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Centuries to Decompose

Posted by: Rob  :  Category: Nice and Green, Packaging

Amazing if you think about it. All of the plastic that exists in our lives: the plastic on your dashboard; in your kids toys; the shell containing your food processor…all of it will be here long after we’re gone, long after our kids are gone, long after our great grand kids are gone, and probably long after Keith Richards is gone. George Carlin made a joke about how a million years from now, when human beings are extinct, all that will be left to show we ever existed will be plastic tupperware. What a legacy.

Plastic came along during in the 1860′s when the demand for ivory-made pool balls pressured manufacturers to supply them, but this required killing large amounts of elephants in order to obtain their tusks. As an alternative, scientist John Wesley Hyatt created celluloid, one of the first thermoplastics that could be melted and molded to form thousands of shapes. Fast forward a hundred years, and we have thousands of different kinds of plastic materials that are increasingly omnipresent.

But as useful and ingenious as plastic has been over the decades, there is a flip side of the coin. Manufacturing plastic is resource-intensive and yields various destructive emissions that contribute to global warming and degradation of water quality. It’s made from non-renewable resources, and for the most part, it never biodegrades. Add to this the growing suspicion that plastic use may lead to serious health problems, there is a fierce urgency to find an alternative.

Interesting technologies to watch for

The emergence of “green polymers” or synthetic biodegradable resins -plastic produced from biological sources like vegetable oil, pea starch, or interestingly enough: bacteria, is changing the playing field. Consequentially some of these plastics can break down in as little as 12 weeks if surrounded with aerobic conditions (water and microbes). These plastics can be seen in both rigid and flexible packaging vehicles and can also be renewable if required.

Another interesting biopolymer is Polylactic acid or PLA which is being manufactured by Natureworks. PLA is derived from corn or sugarcane. I had the opportunity to design some packaging with Pacific Coast Feather (view here) who used Natureworks corn-fiber technology to synthesize bedding fill. What was fascinating about the compound was that it maintained the physical characteristics of natural fills and polyester synthetics but with superior performance. PLA is biodegradable as well as renewable.

Predictably, the big kicker is cost. Over time the production costs have lowered and will continue to lower as the technology proliferates. But sadly, North America lags behind the curve in regards to embracing this technology because it tends to be more expensive. It will be interesting to see with rising oil costs, if these bio technologies can compete with petroleum based polymers purely on price.

Gary Hoover Keynote Address

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

Yesterday, I had the privilege of hearing Gary Hoover present a keynote address about keys to running successful enterprises. He spoke at the same speed his brain was processing information – very quickly! Because of his vast knowledge of companies, markets and leaders, he held my attention every word of the way. Perhaps his thought and speaking process didn’t allow for the wandering mind, or maybe his enthusiasm for the topic was contagious!

Gary was interested in retailing from an early age and became a pioneer in the book superstore concept – starting BOOKSTOP at age 30, a company later sold to Barnes and Noble for over $40 million. He followed this company with the Reference Press, a business information publisher that evolved into Hoovers, Inc.

He now has over 100 business concepts on paper, a list which he maintains and talks about in his speech. I actually got to ask him why/how he narrows down this long list to one or two to pursue. First and foremost, he said, “I have to pursue a concept that I feel passionate about.” But his second screening process is asking people what they think of his ideas. He said that he constantly asks people sitting next to him on planes, “What do you think about ‘so and so’?”  And though he realizes that not all consumers are visionaries like him, he still recognizes and believes that companies ultimately serve the customers – thus, it’s vital to ask them their opinions before launching a new company, product or service.

I was vindicated by his answer, as I am constantly speaking and writing about the importance of listening to the customer. And it doesn’t always costs thousands of dollars to carry out an extensive research project. Sometimes the answer is sitting next to you on the plane.

The Three Corners

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

For those of you who have travelled extensively or even lived overseas, the varying lifestyles, interests, opinions and values are glaringly apparently. What’s less obvious, perhaps, are the cultural differences that exist among different regions within the United States.

