When Color Matters, Moleskine & Target Deliver

Blue or black ink doesn’t make the cut. Give me purple, pink, green or even orange, please. I’m the consultant who buys the “Caribbean Collection” of Sharpie markers in the dead of winter to liven up a client’s brand planning session.  It’s just my thing, and I don’t much care if it costs a few bucks more. It makes me happy to be colorful.

So when it comes to what to write on, I’m pretty picky as well. I tend to opt for a trip to Utrecht Art Supplies for Strathmore notebooks, with no lines, and acid free 30% post consumer fiber paper with the bright blue covers. I’m serious about saving my notebooks, and have them dated so I can go back to conference notes, idea sessions, and major project notes.

I’ve never been a Moleskine girl, until last week when I happened across this back-to-school display at Target.

A much more fun way to take notes where ever you are!

I had recently read a few articles on Moleskine’s upcoming launch of business cases and bags, which had heightened my interest in the brand. Even though I only saw sketches, there was a bag I began to covet. I browsed, which involved more feeling than looking, and bought my first Moleskine notebook at $17.95. I hesitated at the price, but felt a desire that won out over budget. I bought the blank page notebook with the cool orange graphic. I’ve now traveled with it and because it’s different, have had to turn it over for examination by at least eight or nine other marketing/communication/consulting business friends, each who carries some kind of notebook all the time.

My new Moleskine attracts attention with cool graphic!

From the comments I’ve heard, I’ve drawn a few shopper marketing conclusions. First off, Moleskine brand has a definite cache, sort of akin to Apple. I felt my stock rise in a familiar sort of way you can feel but that is hard to explain. Secondly, the product performs beautifully. How the pen and paper interact is essential to those who write notes, it has to be smooth and fast, period. Thirdly, its partnership with Target feels like a perfect fit to even the long-time Moleskine elite. Easy availability is a plus and the colorful collection makes the partnership feel very appropriate for both brands.

As happy as I am with my purchase, it’s hard not to sniff out an opportunity. Which one of the writing brands could pair up a perfect pen with Moleskine at Target for the fashionable bundle that could be sold as a set all year long? Now that I found a great notebook, I’m already worried I’ll never see it again at Target until August of 2012!

In fact, I’m changing my shopping trip for groceries to Target today just so I can try to get another one before they are gone!

FOLLOW UP NOTE – I did go back to Target, and indeed the notebooks I love were sold out. I did, however find and bought a lined Moleskine with a red cover that was marked down from $17.95 to $8.97. In the meantime, Target gained a trip and a basket ring of about $55 that they wouldn’t have otherwise gotten from ShopperAnnie, thanks to the unique, albeit limited product strategy they’re so good at!

All Aboard the Innovation Train!

It matters not if you’re a retailer or manufacturer. At some point, you have to look in the mirror and say it out loud – “how do I get off this destructive price promotion train?”

That mirror reflects fear in the eyes of many as margin-eroding price discounting seems to be the only way to maintain or maybe eke out a point of share growth. We’re worried that new shopping behaviors signal permanent change. But that’s an oxymoron, folks.

The one thing we can count on going forward is more change. So why are we afraid to create some change ourselves? Why do so many companies slow down on innovation when change is the marketplace is inevitable?

Innovators, not fearless by any means, win because they continually strive to to act on cultural inflection points earlier than others. And they seek, through the process of innovation, to be the inspiration or catalyst of change in the marketplace.

I am a proponent of having two trains, and acting like the conductor on the second. If discounting has to be a part of the volume train, so be it. Anybody can ride the caboose and still get somewhere. But to have a high speed innovation train stirring up dust and seeking new tracks to growth is akin to sticking your head out the window and smelling the winds of change amid all that fresh air.

Looking ahead, sniffing out the seeds of change on the track to future growth is not for the faint of heart. But if your goal is any kind of shopper perception and behavior change beyond “hunting for the coupon that’s killing your margins” I suggest a ride on an innovation train is well worth the price of the ticket.

Come on, BE the little engine that could.



A Pouch for the Planet

“The company acknowledges that the home chemistry project of pouring cleaners like Windex into narrow spray bottles and then adding water can be taxing.” (from the Wall Street Journal, Friday July 1, 2011)

S.C. Johnson executive Fisk Johnson is worried that convincing consumers to make this behavior change is going to be hard. He’s talking about using a pouch of super concentrated Windex to refill the spray bottle under the sink. Add water. Done.

It’s not that hard. And if only 20% of us do it, S.C. Johnson can avoid packaging and transporting 6 million pounds of water per year. Not to mention reducing some of the 72 million tons of trash that is generated by containers and packaging in a year, according to U.S. EPA estimates.

Citizens, this is not hard. It should be our privilege to take better care of our planet. And if S.C. Johnson reduces cost and even makes a little more profit from the effort, that should be considered a good thing.

