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August 2007

New World of Coca-Cola Museum Proves to be the Real Thing for Visitors

Main_photo_worldcocacolaThe New World of Coca-Cola Museum, which opened in Atlanta in May, is proving to be quite the spectacle for visitors. It's also a great example of how a brand continues to provide innovative ways for customers to reconnect with a brand story.

Besides being a shrine to the world's largest beverage company, company spokesperson Petro Kacur describes the venue as being "an opportunity to tell the story of the brand and develop a richer bond with consumers. Maybe new fans or visitors will rediscover an old friend."

It's the ability of consumers to connect with a story that provides the most enriching brand experiences. And Coca-Cola has quite the story to tell. From its appearance in Norman Rockwell paintings to its memorable musical advertising campaigns ("I'd Like to Teach the World to Sing"), the brand continues to establish its presence as an industry leader.

HIghlights of the museum include interactive displays, historical artifacts and memorabilia, a 200 seat theatre where visitors can follow an eight minute behind the scenes documentary of Coke's travels through the vending machine, and an advertising theatre rerunning famous TV spots. For true fans, there's also the inevitable gift shop selling everything from glasses to jewellery. Not to be outdone is a tasting lounge where visitors can sample from an array of 70 drinks from all over the world.

Although it's tempting for skeptics to view the museum as "hokey", one cannot deny the brilliance of the company in its ability to design rich experiences that are able to relate to consumers at a human level. Through sight, sound, taste and touch, Coca-Cola continues to rewrite the brand story and engage consumers by reminding them why their experience has been, and always will be, a true reflection of the "real thing." 


Thrill Rides: The Ultimate Experience

Pcw_minebuster_sm_3Walt Disney once said "I don't want the public to see the world they live in while they're in the park. I want them to feel they're in another world."

Yesterday, my husband and I spent a day at Paramount Canada's Wonderland - just north of Toronto. I hadn't been back to the park since the late 1980's, and noticed that there had been many changes since my last visit. In spite of the obvious growth and increased focus on Hollywood style entertainment, what didn't change was the feeling I had while experiencing the park.

Bernd Schmitt, author of Experiential Marketing - How to Get Customers to Sense, Feel, Think, Act, Relate to Your Company and Brands, defines an experience as "private events that occur in response to some stimulation (ie. as provided by marketing efforts before and after purchase.) Experiences involve the entire living being. They often result from direct observation and/or participation in events - whether they are real, dreamlike, or virtual."

This definition of experience can best be explained through the example of thrill rides. A thrill ride provides the ultimate in immersion. For two minutes, your world is "on hold" and nothing else matters than the sheer thrill and experience of the ride. Problems fade into nothing as the adrenaline rush pushes you to experience rides such as the Minebuster, Dragon Fire, Vortex, The Italian Job and Sledge Hammer.

Once the ride ends, the experience goes on as you continue to hear, see and smell the sights and sounds of the park. Who doesn't recognize the sweet smell of cotton candy and inevitable scent from the hot dog vendors? The food, the acrobats, the shops, the crowds, the rides - they all become part of identifying the experience. There's an expectation that when you go there, you will enter another world and be guaranteed that these elements will be a part of it.

Perhaps the most telling and consistent part of the thrill ride experience is its ability to reconnect me with a place and time in my youth when the world was just opening up to possibility. Everything was an adventure, and risk-taking was just another task in a day's work. When I enter a park, those feelings and thoughts seem to come back, and I feel as if I'm entering some sort of a time warp.

The thrills of a theme park can be experienced at any age, yet marketers seem to focus on families and teenagers when designing advertising campaigns to attract new customers. The question then becomes,"why don't advertisers include more mature adults in theme park advertising, and focus on the potential experience?" After all, it's a great way to relive our youth - and a lot cheaper than plastic surgery.


Jockey Launches New Website To Win Battle Against Tighty-Whities

A recent article in BRANDWEEK discussed the launch by Jockey of two new websites designed for viral appeal. Although I'm not the target market Jockey had in mind, the sites offer a rather innovative approach in the battle to sell better-fitting underwear.

The first site, Stopsquirming.com, features interactive options where visitors can help "Tame That Booty" by identifying the most common and potentially embarassing squirms. Visitors are also invited to join in a community of "Citizens Against Squirming", and are encouraged to recruit friends to the cause. Visitors who "Have A Beef With Someone's Bottoms" can file "Grundy Grievances" and choose amongst one of three counsellors who will file a grievance to perpetrators on their behalf.

