ImageFah who for-aze! Dah who dor-aze! Welcome Christmas, bring your cheer…

For every Who down in Who-ville, Christmas was going to get worse before getting better. As in Who-ville, we may have our own Grinch to deal with:

With the 2013 holiday season of 25 days a short one (compared to 2012 where there was 31 days between Black Friday and Christmas), the bitter taste of the 16 day government shutdown and a temporary budget deal that will only hold the nation over until February 7, the Consumer Confidence Index (CCI) isn’t expected to be a strong one this year.   And with all of this coming shortly after a lackluster Back-to-School season where sales missed Wall Street expectations, things aren’t boding well for the retail industry.

Last year:

According to the NRF’s recently published Survival Guide, the retail bread winners for 2012 were the Jewelry sector for racking up the highest percentage of annual sales (29%) during the holiday season and Food & Beverage sector which brought in the most (over $110 million) in sales during the same two months.

This year:

NRF predicted (pre-shutdown) holiday sales to increase 3.9%, and Shop.org (also pre-shutdown) estimated online sales to increase 13-15% over 2012 figures.

The LA Times reported mid-shutdown:

In a public letter to Congress on Oct. 9, National Retail Federation Chief Executive Matthew Shay said the government shutdown had had far-reaching consequences for retailers, adding that “only the collapse of Lehman Brothers … has done more damage to consumer confidence in such a short period of time.”

After the shutdown ended, Luke Duecy of komonews.com reported NRF’s holiday sales estimates dropped to -2% from 2012 on gifts and decorations — yes, that’s negative 2%. So what does this mean for retailers?

Shop.org seems to have the most thorough analysis so far, with these 6 takeaways from a recent survey:

  • Consumer sentiment is wavering…
    U.S. consumers continue to be concerned about the state of the economy, with half indicating that this uncertainty will impact their holiday spending plans. These shoppers expect to spend less overall, shop for sales, comparison shop, and use coupons more often, among other measures. Almost three out of five women say that they focus more on what they need versus what they want, while half note that they have become more practical and realistic in their purchases. Retailer messages communicating value, quality and other key product attributes will resonate well with consumers looking to stretch their holiday budgets.
  • …But holiday shopping is off to an early start.
    More than 40 percent of holiday shoppers surveyed said they started their shopping in October or even earlier this year. Two-thirds of online holiday shoppers who started early did so to spread out their budget. Another half want to avoid the stress of last-minute shopping and the crowds that come later in the season. Many have attributed this to seeing prices and promotions earlier, with more than two out of five noting that these offers have been “too good to pass up.”
  • Online holiday shoppers expect to spend 20 percent more than other holiday shoppers…
    Online shoppers expect to spend a net average $884.55 on gifts, decorations, food and more this holiday season, compared with an average $737.95 among all holiday shoppers. And those who own smartphones and tablets will use them to research products, compare prices, look up retailer information, redeem coupons – and actually buy.
  • …And “self-gifting” is on the list again.
    Online holiday shoppers anticipate spending an additional net average of $159.73 on themselves as well, so retailers shouldn’t hesitate to craft some marketing messages to appeal to this sentiment. The online “self-gifting” budget compares with $129 for all holiday shoppers.
  • Retailers are preparing with marketing plans and investments…
    As we saw in the first part of the 2013 eHoliday retailer survey this summer, retailers have been investing in many aspects of their digital retail business to be ready for the holiday season. In this update, 68 percent of retailers said they’re increasing their use of Google Product Listing Ads (PLAs) for the holidays. Another one in five will also increase their use of SMS marketing compared with last year. Retailers should test PLAs to ensure they are competitive on the search results page before the Thanksgiving rush and test text messaging calls-to-action and offers to opt-in subscribers.
  • …As well increasing inventory and staff.
    Seven in 10 retailers also noted that they expect to carry higher inventory levels this year, while another 18 percent are increasing access to inventory via drop-ship. Staffing is also top of mind for retailers: one quarter expect to increase in-store staff compared with last year, while one-third will increase staffing for their customer service operations.

