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Something wonderful

December 17, 2011


The real joys of the season are not to be found at Best Buy and Amazon. They are in the random acts of kindness or merriment we see along the way.

Every year, we jump into overdrive in the weeks after thanksgiving, shopping like crazy for family and friends, trying to beat the lines, get the perfect gifts, the deals, and get it all done. Sometimes to the point that  we’re stressed, exhausted,  and overwhelmed.

Then something wonderful happens.

Something that makes you stop and smile. Like walking up 5th avenue, and seeing two random guys take the microphone from a Salvation Army volunteer, and start singing Christmas carols in harmony. Or giving something away you don’t need, to someone who does. Saying ‘yes’ to the people asking for money- and giving more than they asked for. Giving back, in random ways, gives you more than you can ever imagine.

On the news this morning, there was a story about a ‘secret Santa’ who’s traveling around the country paying off people’s Christmas layaway plans at Kmart and Toys-R-us, especially the ones that had late payments or would be forfeited due to a lack of payments. When one woman encountered her benefactor, and cried in joy, ‘what can I do for you?’, he said, ‘just do the same for someone else’.  Is this a single benefactor? Is it a movement? Who knows? It doesn’t matter. It’s just wonderful. In a time of such high unemployment, such struggle with so many things in the world, and people just trying to get by and create some delight for their family, this story is an inspiration.

Let’s do more of that.

Do something wonderful.

Coca Cola goes awry (for a good cause)

December 8, 2011


The marketers at Coca Cola seem to have forgotten one of the simplest principles of branding, with the recent “Save the Polar Bear” campaign.

Coca Cola's Save the Polar Bear Campaign

Coca Cola's new can creates a controversy for confused consumers

Shoppers are visual. Our recognition of products is registered in the milliseconds we spend scanning the shelves for what we want. We do not stop to read or examine the things we buy often. We look for what’s familiar, pick it up, and go.

That’s exactly how I ended up drinking about 75 calories worth of a regular coke at lunch, before I got suspicious about the strange taste, looked more closely, and realized the word “diet” was missing. Turns out, lots of people had the same experience. According to the Wall Street Journal, Coca Cola’s response was that the white cans were distinctively different from the silver diet cans.

“Coke says it hasn’t tweaked the taste of its cola and that protecting polar bears is a worthwhile initiative. It recently added a “fact sheet” on its website highlighting how white Coke cans are distinct from silver Diet Coke cans. Among the differences: Regular Coke is labeled “Coca-Cola” and states the calories at the front of the can, while Diet Coke’s holiday can—silver as always—is labeled “Diet Coke” and features snowflakes.”  – WSL 12.1.11

Let’s just agree that saving the polar bears is a right and good thing. But Coca Cola, changing the brand identity is confusing and distressing for consumers who feel duped, or annoyed at drinking needless calories. I’d like to have believed after the New Coke flub of 1985, they would have the institutional memory to be cautious about changing the brand too dramatically. Sadly, no.

Coca Cola has a website, Coca Cola Artic Home, dedicated to the Polar Bears, replete with geo-trackers, so you can choose a “virtual parcel” to donate to. It’s a lovely effort, and Coca Cola should be celebrated. But, folks, how did they  lose sight of the fact that the people who buy coke and diet coke would be confused? The white can they designed to celebrate the polar bears looks almost identical to the silver diet can.  The explanation that the silver is distinct is a clear case of snow-blindness. Perhaps they were too deep in the the artic blizzard to see it.

Tropicana did something similar a few years ago- they decided the brand was looking stale, so they updated the carton so dramatically that it was unrecognizable. They thought it should be more modern, clean, and elegant. The result was so clean that it looked like a generic. And those of us who were Tropicana customers walked right by it looking for the carton with the orange on it. Major brand flub.

There’s been huge consumer uproar about the white can, and Coca Cola has responded by saying that the red cans will be back on the shelves by Christmas.

A brand marketing guy I used to work with used to say, “Fall on your face, not on your ass”, to encourage risk taking on big ideas. I’m not sure which way Coca Cola fell on this one, but it appears that the lesson is learned. At least for now.

Oh, the things you can buy

November 30, 2011


Did you know you could buy paper towels on Bottled water? Laundry detergent? I do now. My sister showed me the mom’s club, where you can subscribe for automatic replenishment to get discounts on things like diapers or laundry detergent. She buys everything online- diapers, cleaning products, hair products- the works. And with free shipping, why not save the trip?

subscriptions for savings

Subscribe to the mom's club on for savings on replenishment products

Until now, I haven’t had much interest in buying groceries online. I dabbled with it during the initial launch of all the online grocer sites, years ago. I couldn’t stand the waste involved with all of the packaging: the laundry detergent came wrapped tightly in cellophane, sunk into a huge box four times it’s size, with loads of those foam peanuts. I ordered two grocery bags worth of stuff, and had enough recycling and garbage to make the garage look like the week after Christmas. Not to mention the size issue. I had never paid much attention to the number of ounces in the average cereal or cracker box- so I ended up with sizes ranging from Brooklyn-corner-store-tiny, to Costco sized gigantic, feed-a-family-of-eight sizes.

But now that I’m commuting again, leaving at 7 and returning after 7, online shopping has a much bigger appeal. I just don’t have enough time to do it all on the weekend.