Jockey's second site, JockeyUnderwars.com, is set to be launched next month. Visitors will be able to challenge each other with videos of each other dancing in their underwear in a tournament style format.

While older people might feel uncomfortable with this approach (no pun intended), Jockey has realized that younger people are spending a lot of time online, and they are trying to determine if their new tactics will make a stronger impression on consumers.

In an effort to reach this target group, Jockey has increased their online marketing budget from 6% in 2006 to 20% in 2007.

Perhaps what's most interesting about this campaign is its use of humour to discuss a potentially awkward area of discussion. The "problems" addressed on the site are universal, yet through humour and interactivity they are brought out into the open where everyone can share their concerns and have a laugh while doing it. This gives Jockey the chance to highlight their wares in an effort to win the battle against "tighty-whities."

For now, the potential effect on ROI is unknown, so it should be interesting to see what happens. In the meantime, go check out the site if you need to file a "Grundy Grievance."Undies


Brand NASCAR - A Tribute to Working Class America

Last night I watched a great special on ESPN on the origins of NASCAR (National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing). Although I don't follow NASCAR, I was compelled by its brand story. The brand has its roots in the southeastern U.S., where bootleggers and rumrunners developed a passion for racing each other on twisty mountain roads. Its reputation for being a backwoods sport earned it a "redneck" following whose fans, coming from mostly working class backgrounds, reflected the true essence and spirit of the American people. Fiercely loyal and proud, many deemed it as "their sport." They saw it as part of them, a true reflection of who they were as a people.

On a brand level, brand recognition and loyalty seemed second to none. The NASCAR community shared a sense of ownership in the brand, and being part of the community meant you were really a participant in the brand story.

This sense of ownership and pride is what many companies strive for in creating brands. But what did it mean, exactly, for these fans to experience NASCAR? I found the answer in the words of an ex-Vietnam vet who, while sitting in a tattoo parlour, was about to receive a tatoo with the name of his hero, Dale Earnhardt. He said that the whole thing was about "a commitment to a way of seeing things."

Perhaps his words best describe the essence of a brand. It may explain why some brands succeed, while others fail.  Successful brands are able to tap into people's roots, and enable people to be part of a loyal community who share similar views and ideas. There's a sense of being a member in a successful club, no matter what your background.

Over the years, the nature of NASCAR changed with the entrance of drivers like Jeff Gordon. While increasing amounts of corporate sponsorship attracted new fans, it detracted many whose roots still lay in the dirt roads of the southeastern U.S.

Although the preferred beverage of choice at many events may have changed from beer to wine, the sport will always be a reflection of what seems to be a killer combination in the branding world: sex, speed, and entertainment.

But that's just the way I see it.

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Marketing Meaning - Uncovering Ways to Connect with an Audience

Do you ever wonder why you buy certain things? Is it price, value - or does the product mean something to you on a gut level?

When you surf the internet, are you doing research, looking to be entertained, or just looking for a community in which to share stories? What is the value to you of meaningful information, and how do you decide what matters to you?

Most of us make decisions based on what they mean to us. There's a reason we do things, and in most cases it's because we feel some sort of connection to a product, place, or person. If I buy Campbell's soup instead of a cheaper competitor, it means that I've had a good experience with the brand. To me, the experience of eating Campbell's soup means that I will always feel good after having had the product. This positive meaning is almost always based on past experiences. If I decide to buy the latest CD from Bruce Springsteen (it's on my "to do" list), not only do I love his music, but the words and notes have a way of connecting with my teenage years on a deep level. When I listen to his music, I remember the rebellious times, and am able to relive the feelings and memories of an adventurous time in my life. It means something to me and, in advertising products that invoke similar feelings, agencies can tap into that connection.

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Perhaps the most dreaded words to advertisers and marketers are the words "Who Cares?" When it comes down to it, most people want the same things in life: happiness, wealth, family, health and acknowledgement. We want to have fun, and feel good about what we do. Everything we do, and virtually every decision we make, involves connecting with other people, places or things.

Hollywood has been able to create meaning for us out of fictional characters. In many cases, we are moved because characters mean something to us. They represent our human attributes, and our ability to care for and feel emotion for others. Remember watching ET "go home?" Who didn't identify with Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, who found herself looking for brighter and better things in life? Is there anyone among us who didn't shed a tear during Forrest Gump? (and for those of us who did, didn't the music have something to do with it?) Could anyone not identify with James Dean in Rebel Without a Cause? And who wasn't upset when the coyote just couldn't snag that roadrunner?