I can tell you this. Despite my loyalty to GreenWorks products from Clorox, (I spearheaded the shopper marketing agency launch team), I will buy and use this Windex refill pouch. I will talk about it openly with my friends and family to prove that this little behavior change that Fisk Johnson is worried about is not that big of a deal. But the results of doing it are a huge deal for our planet. And I will diligently recycle the little plastic pouch as well.

A pouch for the planet. We can do this. It should not have to be regulated or required. We should WANT TO. I want to. Do you?


Your brand has lost our mind. Can it get our hearts?

My friend told me a few weeks back that she somehow spent $7,000 last month on her Amex card. She was rattled by the depth and breadth of her spending, even though it did include a new furnace and some vacation airline tickets. But she paid it and then went back again the next day to Costco for supplies for a trip to her lake home. She’s lucky. She only spent seven minutes thinking about that seven thousand dollars.

Think again about that seven thousand dollars. That is the total amount of discretionary spending that 34.5% of U.S. Households have in a year. Over 50% have less than $10K to spend on non-essential items.

These stats from the 2011 Discretionary Spend Report (from Experian Simmoms) are troublesome for the economy, for retailers and especially for brands that used to command a price premium because they occupied some favored space or status in our minds.

Now, most of the consumer mindspace is crowded with fear. Not brands. And with math formulas that subtract from the weekly food budget the outrageous prices we pay for a freaking tank of gas for the car! And our minds are full of endless marketing, ranting at us to devote lots of time to online shopping before we go shopping because we must, we must, we must seek a discount or coupon for every single purchase we make.

Can you stop and think right now what brands really make a difference in your life when you’re in that crazy space of being on the edge of household poverty after twenty some years of prosperity? How many brands even have a tiny sliver in your mind anymore when all you have for discretionary money is ten grand for a whole year? Think of what Groupon has come to mean in your life. Is it meaningful or is it fearful?

What’s fearful to me is the fact that Groupon is now turning their monstrous machine to supermarkets. Classic brands should be sweating in the heat that is about to crank up to enable any growth, even growth with no margin, as the CPG brands clamor after share of wallet in the most aggressive way.

A surge in the endless round of discounting, some of it even disguised as “shopper marketing” is like getting out more nails to pound in the casket of the concept of classic CPG brands. IF HALF OF THE U.S. HOUSEHOLDS HAVE LESS THAN $10K TO SPEND IN A YEAR ON THINGS THEY WANT, WHAT ELSE SHOULD YOU DO TO ENCOURAGE SHOPPERS TO SAVE A SPACE IN THEIR CLUTTERED, FEARFUL MINDS FOR YOUR BRAND?

Yes, brands could shout. And many do. But who’s listening? Plus, all the shouting is about deals. We run after them like mice on the wheel. So uninspiring.

I want to know which CPG brand is going hire ambassadors at retail to hand out hugs? so many of us need them. They can create just a moment of heartfelt empathy, or caring, of joy. Maybe a few brands won’t jump on the Groupon coupon wagon….. Maybe they’ll capture our hearts, which is really the path to our wallets.

(Note: as I wrote this, I started thinking about Coke’s open happiness campaign. They manage to find great high ground for branding and stick with it. And then the old song came into my head: “things go better with Coca-Cola, things go better with Coke.” I’m no soda drinker but suddenly I’m craving a Coke in a green glass bottle.  It might just feel like a cold, but warm hug that’s worth a couple of bucks.)


Green Bean Casserole. Under-baked at retail.

Don’t get me wrong. I am a loyal Target shopper. But lately, I’ve been seeing some rather troublesome merchandising trends in their stores. This one really stands out in my mind as a miss. In fact, had I not stopped my aisle-by-aisle journey in the food area to say hello to a neighbor, I’d have missed it the intent entirely.

Endcap at Target, April 2011

Take a good look at this photo. It’s an endcap with all the ingredients a shopper needs to make the classic family favorite – Green Bean Casserole, for Passover or Easter. Now, having been in the insights business for so long, I happen to know that shoppers LOVE, LOVE, LOVE to stick with family traditional recipes for holidays. They just aren’t interested in any new-fangled twist on a recipe then. So the good news is the endcap display contains all the right ingredients to deliver on what shoppers want; an easy one stop place to build the recipe right into the cart.

But really, Target, did you have to put Temporary Price Cut visual as the only shopper cue to buy? ( That same signage was on EVERY endcap in food area, sadly enough.) Not even one tantalizing picture of the steaming finished dish to make shoppers imagine the smell and taste the goodness? It should have made your mouth water. Nor any message that reminds the shopper that “this is the path to family joy on the holidays” for goodness sakes, because holiday meals really turn on the love and bonding to brands.

It’s a darn shame no strong brand (such as Campbell) could influence the just-awful price cut header cards. Target has taken over the signage and it ain’t pretty. Do you think they want shoppers to know they beat Walmart on price? Shoppers know it, so hang a nice big ceiling banner and give the emotional, visceral and engaging cue-space back the the brands. Campbell’s Target team knows what to do and how to do it well. Maybe it’s time to foster more collaboration?

