s tough. It’s a fantasy, yes, but it’s not so black-and-white that it only appeals to children, so it’s not really a children’s book. It’s very much a coming-of-age story, but that’s not all it is. It also deals with death and the discomfort of the uncertainty surrounding that concept. So it’s dark, but not so dark that a nine-year-old can’t enjoy it.

Now try to categorize your company into a single genre. If that’s an easy task, you need to take a lesson from Hogwarts. Regardless of what you sell, you need to have a story about who you are. That story should have purpose. It should have a cultural impact on whichever culture you’re serving. And while that message should be consistent, it shouldn’t be two-dimensional; it should have room to evolve. It should be able to engage audiences for at least a decade, preferably generations. The best way to achieve that, if Harry Potter is any example, is to invite your audience to participate in that story. People didn’t just show up en masse to see midnight showings of eight movies; they showed up donning wizard hats and capes. They felt like they were part of the narrative. Even now, though she says she will not write any more Harry Potter books, Rowling has extended another invitation to keep the buzz going: Pottermore, the “free website that builds an exciting online experience around the reading of the Harry Potter books,” will be public in October. But those true fans waiting on the edge of their seats can check back on July 31 to learn how to enter Pottermore early.

What invitations have you sent your brand’s clientele recently?

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Don’t talk about your goals.

I just returned home from a weekend in Laguna Beach. Like every resort town (or any town, for that matter!), Laguna oozes with its own distinct character. The local businesses and people comprise the town’s culture, and there was one aspect in particular that I noticed about the people: they all speak in the future tense.

“I’m going to … [fill in something great here]”

Personally, I prefer speaking in the past tense. Notice the difference:

“I’m going to start a business.”

“I started a business.”

Which narrator would you prefer to be? The latter? Me too. So, how do you get to the point where you can talk about your accomplishments vs. your goals? Don’t talk about your goals.

The human mind works on a rewards system. You create a goal, and you work toward that goal for the reward aspect. Maybe you want to lose weight. Why do you want to lose weight? To fit into a new summer bikini, or to stay fit enough to partake in a sport or recreation you enjoy? The weight loss is the goal, but the bikini and sport are the rewards. The same is true regarding business goals. Let’s say you want to grow your business 15 percent in the next six months. Why? Maybe it’s for a more secure financial position; maybe it’s because you value having a reputation as a savvy business person. Whatever it is, you’re working toward the goal (growing your business) so that you can enjoy the rewards (financial security and social value).

Well, when you talk about those goals, and you receive positive feedback, your brain processes that feedback as a reward. So if you’re already experiencing the pleasure of the reward associated with a goal before actually achieving said goal, there is far less motivation for bothering with the goal in the first place. Perception is reality, as the adage goes, and it’s particularly true in the case of goals.

Think about the last time you set a new goal. Now think about a time you when you were talking about that goal with someone and how excited you got and how… accomplished you felt. Strange, isn’t it? By talking about the goal, you created the perception that you were actively working toward it, even though you were merely talking about it. Your brain processed that perception as a reality, and you got a little taste of the reward before taking your first step.

As counter-intuitive as it sounds, the more you talk about a goal, the less likely it is that you will accomplish that goal.

To be clear: I’m not suggesting that you never share your goals with loved ones or close friends — you need a sounding board to bounce around new ideas! But the next time you’re at a networking event or a coffee shop with an aquaintance and get the itch to start gabbing about that book you’re writing (you haven’t typed a word yet), shut it. Won’t it feel better to be able to tell them about your new book once it’s on the shelves at Barnes & Noble?

I’m not a psychologist, but Ramit Sethi is, and he talked a bit about this concept on a podcast I found. I’ve found it an incredible mental exercise, and — guess what? — I’ve accomplished more goals in the last month than I have in a year.

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

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Marketing Makeover Lesson 3: Learn the Capewalk.

The first time I ever heard of the Capewalk, it was in a very different context than business: it was a tip to help guys pick up women.

The Capewalk is all about confidence. And just as confidence is that intangible “it” factor that can be the make-or-break element in asking for a date, it’s also the make-or-break in business. It’s a great exercise that immediately creates non-verbal signals of competence and leadership. It goes something like this:

When you walk into a room (or toward an executive for a handshake), imagine that you’re wearing a cape. Seriously. Think about how Superman (or Superwoman!) would walk into whatever situation you’re facing: in such a way that that cape would flow elegantly behind him or her. Superheroes never look silly with a cape because they own their capes. So then, should you.