Last weekend, my sister introduced me to,– and its associated sites, including Four sites, with a shared cart. Lots of introductory offers, and premium, free 2-day shipping for first time orders. Yesterday I ordered a 35 pound bag of dog food, a 25 pound box of cat litter, a mega-12-pack of paper towels, various organic food items and method soaps, paid nothing for shipping, and it’s all coming tomorrow. Saving the rush trips to store before the weekend is like a gift. Amazon actually owns those sites, too-having acquired the parent company, Quidsi, Inc, for $500 million back in March, but keeps the branding unique and the web design is beautiful. The sites are clean, elegant, and shopper friendly. homepage with recent orders remembers what I ordered, and makes it easy to re-order- right from the homepage.

I never thought I’d want to buy paper towels on Amazon. But times have changed. I need easy, now. And getting big, heavy things I need delivered to my door is very, very easy. I’m a convert.

Are you shopping for groceries online? Let me know where you shop, and what you think about the experience.

Worth the read.

November 19, 2011


Retail has become very messy.

It has become a myriad of discounts and ‘exclusive’ events, like the Friends and Family sale, flash sales, sales upon sales, upon sales. I’ve actually started to unsubscribe. The clutter is getting overwhelming, even for me- an inveterate web shopper.

Shoppers are having a field day, now that the entire universe of retail is like one big one-day sale. Want a new pair of pants? There’s a sale for that. New shoes? Wait for the sale. New camera or TV? Just wait for the deals. No one has to pay full price for anything anymore (except maybe orthodontia).

Which is why it is such a delight to see messages from retailers that actually say something. Some good old-fashioned, cogent brand-advertising; something that is actually worth the read. I got one of these today.

It’s an email from Brooks Brothers. What I like about it is that it’s not an in-your-face ‘buy our cashmere because it’s great quality’- pretty much what everyone says. Yes, of course, the ad explains why the cashmere is wonderful. But it draws you in with such a surprising headline, that you actually want to read on. The headline reads:

“The secret to your favorite cashmere sweater and your favorite scotch is the same. It’s in the water.”

It goes on to say,

“What will make our cashmere sweater your favorite? There’s no magic about it– it merely took generations of families on a special riverbank hundreds of years to perfect.”

Oh, is that all. Now they have me engaged. Generations of families? Hundreds of years? A riverbank? It’s starting to sound like an interesting story. Read on- I’ve included the entire email below. Let me know what you think.

Brooks Brothers email 11.19.11

Email from Brooks Brothers. Gets your attention in a way most don't anymore.

Celebrate simplicity

October 26, 2011


When I think about the websites I enjoy shopping, they all have one thing in common: simplicity. And by that, I do not mean a paucity of options, detail or content.  I mean a well-curated, carefully edited navigation, content that is clearly organized and merchandised, links that are clear about where they are going, and steps that simply make intuitive sense. These are the kind of sites that are a pleasure to shop- whether you are a power-shopper, like me, or a less experienced shopper who’s not yet quite comfortable shopping online.

For newer websites, it’s about understanding what constitutes a good experience and building it that way.

For those that have been around for a while, it’s about evaluating the site from a holistic perspective, to clearly see the disconnects, redundancy or sub-optimal organization that can result from incremental changes over time: the implementation of new pages, new categories, and new additions to navigation; the older pages with out-of-date content, broken links and functionality; copy or design that seems antiquated. Yeah. It can get messy.

It’s hard. But you’ll always be behind if you don’t deal with it. Keeping it simple requires vigilance and devotion. A constant watch guard on the shopper’s experience. So how do you do it without loads of time and resources?

  1. Shop your own website all the time.
  2. Do it now. Repeat every week.
  3. Don’t just look at what’s new.
  4. Start from the beginning and follow the path all the way through checkout.
  5. You’ll be surprised at the things you notice- keep a list.
  6. Get everyone in the company in on it.
  7. See what your customer sees: try for a quick read.
  8. Start fixing things, one thing at a time.

Don’t have the time? It’s all about priorities.  This won’t necessarily make the top of your list. That’s okay. Just think of it as maintenance- like putting oil in your car. If you don’t do it, the car will stop running well. By refining the shopping experience now, you are making a choice that will lead towards better conversion, a happier customer, and a strong foundation on which to do more of the fun and remarkable things that add buzz-factor to your brand. But you need the car to keep running. You don’t have to stop everything else to do it. Do yourself, and your customers a favor. Just get it started.

Navigation: love it, or lose her.

October 22, 2011


Here’s how I think about it. In a store, a customer walks in, scans the floor and either spots something she’s interested in or looking for, or loses interest and walks out. Online, it’s the same thing- except there’s no friendly associate at the door to ask if she can help. Online, you have just a few seconds to show a customer you have what she wants, or needs- or she’ll be off to Google before you can say, “live chat”.

Online it’s all about choices. We need to provide pathways for different kinds of shoppers: most notably, the navigator, the searcher, and the browser. And these are not necessarily different people. They are moments in time, based on mood, based on need- based on urgency, or any number of other factors. The point is, she needs options. There are 3 key ways to show your customer you get it.

  1. Navigation: keep it clear, simple, and intuitive. Use nomenclature and sequencing that makes sense to the customer (avoid merchant-talk, and put things where they make sense- not in the order in which you’d like to sell them).
  2. Search: make it prominent and productive. Make sure synonyms and misspellings work. Make sure she can shop by size. Study the logs of frequent searches, so you can continually improve your results sets.
  3. Content: inspire her. Give her ideas. Share a point of view. Show her something she didn’t know you had. Or that she wanted. But for the browsing shopper, her wallet is out. All you need to do is to give her a reason to buy.

A note on gender: I use “her” for convenience rather than the annoying he/she or the persistent third person… sorry if I’ve offended any guys out there.

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