I have enjoyed living in three dramatically different areas of the country – the South, Northeast and Northwest. Even when I lived in the former two, my friends and colleagues told me I belonged in the latter. Now I know why.

The South has many memorable attributes, some less obvious than others. I am still painfully aware of the accent that characterizes the region and the people who speak with a twang that’s noticed wherever you go. The South tends to run at a slower pace, people are more obsessed with college sports, and there’s a lot more butter and cream in the dishes you’ll eat (explains why I weighed more when I lived there).  The iced tea tastes better and, of course, you’ll never find friendliness and hospitality like that which you’ll receive south of the Mason Dixon line.

The Northeast really does move at a dramatically faster pace than elsewhere, and if you don’t get out the way, someone will either break line in front of you or honk until you move. You can expect for someone to speak to you directly – a quality I’ve grown to appreciate after I got past the initial shock to my system (though I cried the first time someone yelled at me for not picking up my dog’s poop, I have since grown much thicker skin). The exterior shell of Northeasterners is tougher to break, but after you do, you’ll have lasting and meaningful friendships.

In the Northwest, you’ll find a true love and appreciation for the outdoors. The lifestyle tends to be healthier, from exercise to eating habits. I have laid witness to a great respect for environmental and social responsibility, and yes, there is a wealth of liberal-minded Democrats supporting such principles. People truly do understand and embrace technology (the Microsoft influence perhaps!). Despite the laid back dispositions, I still find a strong will to succeed that lies beneath the surface.

As businesspeople, we make assumptions about consumers and their interests, desires and preferences. If we live in one corner of the States, we assume that someone in the other corner feels similarly. Seattleites think that everyone understands what Wi-fi, routers and operating systems mean. A girl from Nashville doesn’t appreciate the value of wool in the wardrobe (believe me, I’ve been there). And Bostonians will not likely appreciate the rivalry between Tennessee and Alabama on a beautiful Fall Saturday.

There are underlying circumstances which shape our belief systems and lifestyles – from the weather to the traffic to the size of our homes. It’s important to tap into these variances as you roll out product launches and/or launch new services. Reaching out to other individuals and listening to what they have to say might make a meaningful difference in keeping your customers happy.

Regional Tastes

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

For some women, nothing surpasses the thrill of a shiny, large rock lavishly sitting on the finger or dangling from the ears. For others, a pair of shoes rarely meets its match (at least in the case of Carrie Bradshaw). Maybe it’s a Kate Spade purse or a shiny new sports car, but for me it’s something altogether different. I recently visited the state of my college alma mater – North Carolina – and was so excited when I walked down the aisle of the local Harris Teeter on my first night “home.” Suddenly, like a shiny stone in the window of the jewelry store, there sat a huge supply of fresh, green okra.

For those of you perplexed by my infatuation, it is likely you share the sentiment with others who live geographically close to you. I rarely find okra in Seattle or Boise; and on those rare occasions when I do, I buy the store’s entire supply. Even still, the cash register attendant usually asks, “Mam. What is that?” As a back-up plan, I have tried to grow my own okra in Boston, Seattle and Boise – at no avail (of course I’m trying again this summer and will keep you posted of any success). Whether produce is grown in California or Florida, suppliers send fruits and vegetables to the areas of the country where consumers will actually buy it. They know their consumers’ tastes and distribute accordingly.

Another example of varied regional tastes is micro-brewed or craft beer. When I visit friends and family south of the Mason Dixon line, they don’t understand I don’t want to belly up to the bar and order a Michelob Ultra or Coors Light. While the South seems more attached to lighter beer varieties, the Northwest and Northeast regions of the country are overflowing with IPAs, Amber Ales, Stouts and Porters. With craft beer sales outpacing those of regular beer (18-2% in 2007!), it is little wonder Anheuser-Busch is developing products like its Shock Top Belgian White to attract the beer drinker with a more sophisticated palate.