So let’s break that down a little. If you’re wearing a cape — and you don’t want your cape to lay limply at your back; remember, this is an accessory! — there are rules to how you stand, walk, even sit. Shoulders back, but not too back. Chest puffed out just enough so that your cape can flutter. And capes need to drape, so no slumping!

If I told you all that breakdown as individual things to remember, it’d be overwhelming. But tell you to walk like you’re wearing a cape, and bam! You’re a superhero.

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

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Marketing Makeover Lesson 2: Invest in a logo.

You may be a great graphic designer. You may have designed dozens of logos. When it comes to your own, however, get a fresh mind involved. And if you’re not a designer, it’s even more important to get a professional involved.

I am not a graphic designer. I design page lay-outs and can play with already-created images, but what takes a graphic designer 20 minutes to draw from scratch takes me two hours. To save money and time, I bought a stock image of a quill from istockphoto.com and created a logo-esque design for my company from there. I consider that a rookie mistake, and it’s one that a lot of entrepreneurs make.

Tempting as it may be, do not use clipart or a stock image as the graphical element of your logo. You — and more importantly, your company — deserve better. Your logo should be as unique as you company and should last just as long. When deciding on a logo, you want to imagine your business 10 years from now. Will that logo still be impactful? If not, ditch the logo idea. Keep tweaking a concept until it is just right. As you invest in building a brand for yourself, you don’t want to sabatoge that brand by having a second-rate logo that you’re going to have to change down the road. Because as all the blue-chip megacompanies out there can attest, even as you change your logo, you only do so subtly over long periods of time. That way, you keep your logo (and your brand) fresh and timely without compromising your image.

And so, in my mission to follow my own marketing advice, I’m currently working with my graphic designers to develop a new logo for The Write People LLC. A few things to keep in mind when deciding on a logo that represents your company:

  1. Color. Psychologists and designers know that different colors evoke different emotional reactions in people. So choose the colors carefully. You can learn about the meaning of colors with some brief research. Here, a quick guide:
    • Red: Energy, power, passion.
    • Orange: Youthfulness, fun, warmth.
    • Yellow: Cheer and energy. A word of caution, however: While a bright yellow evokes a happy, positive feeling, darker yellows can evoke associations with filth and grime.
    • Green: Growth, health, wealth.
    • Blue: Wisdom, loyalty. A very calming color. Warning: Blue suppresses appetite, so this is not a good color for a company involved in food services at any level!
    • Purple: Luxury, power, royalty.
    • Black: Elegance, class.
    • White: Purity, cleanliness.
  2. Font. It says a lot about your company. If you want a clean look, go for a sans seriff. If you’re wanting a more corporate look, go with a seriff. And for a more fun look, well, the options are limitless, but make sure you choose something readable and well spaced. Remember, your logo needs to be adaptable, as it will be displayed on everything from your website to your business card. You need a font that will look just as good at 8-point as it does at 36-point.
  3. Graphical element. Remember that not every logo requires a graphical element. Sometimes just the name of your company in a font and color that conveys the image that you want associated with your brand is perfectly sufficient. Others need a graphical element to really make it stand out. Choose what works for you, but heed my earlier warning about investing in a unqiue image that you can trademark: a clipart or stock image won’t cut it. And even if you are a designer yourself, sometimes it’s tough to see the forest through the trees with your baby. An outside professional will give you priceless unbiased perspective.

There are thousands of logo designers out there. Regardless of your budget, there is a designer that is a good fit for your needs. There are a few designers out there willing to work for $50 per logo, and there are a few designers that charge $1,000 per logo. For those looking to find something in the middle of the cost spectrum, expect to pay between $200 and $500 for a professional logo. You should have full rights to your logo — it does not belong to the designer. And you should have high-resolution images in multiple formats to maximize versatility. Anything less is unprofessional and not worthy of your business.

Do you have a story about your own logo experience? Share it; don’t be shy!

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

 

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Entrepreneur Spotlight: Kim Jordan

“If it’s not fun, it’s not sustainable.” Those aren’t Kim Jordan’s words — they belong to Guy Dauncey — but they are words she lives by. And they are words that embody the principles she’s created for her company, New Belgium Brewery.

Take the company’s logo: a graphic of a bicycle. Sure, it was originally supposed to be iconic of Jordan’s husband’s bicycle trip through Europe, where he first fell in love with beer culture. But since then, it has come to embody those two cornerstones of the company’s philosophy: fun and sustainability. And to prove that the company walks the walk, it gives a bicycle to each of its employees.