The morals of the story are:

  • A strong online presence and “too good to pass” deals on “need items” (vs. want) are going to be key.
  • And don’t just display those deals: show comparison shoppers why they’re better than those offered by competitors.
  • Most important of all – don’t wait!  Shoppers are already out making purchases to spread out spending and minimize last minute stress.

Remember the 2013 holiday season is still young — and even the Grinch turned things around before Christmas was over.

It’s hard to pass up an article that opens with:

When the guy who ruined the Internet with banner ads tells you that a new kind of advertising might destroy journalism, it tends to get your attention.

It certainly grabbed mine! Regardless of your opinion of banner ads, no one really wants journalism take another hit.

The new kind of advertising referenced here is native advertising.  So what is native advertising? Wikipedia defines it as: “a web advertising method in which the advertiser attempts to gain attention by providing content in the context of the user’s experience. Native ad formats match both the form and the function of the user experience in which it is placed.”

You may say, “That sounds like an old marketing method called an advertorial, what’s the problem?”

Good question, the hang-up isn’t with the concept of native advertising (see Wikipedia’s article on how it differs from advertorials), but with the execution. Some sites, like Huffington Post, keep their sponsored content separate, while others like The Atlantic, have run the risk mixing it in with regular content and have gotten caught. Chances are the general public has forgotten about mistakes like The Atlantic’s, but how many readers have they lost for good? Maybe that number is insignificant, but what about the level of influence The Atlantic holds over its readership – that’s not something you can grow with a subscription campaign.

Ben Kunz breaks down native advertising executions:

‘The Frame’ is the most innocuous of sponsored content, where an article has an intro or ending noting it is sponsored by a marketer. The sponsor acts as a wooden frame, holding the content up for your view but not in the picture. No real issues here.

‘The Insertion’ is where the actual content is produced by a marketer and mirrors real stories or videos. Examples include Quartz.com or The Huffington Post’s entire section of sponsored content, where Chevron writes about the future of energy or IBM notes it is a platform for sharing comments about vampire movies. Such native insertions can cause trouble, because even when the source is disclosed, the attempt of the content to look native confuses readers…

‘The Misdirection’ is a deeper level of trouble, where content is specifically designed to misdirect the source. Facebook Beacon was a classic example, in which Facebook broadcast your commercial purchases on other websites to friends. Beacon scared the wits out of Facebook users… IZEA has washed over similar rocky ground with its past paid posts, or acquisition of Be-A-Magpie, which helped marketers buy the minds of tweeters. All of this could be disclosed, but the intent is clearly to misdirect the recipient.”

Separation of journalists and advertisers was arguably more distinct during the earlier days. Davis “Buzz” Merritt notes that “At McCormick’s Chicago Tribune building, there were even separate sets of elevators for newsroom people and business people. The editor’s business-side partner, the general manager, spoke only to the editor among newsroom employees.” Lori Luechtefeld, and many others argue that the line has thinned quite a bit and has definitely been pushed too far in the wrong direction.

In an effort to present a somewhat balanced perspective on native advertising, please refer to the piece: Why content marketing should be going native, by Paul Keets, London Bureau Chief of White Light Media (http://www.the-cma.com/news/why-content-marketing-should-be-going-native). While the title suggests he is of the opposing view compared to Lori, a closer read will show that he just pushes the line of what’s acceptable further than Lori.

At the end of the day, they say honesty is the best policy, and finding a happy a happy medium is key. Marketing isn’t black any white anymore, if it ever was!

HootSuite Certified ProfessionalIn addition to Code Academy, I’ve been learning on lot on the social media front.  I’ve been taking HootSuite University classes and just completed the professional certification; I earned a 98% on the exam on first try!

Biggest takeaway:  HootSuite has a lot of granular options

I first explored their service back in 2009 when I was leading the team that launched the social networking presence for the Center for Economic Growth, before Melanie LaRose took the reins.  They’ve refined their services a lot since then and not only to add new social networks to their application.