Let's design more meaning into the products we use, and the places we visit. Companies who market meaning will be the real winners in the new age of connection.


Design and Business - A Natural Synergy?

One could argue that a successful business is designed to be that way. With proper procedures in place, an engaged and inspired workforce, ample supply of customers and an endless number of innovative ideas...any company can be immensely profitable - right?

While the concept of good design traditionally applies to products or services that perform and satisfy the user (and ultimately leads to profits), it also applies to the way an organization communicates, collaborates and strategizes on an everyday basis.

Either way, good design, whether at the organizational or product level, leads to positive customer experiences. To take it a step further, innovative design evokes meaning which can lead to long lasting brand recognition.

In order to get the benefits from good design, both designers and businesspeople have to take an integrated approach to strategy. This integrative approach is being adopted in a new program to be launched in 2008 by the California College of the Arts.

The program, called an MBA in Design Strategy, "unites the studies of design, finance, and organizational management in a unique curriculum aimed at providing students with tools and strategies to address today's complex and interconnected market. The program's approach encompasses performance, strategy, innovation, and the encouragement of meaningful, sustainable social change."

Led by Program Chair Nathan Shedroff, the program seeks to develop innovative solutions to economic and social challenges using design techniques and business metrics. Perhaps most innovative of all, is the program's inclusion of a course on Effective Communication that teaches students how words can seriously impact business interactions.

DMI (Design Management Institute) in Boston is also a thought leader in the area of business and design. In September, DMI will be hosting a conference about The Changing Role of Design and Design Management in Business. Conferences held on similar subjects have attracted attendees from companies such as: Kodak, eBay, Fossil, Kraft and Hasbro.

DMI believes that the integration of design and business is now a reality. The new world of work requires a cross-disciplinary approach with integrated design solutions. Designers are now just as responsible for the bottom-line as managers and executives, and it's essential that they realize the implications of their work both inside and outside of the organization.

As Steve Jobs said in an interview with Fortune magazine in 2000, "Design is the fundamental soul of a human-made creation that ends up expressing itself in successive outer layers of the product.” The implication that design is something that expresses itself from the 'inside out' has meaning for organizations as well. If we can design things or places directly from the core, then this will positively affect a company on several levels as design will incorporate the true essence of a place or product.

What impact has good design had in your workplace? At the mall, supermarket or in your home? Does it affect your decision on whether or not to buy a product?


When Old Technology Is New Again

I'm in job hunting mode and use the internet to do the bulk of my research. Today I was researching a particular company and was trying to determine its current operating name. I Googled, searched archives in various marketing publications - yet couldn't find the answer I needed. Desperate to find the answer, I finally pulled out the phonebook and looked up the name of the company. Voila!

Our reliance on new technology made me wonder if there isn't still room for the old stuff. While working in corporate communications, I used a paper daytimer to track appointments and follow up phone calls. The system was foolproof. It never crashed, was never in danger of being accidentally deleted, and my yellow highlighter and sticky notes were always there to point me in the right direction.

Don't get me wrong. I'm a huge believer in the power of technology to help us get through our everyday lives. I just think that sometimes there's so much information out there, that for some things, we might just be better off taking a simpler route.

Nathan Shedroff, one of the true pioneers in the area of Experience Design, says that "Most of the technology we call information technology is, in fact, only data technology, because it does not address understanding or the forming or communication of information. Most of this technology is simply concerned with storage, processing, and transmission." (Information Design, edited by Robert Jacobson, 1999).

Shedroff explains that too often audiences are deluged with data instead of information. This means that we are often left with the dubious task of trying to sort it out and make sense of it. If there is no context and meaning to data, there cannot be successful communication as audiences will have no idea what it is you're trying to say. In the interactive medium, it's all about experience, and information designers have to keep that in mind.

Shedroff puts information interaction design on a continuum that leads from Data, through Information and Knowledge, and finally onto Wisdom. At the Knowledge level, the process is participatory, and this is the level all communications should target as it provides the most valuable messages.

Undspectrum

There is lots of data out there, and we live in a world of global information excess. Perhaps it's time to take a step back, and extract some of the benefits we derived from using old technology. Is what we are seeing and reading out there providing us with positive and meaningful experiences, or are we just seeing bits and bytes of random data merely disguised as information?