Similarly, Starbucks adapts its menu to local tastes around the country. For example, in New Orleans, the company offers a Café Au Lait, a beverage that has a rich tradition in the area. There’s no need to add this product to the line-up in Seattle, where a triple shot non-fat soy milk latte is preferred.  There’s a more extensive dessert line-up in Atlanta and coffee cakes featured in Boston, again to please the local palate. And speaking of Boston, what about Starbucks’ formidable competitor, Dunkin Donuts? The weaker, sweeter alternative mimics the area’s love for ice cream. (Have you seen a Dunkin Donut employee adding as much sugar and milk to a cup as coffee?)

Kraft has recently changed the formulation and even the appearance of America’s #1 cookie – the Oreo – to sell more biscuits to its Chinese consumer base. And it’s working. Chinese prefer a less sweet taste and a lower price point, so Kraft tweaked the recipe and reduced the package size to sell a new Oreo with four layers of crispy wafer filled with vanilla and chocolate cream. With adaptation to regional tastes, Oreo has now gained the #1 market share in China.

 

 

  

 

 

 

You see, the palate varies by regions of the country and the world – and it doesn’t stop at food preferences. Strategic marketers know when to alter the product to please the discrimating tastes of their target audience. And though High Dive employees prefer hearty beer and a strong cup of Joe, we’ll be happy to delve into your customer’s interests, preferences and habits – so that you can adjust your product as desired by those you aim to please.

 

 

 

 

 

And the Winner is….2nd Place!

Posted by: Brian  :  Category: Marketing

“Winning isn’t everything, but the will to win is everything,” stated Vince Lombardi. In the game of life, we are often taught that being number one is of the utmost importance. Well, I am here to tell you that sometimes coming in second isn’t so bad. Some of the most famous people, teams and businesses have spent their tenure in second place but have done quite well in doing so. What follows is a list of some of the most famous second place finishers, and in some cases worse, in fields such as politics, sports, music and business.

AVIS

This company has thrived on their number two market share position. With a slogan, “We Try Harder,” they are conceding they aren’t as big as Hertz. They don’t have fancy die-cut key chains in the shape of a “#1,” but they can tell you their service is far superior. For those of you who have rented from both agencies, I think you will agree that they do try harder despite being #2.

Al Gore

Al ran for president in 1988 and lost. He was then 2nd place (aka Vice President) from 1993 to 2001 with Bill Clinton. When he ran for President as the Democratic nominee in 2000, he lost to George W. Bush.  A life filled with second place finishes?  Not so fast. After putting his Presidential campaigns behind him, he went on to win the Nobel Peace Prize in 2007. The award was given for “efforts to build up and disseminate greater knowledge about man-made climate change, and to lay the foundations for the measures that are needed to counteract such change.”  How about that for a turn of events?

Clay Aiken

Remember him? Those who watch American Idol religiously do. After achieving a second place finish, Clay went on to release his first album which sold over 613,000 copies in its first week. Ruben Stoddard, the first place finisher that season, sold just 400,000 copies in the first week following his first release. Aiken’s album went on to become a multi-platinum hit. He is still a prominent recording artist who continues to reinvent himself on Broadway and other venues. Where is Ruben? Who knows. Sometimes the underdog comes out ahead.

Iraq Soccer Team

It seems as though the story of the 2004 Summer Olympic Games was the Iraq National Soccer Team. Given the state of Iraq in 2004, no one expected their team to even qualify for the Olympics. Not only did they qualify, but they turned some heads once they showed up in Greece. With wins over Portugal, Costa Rica and Australia, no one expected Iraq to earn a 4th place finish. The team’s determination, courage and audacity are still remembered by many who watched the 2004 Olympics – despite the fact that they didn’t even earn a medal.

