Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Mattel and FAO Schwarz bring Barbie into the digital age

I can't say I've yet been to the Barbie Boutique in FAO Schwarz (the cool one in New York City, not those lame satellite stores that have popped up in malls from time to time), but after reading this article at VM+SD I think I might have to take a look.

While FAO Schwarz has always been known to set the bar for visual design and in-store theatrics, the latest Barbie installation from Mattel goes above and beyond the current state-of-the-art to deliver an interactive experience that is designed to be both the means (to encourage more Barbie purchases) and an end in itself (an entertaining, interactive and brand-building experience).

Featuring kiosk terminals that let girls (and their moms) design sophisticated custom outfits, and big flat screens that show off the designs on a virtual catwalk, the boutique does everything to empower the shopper, promote high-margin product sales and reinforce the Barbie brand. While the boutique is clad in reserved white laminate, frosted class and sleek metals, the signature pink color can be seen throughout, lest anyone forget they're in Barbie country.

Given how tech-savvy youngsters are, melding the classic Barbie brand with a high-tech in-store experience not only allows Mattel to create a more immersive and interactive environment, but also reinforces Barbie's relevance in an age when kids are spending more and more time in front of computers and video games. Barbie hasn't yet lost her relevance as a top-tier toy, but Mattel doesn't want to take any chances. Unfortunately, given the size of the boutique and the complexity of the layout I'd be surprised to see this experience get transplanted to many other toy stores, but there's always the possibility that it will be a launching pad for a new general merchandising strategy (that might even feature some of the technological components), and a tie-in to the Barbie website (which does have a lot of interactive features).

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Thursday, November 15, 2007

Does the retail clothing store experience continue to fail?

I love the Adaptive Path blog. The posters there are super-smart, entertaining, and always capable of coaxing an insightful argument out of even mundane content. Julia's recent post about the retail experience is no exception, and she laments that dressing rooms are still inadequate (a sentiment that echoes Paco Underhill's own observation in Why we Buy). But is it fair to say that the retail clothing store experience continues to fail? After all, Julia points out in her own post that:
The layout of the store tends to provide more open space for shoppers than it did just five years ago. Even in department stores, gone are the days of being squeezed in between the sale rack and some soulless sweater display with a half dressed mannequin. It seems there are more boutiques focused on one style or catering to a well thought out target audience than ever before. There are places for people to sit, often with those nice little tables with magazines. I’ve noticed this in nearly every U.S. city I’ve visited this year from Chicago, to DC, to Santa Fe.
So yeah, dressing rooms might still suck, but given the number of things that universally required improvement just a few years ago, it seems like retailers have been paying attention to customers and actually implementing many of the suggested changes. I agree that if retailers can accomplish so much it seems odd that they would fall short of addressing this common gripe, especially since some of the other recent fixes (like recent whole-store planogram changes at Macy's and JCPenney's) must have been much more costly and complex to implement. But even for an occasional shopper like me, the overall state of affairs inside the typical clothing or department store has improved noticeably over the past 5 years, and is far from what I'd consider failing.

Now remind me I said that in three or four weeks when I'm at the mall during the height of holiday shopping season ;)

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Sunday, November 11, 2007

A formula for trust?

I just came across a short but insightful post from AdvertisingLab which picked up on a slide from the Brand Gap deck (if you haven't seen it before, take a few minutes to check it out -- there's a lot of business lingo and noise, but there are some useful comments on brands and brand maintenance as well).

In any event, the slide that Ilya at Adverlab pointed out was a simple marketing "formula" that reads:

T = r + d
(Trust = reliability + delight)

His comment is that regardless of whether or not the statement is true when you read it from left to right, it's dangerous to think of it as a true formula, since some basic algebra would yield an equivalent statement:

d = T - r
(delight = Trust - reliability)

Ilya holds that this is not true, and indeed it sounds kind of funny. But got me thinking... how far off base is that second statement, actually? P&G often uses the term "surprise and delight" when talking about the First Moment of Truth (FMOT) -- that moment when a customer first comes encounters your product in the store. Their terminology implies (to me, at least) that delight is not just being happy, but it's being unexpectedly happy. It's the surprise that allows for the delight. So take that and go back up to our d = T -r. Now of course, I'm certainly not delighted when my computer crashes or my car dies on the highway. But I don't think that's the meaning of the word "reliability" that the formula is trying to convey. It might be better to substitute the synonym "reproducibility" for "reliability". That would give us:

delight = Trust - reproducibility

Literally, we become delighted when something that we trust produces something unexpected. Again, this assumes that the trusted item is trusted because it's good, it performs well, or it can be counted on to accomplish its primary task. The not necessarily reproducible bit has to be something positive, not negative. But given those constraints, I think it's fair to say that this equation does seem to work.