Public Speaking - Are You Kidding?

As a long-standing member of Toastmasters International and competitive public speaker, it boggles my mind as to the number of businesspeople who seem to lack basic skills in public speaking. Time and time again, I see professionals at the podium who, either through speaking style or content, are just unable to engage an audience.

We've all heard the statistic. The one that says most people fear public speaking more than they fear death. Well, "ye need not fear again." With proper training and a well-designed plan, you too can take the podium and become a speaker extraordinaire.

Here are three tips that can help turn a lackluster speech into a standing ovation:

1)  Know Your Audience

  • It sounds simple, but many forget this basic rule of speaking. It also touches on a fundamental rule of selling, and that is to know your client before you pitch your product.
  • If you're speaking to engineers, speak their language. Find out what makes them tick, and learn more about their daily challenges. If it's a business group, find an angle and show them that you've taken the time to try and understand their business. They will thank you for it.

2) Be Organized

  • Arrange your speech into 3 key points. Not only will this make it easier for the audience to follow you, but it will also help you find your place if for some reason you lose track. Many people find it hard to memorize a speech, but most can deliver a talk based on 3 key points.
  • Offer a clear introduction and conclusion. Wrap up with a quick summary of your 3 points.

3) Practice, Practice, Practice

  • Success in the art of public speaking is no different from success in any other profession. Once you have your material, practice. Practice in front of the mirror, practice in front of a friend or family member, or practice in the shower. Find a way that works for you. There's nothing more frustrating than a speaker who hasn't practiced his or her material.
  • Have back-up notes in case your equipment fails. I can't tell you the number of times I've seen a speaker falter because they failed to have back up notes once their computer crashed.

So, the next time you're asked to give a speech, give it a try. Send me a note if you want more tips, and feel free to comment on your speaking experiences.

See you at the podium!

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James Bond Martini Stirs Up Debate

In a recent issue of Advertising Age, brand guru Martin Lindstrom tackles the issue of brand confusion over James Bond's martini. His video report, entitled "When Branding Rituals Go Bad", discusses the advantages and disadvantages of brand ritual stereotyping. Lindstrom interviews Bacardi Global Brands VP Robert Ferniss-Roe to find out how James Bond films' martini mystique became a double-edged sword for his firm.

It seems that, as other companies bought product placements in future installments of the movies, there was confusion over the authenticity as to which type of martini Bond actually drank. What Bond drank in subsequent movies didn't seem to fit the original story.

To add to the confusion, Ferniss-Roe says that in Europe, Martini is known as a brandname - whereas in North America, it's associated with a cocktail. According to him, the challenge in brand ritual marketing is to get people to see brands out of context, in places where they might not expect to see them. For example, Bombay Sapphire gin might be placed at art shows or in upscale hair salons to gain further brand recognition and growth.

Lindstrom concludes the interview with three key points:

1) Brand rituals can be powerfully beneficial, or they can stereotype brands, hindering growth

2) Brand authenticity is prime - don't manipulate rituals to fit a product placement

3) Brand rituals gain power when experienced out of context. Surprise us!

Amazing how a martini can shake up the brand world.

Bonddrink 


Communicating Through Film: Lessons from Hollywood

In just a few weeks the glitz, glamour and mayhem known as the Toronto International Film Festival will be in town.  I attended my first festival years ago, and it's definitely an exciting experience.

I've always been entranced by film. To me, it represents something extraordinary, something out of this world. I find myself caught up in the story, and in the buzz created by being part of a group who is enjoying a similar experience.

In the world of communication, the mark of a good communicator is someone who, through their story and ability to engage an audience, is able to make people understand their message. The ability to do this through film provides added benefits as the experience is quite different from more "static" methods.

It is in this spirit that I propose several ways in which companies could learn from communication techniques used in Hollywood:

  • In every organization, there will always have to be someone in control - the CEO is the Director of your company's story
  • To better engage people, create some buzz - give people a reason to be a character in your company's vision
  • Tell it like it is - documentary filmmakers do this all the time
  • Find out what people want to buy, and give it to them
  • When formulating company strategy, put yourself in your audience's shoes - how do you want them to feel when they buy your product?
  • Managers have to act first, before they can direct
  • To engage shareholders, CEO's have to be good actors and storytellers

As Ingmar Bergman once said, "To shoot a film is to organize an entire universe." The techniques needed to lead a company in the real world aren't much different than those used in the magical world of Hollywood.