Jamaican Bobsled Team

Who would have thought Jamaica could produce a bobsled team, let alone one that was competitive? On an island where the average low in the winter is 67 degrees F, they took advantage of what they had an abundance of – sprinters. By utilizing speed, they were confident that they could be competitive. Sure enough, they have been competitive in all appearances in the Olympics. Their 1988 team plagued with bad luck became the inspiration of a major motion Disney picture called, “Cool Runnings.” While they still have never won an Olympic gold medal, they are well known by many.

 

So while these stories aren’t intended to justify a non-level playing field, they are intended to show you that if done appropriately, embracing a second place finish can lead to even more success and recognition than first place. As always, being ethical is of the utmost importance. Jan Ullrich religiously came in second place behind Lance Armstrong, but his illegal attempts to garner a first place victory ultimately tarnished his name and destroyed his professional cycling career. Same goes for Tonya Harding in the professional ice skating world. Her embarrassing attempt to overthrow Nancy Kerrigan earned her a position in the Hall of Shame. With that said, those who do make the honest and ethical attempt to embrace their underdog status tend to win in the long run, and in many instances, are better known than the team or business that came in first place.

Do you remember who won the four-man bobsled gold medal in 1988? Probably not. Do you remember the first ever Jamaican bobsled team? My guess is yes. Point and case.

The Name Game

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing
What is your favorite company or product name? What makes it memorable, interesting or likeable? I have always had a bizarre interest in creating goofy names for people and things. Years ago, I named my dog Bonnie “the Bonz,” because Happy Days was the most popular show on TV during much of her lifetime. Our Jack Russell Terrier quickly got crowned the “Heat Mama” because her cold-natured ways have led to countless hours in front of the heating vent. And when I was trying to get my husband to chew with his mouth closed one evening at dinner, I coined the term “Smackagawea” to replace nagging with humor (it’s true, those Southern roots never die).Now I have a talented team and more sophisticated techniques (I promise!) for creating company and product names. Ideation is one of our favorite client tasks, and we are always exploring new and different ways to create the perfect name. Though the ah-ha moment can often take place outside of work hours – on the mountain bike trail, on a jog, or in the middle of the night after awakening from a dream (or in my case, from the dog peeing on the floor again) – name ideation is definitely more of an art than a science.

Before embarking on a name ideation, however, it’s imperative to lay a little groundwork. A company or product name must be consistent with its brand heritage and/or positioning. Moreover, names should be examined within the context of the competition so that they stand out in the crowd. Names should jive with a tagline, and be able to pass the beloved trademark test. There are many things to consider from a strategic perspective before diving into ideation techniques and name types.

There are many types of names, and one of the safest categories is a descriptive or functional one. For example, HTC recently selected the name Tilt for one of its Smartphones, because the QWERTY keyboard tilts like a laptop. Oprah names her show and magazine by her powerful brand name to make an immediate connection with her fans. These names are often safe, but can be tricky if the descriptive word – which can’t be trademarked – is used by companies in multiple industries. In Boise alone, there are 57 businesses that begin with the adjective “Advanced” – ranging from hardwood floors to movers to hair design to specialty care for women.

Invented names gained popularity during the dot com era because they were fresh and unique (not to mention, it was easy to grab that URL and pass the legal test). I personally like names like Amazon and Google; they are fun to say and easy to remember. I also happen to be a fan of invented names with Greek and Latin roots (perhaps to credit those two long years of Latin in junior high school). Did you know that Xerox was named for its dry copying, and the XER means “dry” in Greek? Sony named from the Latin word “sonus” meaning sound.

Experiential names are similar to descriptive ones in that they are easy to understand and need little explanation. However, they lend themselves to multiple industries and can subsequently be less “ownable.” Internet Explorer is not trademarked for a reason. Ford wanted it to depict a similar experience in a not so similar context. Marriott and Mercury use the term Marquis to build upon luxury surroundings.