That’s not all that New Belgium employees get. They also get equity in the company. Jordan never refers to her 395 employees as anything but co-workers. Those co-workers own 41 percent of New Belgium Brewery; management owns 14 percent; and Jordan and her family claim “the balance.”

When Jordan and her now late husband originally decided to start the brewery, they went on a hike in Rocky Mountain National Park to discuss what, exactly, the yet-to-be-born company was going to be about. Their informal business plan included just three goals:

1. Make world-class beer.

2. Promote beer culture.

3. Have fun.

You’ll notice, Jordan points out, that there was no discussion of customers or employees then because, well, they didn’t have any. “Entrepreneurship is something that sneaks up on you,” she says. Everything must be done in stages. So when the company did have employees, she decided that part of having fun was going to be creating community. She read a book about open-book management and decided it was a management style that was right for New Belgium. “But open-book management without equity is like inviting someone to smell the dinner without letting them taste anything,” she says. And let’s face it: part of the fun of running a brewery is the tasting part.

Her decision to share equity in the company with her co-workers demonstrated a valuable business lesson: in order to command any credibility, you have to make decisions that are consistent with what you’ve said is important, Jordan says. That lesson is still relevant when pursuing her other goals regarding sustainability. New Belgium utilizes solar-ray technology on its packaging farm, gets its energy from wind farms in Wyoming (even in 1998!) and reuses energy via heat transfers in its brewing process (Jordan and her husband used an aluminum trash can as a DIY heat transfer in their basement home brewery; the commercial heat transfer is considerably more advanced now). But the journey toward sustainability is far from over.

To better lay out plans to lessen New Belgium’s environmental impact even more, Jordan and her team decided to publish the company’s sustainability report, warts and all. It was a tough decision. On the one hand, the company prides itself on its environemntal policies. On the other hand, nobody’s perfect, and New Belgium’s carbon footprint, while commendably smaller than many counterparts in the industry, still exists. “It was really freeing, actually,” Jordan says now. “It was really freeing to say, ‘here’s where we’re doing well and here’s where we’re still working.'”

And New Belgium is in fact still working on its sustainability initiatives. Jordan has become a face of the social entrepreneurship movement, and her company has adopted something it calls advercacy, a mixology of advertising and advocacy, as a marketing plan.

So what percent of New Belgium’s success can be attributed to its tasty suds versus its sustainability initiatives?

“Whenever we don’t know the answer at New Belgium, we say seven,” Jordan says.

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

 

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Marketing Makeover Lesson 1: Don’t go it alone.

You’ve heard all the trite answers.

Question: Why do you want to start your own business?

Trite Answer #1: I want to be my own boss.

Trite Answer #2: I want to work from home.

Trite Answer #3: I want to make my own schedule.

While, at some level, all of these answers are legitimate benefits of having a business, they certainly shouldn’t be the first reason that pops into an entrepreneur’s head (what about the passion to share an innovative product or idea with an emerging or underserved market?). And while all these answers speak to self empowerment, don’t they also sound a bit lonely? Working in your slippers instead of your dress shoes is more comfortable, but how much human interaction are you getting in your closet home office? Probably not much. I should know!

As I’m undergoing my “Marketing Makeover” for my own business, I’ve realized that the best way to stay energized is to engage with other people as excited about entrepreneurship as I am. Without giving away too much too soon (I know you’re on the edge of your seats), the most fun part of remaking my marketing plan is reaching out to the people behind the expert opinions I’ve been researching. Not only am I finding valuable sources to inform the feature articles I’m working on for local business publications, but I’m also tapping into an entire community of like-minded people that, frankly, know a lot more than I do. What more could I ask for?

Starting a business has a bit of a rap for being a one- or two-person activity. Don’t fall into this trap! As you perform your market research, make sure you are doing as much primary research as secondary. It’s important to look at quantitative data, but putting together the stories behind the numbers is more interesting. And meeting the characters that comprise the stories is more rewarding still. No matter what your niche, there is a network in your area literally at your fingertips. Next time you read an article relevant to your industry, take note of the names of the sources in that article. If you read a quote that sticks with you, jot down the name of the speaker. Then, next time you’re on Google, type in the name of that speaker. Chances are, you’ll find an e-mail address or a website on the first page of hits. Your next step? Reach out! The worst thing that can happen is that you never hear anything back, but at least you worked up your nerve to try to establish a human connection. The best thing that can happen is that you connect with someone to establish a lasting relationship.

This is a lesson that every journalist is taught in learning to scope out possible sources. It’s a lesson I had to remember as a business owner looking to scope out the mentors and peers that create communities. What are you waiting for?

 

Looking forward to your success story,

Megan Tackett

 

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