And if there is research to support this ‘temporary price cut” merchandising strategy for every single aisle in the grocery section, I want to read it, truly I do. Because this display of discounts only messaging is not profitable for any of the brands that are supporting it. Target shoppers respond differently and in positive ways to the fashionable lifestyle it portrays in most other areas of the store. Why not in food as well? Target could own a differentiated from anyone else point-of-view in food, perhaps.

And while my boys (hubs and son) love classic green bean casserole, I didn’t buy the recipe because I was just so uninspired by the whole experience. I did buy the French’s fried onions, which boys will sprinkle on fresh beans and mushrooms from the farmer’s market.

So Target lost the sale. And I feel like the experience was not at all inspiring, sort of like Walmart was when it was a sea of yellow faces. But Target faces made me mad and sad and will keep me out of their food section for a while.

I’m lusting after a water bottle. Really?

I’m impressed by this winning display merchandising, the product and the story. Water is one of those essential elements that is very visceral, and so pleasing in so many ways.

I learned of BottlesUp a month ago. I adore the website homepage photo. I’ve showed it to about a dozen people. Normally I don’t lust after a new product. But this lovely glass water bottles lives up to all the right expectations. It’s a work of art, innovatively spot-on for shoppers who walk the walk in being both eco-friendly and effortlessly hip. When I found the company on Twitter, I reached out and made the connection. I can’t stop visualizing that water bottle in my hand.  I want the orange one.

Now that we’re connected, I asked for a visit when I’m on my Mother’s Day Road Trip. I’m excited to visit them in Bluffton, SC on May 5th! I can’t wait to hear the business start-up story. And to congratulate Laurel Hertel, artist, innovator and winner of a very nice award at this year’s Housewares Show.


Twitter Delivers Immediately on #SNOMG customer service

On Monday, dreading the impending weather, I called a Kansas City CEO, whom I was to visit Wednesday/Thursday to conduct a re-branding workshop. Aside from myself, an employee of hers was to join us from Minneapolis. A few e-mails later we decided to postpone and the race was on to deal with Delta Airlines.

I jumped on Twitter and posted my question to @DeltaAssist. We’ve chatted before. In less than a minute, I had my answer and was on the website re-booking with no hassle, no re-booking fee, new flights with better seats. Done. Took no more than 4 minutes, start to finish. Nice.

An hour later, an aviation reporter from Bloomberg News is on the line interviewing me on the experience. Good tracking, Ms. Reporter. She found me on my website, which is posted in my Twitter profile. She had also been on my Linked-In page, so she had a good sense I am a frequent traveler. From her I learned Delta has 6 to 8 dedicated folks in a room at peak times just to provide customer service. Not yet 24/7 but moving in the right direction.

Sadly, I did not make the cut on the story.

Today, my husband called me from the loading dock of the Motor City Casino at 4pm, as he pulled in to unload a booth for a trade show. Why they didn’t cancel the show, scheduled for Wednesday morning at the height of the #SNOMG blizzared is another story.

This story is about the phone call I received from my husband, “Mr. non social media” who told me he overheard someone talking about a special snowstorm rate at the hotel, but only offered on Twitter.  I told him “no time like the present” to join Twitter. After that laugh, I jumped on Twitter and requested info from @MotorCityCasino on how to book it. In less than two minutes I had a link and one minute later I had the room reserved and “texted” him the confirmation number. Done. Took no more than 4 minutes, start to finish. Awesome.

Twitter rocks as a platform for customer service for those companies who invest in it. It is helping companies deliver a shopper solution that is fast and easy and worthy of a conversation to say Thanks. To Delta, To Motor City Casino. You get it and it showed in the #SNOMG Blizzard of 2011.

Martha Stewart drops a hint…

…about her future with free-standing retail. Let’s face it, she’d be crazy not to at least give it a try. She knows how to deliver a decent brand experience and cater to shopper fussiness, and she’ll get the footsteps in the store.

Side note,  she is taking on the iPad screen with Martha Stewart Living coming up in November! If you like to bake cookies, this is your issue!

Shopper Question: Why Out of Stocks?

ShopperAnnie, for one, was questioning the scene at the shelf. Vitamin Water, $1 each. All of the Vitamin Water Zero is gone. Asking the floor staff doesn’t work to get more stock on the floor ASAP on this busy Saturday afternoon.

I question why this is happening, when data is readily available to solve it. Shopper profiles for the store should enable both retailer and manufacturer to work on a solution that does more to meet the shopper’s trip needs. The effectiveness of the $1 offer cannot be measured accurately when shelves are empty.

I think the brand positioning for VWZero is clearly reflective of shopper segments for Target.  I hope the parties are talking, it would be an easy win for them both, and would get a jump on fixing an old industry problem. Out of stocks are just not shopper friendly. Ever.

And I want to buy Vitamin Water Zero. It’s a darn good beverage! Especially at $1.