Evocative or symbolic names can be unique and aspirational. For example, IceBreaker’s name connotes strength and a closeness to nature, and the company manufactures high quality products that are uniquely merchandised (and incredibly expensive!). Even if Steve Jobs in part picked the name Apple because a fondness for the Beatles’ record label, it effectively differentiated the company’s products from more corporate entities (e.g., IBM) and more business-oriented use.

Names are fun to invent, and a challenge we like to conquer. So whether you need a Moosejaw, Haagen-Dazs (which is a made up name contrary to popular belief) or Patagonia, we want to help you create a name that will resonate with your customers and stick in their minds for years to come.

 

 
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Political Messages

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

On the Saturday morning prior to Super Tuesday, I and 13,000 other individuals waited in a very long line in 15 degree weather to hear Barack Obama speak. For an 8:30 a.m. rally (indoors, thank goodness), I was impressed by the enthusiasm and dedication of those that showed. And that included my four year old and many other kids decked out in “jammies.”  

Even if you’re not a Barack fan, I think you’d agree that he is an eloquent and inspiring speaker. Not only did he effectively deliver key messages that represented his core beliefs in leading the nation, but he embraced the “underdog” aura that resonated with all the Boise State fans. He spoke for nearly an hour without looking at notes a single time, and got the crowd screaming louder than what you’d hear at a football game.

As soon as he left Idaho, he travelled to Minneapolis (and Missouri, all in the same day!) to speak in front of another huge, enthusiastic group. My husband happened to see a clip on CNN of the rally at Target Center. His comment was: “The speech sounded the same as the one in Boise, with the exception of a few sound bites that were region specific. I was secretly hoping his talk would be a little different in Minneapolis.” And to that comment, I combated: “Well, hopefully his beliefs and philosophies didn’t change in the hour flight to Minnesota.” Otherwise, we might have a flopper on our hands.

In truth, Barack is doing what I preach at High Dive. He’s the same person with the same views whether he’s speaking in Idaho or New Jersey or Boston. But he is going to throw in Boise State, Giants, and Patriots inferences depending on where he is standing on the podium. Even his web site, the emails I now receive, and the commercials I have (finally) seen on TV – they consistently come back to the same messages that he wants to deliver to citizens across the country. Though the mediums vary and the verbiage adjusts accordingly, the themes – the look, the feel, the spirit- runs consistent throughout.

In the same way, businesses should take the same key selling point – whether selling to a CFO or a COO, a consumer or a business – and then add “sound bites” to make them relevant to a specific target audience.  Your software or phone doesn’t do a 360 degree transformation as it changes hands from user to user (albeit the user may embrace different product features).  Knowing more about your target audience – whether they live in a warm or cold climate, whether they are tech savvy or technologically deficient, whether they pulled for the Patriots or the Giants -is the secret sauce for fine tuning your overall message. But those key selling points should scream consistency across TV, direct mail, PR or magazines.

So even if Obama isn’t your man, he does a great job of living the truths of politics – and marketing.  I certainly learned a thing or two.

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Running Shoes

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

The marketing of a consumer product can be a tricky business at times, especially in a category with little loyalty (e.g., cereal). A category in which marketing rarely if ever influences me is running shoes. How many of you run? What influences your decision to buy your running shoes? Is it because of a TV ad you just saw or a coupon in the newspaper? Not that there’s anything wrong with buying a pair of shoes on sale, but I for one rarely buy running shoes because of an ad or promotion.

Perhaps I’m too paranoid of getting injured, or because I run longer distances than the average runner. But I am pretty religious about buying a running shoe that an “expert” tells me is well suited for my body type and running style. There are some terrific stores that help a person do this. In particular, in Boston, there’s a shop called Marathon Sports where the staff knows more about running than I ever could. They watch you run on a treadmill then offer a number of recommendations for you in the way of footwear.

Another shop renown for this is Super Jock N Jill in Seattle. Reps from running companies actually come to here for advice on what types of shoes to make for runners. There are even a few shops that do this in Boise, so I guess we have our new, effective marketing tactic right in front of us  - hands on expertise in the retail environment.