Unfortunately, the third equivalence r = T - d (reliability = trust - delight) doesn't work out quite as well, so Ilya's point that these things aren't really formulaic still holds true. In a way, it's kind of comforting to know that what delights me can't be distilled into a three letter equation. On the flip side of that, though, if there were guaranteed, easy ways to ensure that we were always delighted, we'd all be happier for it, right?

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Thursday, November 08, 2007

The future of advertising and retail digital signage

Adrian Cotterhill, editor of the Digital Out of Home Advertising Networks (DOOHAN) directory (published in the UK by The Screen, an industry body devoted to digital signage in Europe), posted a PowerPoint presentation on his blog, the Daily DOOH, focused on the status of retail digital signage in the UK, and where it might be headed.

The first few slides are pretty parochial and are obviously geared towards people as industry-savvy as the average reader of this blog might be, but the rest of the content is quite good. In particular I was pleased with his requirements for success (including such remarkably elusive things as clear strategy and vision and good content), and several pages of slides trying to convince the audience that digital signage really isn't like television. I wish people would get that.

On the heels of that presentation comes another, this time from IBM. Titled "the end of advertising as we know it (PDF link)", the 28-page report looks at the current state of the advertising industry and predicts that there will be more disruption to advertising in the next 5 years than there have been in the past 50.

The IBM report looks at a number of trends, like electronic inventory management, user-generated content and of course the rise of out-of-home advertising. In general, it's an excellent summary of where a big company sees the industry headed. They're not actually involved in the advertising industry, mind you, but with their fingers in so many pies and so much of advertising going towards high-tech these days, I found more than a few insights while reading it over.

If you have a few minutes today, do yourselves a favor and download these two reports.

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Monday, November 05, 2007

A two-step test for adding new in-store marketing systems

Actually, the way George Anderson, the article's author pitches it, perhaps the question is "which is the right approach?" It seems that with the proliferation of new retail media, and the newfound acceptance these strategies have found, execs have started to decide that the question is no longer whether to advance an in-store marketing strategy, but rather which strategy they should choose. (Indeed this was the crux of an argument put forward by Marc Babej and Tim Pollak from Reason Inc. in a recent Forbes commentary article).

Getting back to the RetailWire article, though, Anderson asks two questions: first, are shopping carts offer potentially valuable media space, and second, where are the best opportunities in terms of technology for retailers and marketers to influence consumer purchases with shopping carts?

As is often the case with a RetailWire BrainTrust article, there are dozens of comments posted beneath the article, many of which are pretty insightful. A lot of them are also target-specific, focusing on the potential benefits and drawbacks of advertising on shopping carts (my two cents: a nice, but not killer, idea for static ads; digital stuff will never work). But the better comments dive into a theme that I've noticed becoming more common in recent months, especially as retail digital signage systems have really taken off.

Specifically, people tend to get wrapped up in one particular medium or message conveyance method, instead of looking at the entire store as a cooperative system. Even professional marketers with years of experience have been known to get easily distracted by the new/cool/shiny thing, and deploy it without thinking of whether it makes the whole environment any better. So here's my wholly-anecdotal, two-second test for guessing whether a new form of in-store media is going to be a positive or negative addition to your environment:

1. Does it put the message on the same shelf as the product? Retail media is local, and I mean really local media. You have two or three seconds to impart your message at best, and then maybe 5-7 seconds of retention after that. So if your message isn't within 10 seconds of the product, its value starts to decline rapidly. The solution: keep messages as close to the product as possible, and understand that the further away you move them, the less good they'll do.

2. Does it compete with or complement other nearby media like POP displays, posters and endcap setups? Walk into a supermarket and you're bombarded by messages, and that new snazzy addition is going to quickly become part of the background noise if it has to compete with messages for similar products (or even different messages for the same product!), and other clutter nearby. The solution? Get rid of all other forms of in-store marketing. Just kidding. Since that's obviously not viable, the real solution is to create integrated campaigns. If Keebler will be advertising 3 different products in your store this month, the ads for each should play off of each other. If colors need to be different, then shapes should be the same. The logos should be similarly positioned, and so on. If the campaign will feature floor-standing displays and spots on digital signs, they should look similar to each other. That way, even if one part of the message is displayed far away from the product, the customer will be primed when she encounters the other component that is nearby.

If your can't answer "yes" to both questions above, then you may want to give a bit more thought to your new media approach before deploying it to your stores, since chances are that it will not perform as expected.

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Thursday, November 01, 2007