So I am perplexed by an article that ran in the WSJ the other day, announcing that New Balance is about to double their marketing budget to run TV advertisements for the first time in their history. Did you realize that little known New Balance, a Boston company, sells the second most running shoes in America behind Nike? Compare those marketing budgets!  The article said that New Balance makes a lot of unusual sizes, and this itself garners sales and customer loyalty. Their products are good ones, but even I am surprised they are such a large manufacturer. So why would they bother to double their marketing budget to run ads? Will ads sell more shoes for them? Will they catch Nike? Or are they simply looking backwards to make sure Adidas, Asics and others don’t catch them?

Hum, only time will tell. But no matter how good those ads are, they won’t get me to leave my Asics. Unless I get injured of course.

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The Best Damn Okra Period

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Food for Thought

First of all, you have to start with fresh okra. If you take your knife and try to chop through a rigid, tough piece, throw it out. It tastes bad (this is what happened to my entire garden supply last summer).

Next cut into bite sized pieces (about 1/4′-1/2″).

Put in a skillet and add olive oil to coat plus salt to taste.

Cook on medium low heat for about 10 minutes.

Wala! It is fantastic.

Also, if you want to mimic the look and feel of deep friend Southern  okra, throw a little flour and corn meal on top of the okra while it’s cooking (or even coat it beforehand in a bowl). It all tastes good, any way you go at it.

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Singing the Right Tune

Posted by: Melinda  :  Category: Marketing

Do you have friends in low places? Would you name a boy Sue? Do you think a tractor is sexy? If the phone doesn’t ring, is it me? Though my Tennessee roots breed affection for country music, I’ll bet you may have recognized a twang or two yourself. After all, Garth Brooks, Johnny Cash, Kenny Chesney, and Toby Keith didn’t make millions all by their lonesome.

Over the years, country music has been notorious for black hats, cowboy boots and rhinestones. Recently, the melody has evolved to become more mainstream and “poppy,” but the lyrics have held true to their country core. The words – or messages – continue to be entertaining, amusing and above all, quite memorable. The words are the rack on which country music hangs its proverbial hat.

I’ll bet if you think back over the years, you remember jingles like “When you say Bud, you’ve said it all”
 or “I’d like to teach the world to sing in perfect harmony.” There are memorable taglines as well. Just Do It or Don’t Squeeze the Charmin will likely stand the test of time. It’s true that multimillion dollar ad budgets have implanted these lines firmly in our brains; but if the words weren’t good in the first place, those expenditures would have been all for naught. Even company names go a long way towards building an image that’s lasting, memorable and different. Take In-n-Out, for example. Is the popularity of this burger joint driven more by the catchy name or delicious double-double?

Words, names, taglines and lyrics are certainly strengthened by the product that stands behind it. Additionally, company names are built to last if sitting alongside a logo that stands out from the crowd. But the word – the message – is where the identity comes to life. The consistency of the message through various mediums strengthens it further. The lyrics set the stage for the genre of music you about to hear.

Companies can miss out on the significance of messaging. Technology companies, in particular, often speak in a language that the average Joe rarely understands. Folks who are highly technologically savvy fail to realize that the majority of us simply don’t understand what most technological terms mean. Moderating focus groups or conducting interviews often yields similar consumer feedback – simpler is better. If your language is complex and wordy, how can a consumer possibly recognize the benefits of a product or service? If you identify key benefits, explain them so they are meaningful to your target audience, and then repeat them over and over – in a brochure, on a package, in sales training materials – your target audience is much more likely to listen. 

A picture may speak a thousand words, but I say the words speak for themselves. Before you launch a brand, product or service, let us help you think before speaking. We can create a lasting message or memorable name, test it among those whom you wish to listen, and refine it to perfection. So take a tip from Willie (and High Dive). Keep your message “always on their minds,” and your customers are more likely to try and buy and stay loyal for life.

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