One addition, which is still in Beta, is HootSuite Conversations.  HS users can invite other HS users and non-HS users, paste specific posts into conversations to discuss as well as post and like those messages on social networks they manage.

HootSuite has been a busy bee owl this year having

This effort recently paid off with with a Series B to the tune of $165 million to “…fuel growth & innovation.”  It will be interesting to see what truly innovative ideas they come up with/implement next & if those products/services/enhancements are really innovative – unlike Conversations which, while cool, is just someone else’s innovation applied to their service.

HootSuite Certified Professional

Codeacademy, teaching the world to codeOver the past 6 mos or so I’ve spent time stoking my creative/crafty side & enjoying the summer, it’s true.  I realized I’ve learned a lot so far this year & haven’t been documenting it.  

My first step into the pool of coding: As an advertising major in Silicon Valley I feel like I’m not fulfilling my duties as a citizen not knowing how to program.  

Step One: Go to a Meetup & see what it’s all about.  

I joined Women Who Code (SF) & attended their d.Shop Dialogues at IDEO in Palo Alto.  The event was great & I met a lot of awesome people, one of whom was a designer trying to learn code herself.  She recommended Learning Web Design, A beginner’s guide to HTML, CSS, JavaScript, and web graphics.  Thanks Nivita!  

Step Two: Read & Learn.  

This took a while, but I made it to the end feel like I’m starting to earn my keep.  While the book title reads HTML, CSS, JS and web graphics, HTML & CSS take up over 75% of the book.  I recommend it to anyone else looking for a start in HTML & CSS.  Since HTML & CSS aren’t for building, I haven’t made anything real yet.  I have however, oh best beloved, picked up a Java Script class via Code Academy, which has been a lot of fun so far!

Eight badges down, lots to go!

I attended the Silicon Valley Automotive Open Source meetup: Bringing New Technology to Market, Tesla Motors’ Sourcing Strategy hosted at Mentor Graphics in Fremont tonight.  The presentation was given by Milo Werner of Tesla.  She talked a lot about Tesla’s earlier years when the young company outsourced several aspects from body design to PEMs (power electronic modules).  Some of this I knew, but what surprised me the most was that Tesla outsourced their battery manufacturing to a BBQ manufacturer in Thailand (minute 15 in vid below).  Sounds pretty random until Milo started explaining the reasoning.  She said major battery manufacturers were hesitant to partner with Tesla for their own PR protection.  AKA, if Tesla built a car that blew up, no one wanted their name on the battery and the bad press that would likely follow such a disaster.

The presentation didn’t seem to contain any secret sauce-like content, but the meetup was worthwhile as I always meet interesting people through this group and hot dinner was served!

In case you’re interested: video of a similar presentation by Milo below:

Right on Jon Favreau!  Although, I do admit to taking second-half breaks during the commercials since the 49ers stepped it up – but luckily didn’t miss Samsung’s ad.

I must say this was my favorite ad this year.  But what else happened??

Superbowl ratings maintained strong viewership, however this isn’t the case for other major televised events such as the World Series.  According to TvByTheNumbers, SB47 drew a

46.3/69 (Fast National Household rating/share, 2nd highest-rated Super Bowl in 27 years  to SB20 in 1986 @48.3/70).

108.41 million viewers (3rd most-watched program in television history (SB46 - 111.3 million; SB45 – 111.0 million).

Social media is on the rise as well.  Although FB hasn’t reported definite figures, it seems Twitter has come out on top.  Sysomos (see cool infographic) reported the number of Tweets for previous Superbowls at 3.01 million 13.7 million in 2011 & 2012;  The SF Chronicle reported 24.1 million tweets were tweeted during SB47, though not all about football:

“… the peak came at the end of singer Beyoncé’s halftime performance, with 268,000 tweets per minute.”

Marketers also took advantage of Twitter on the fly:

[During the power outage], the Oreo team turned to Twitter to tweet, “Power outage. No problem,” with a link to a cookie photo that read, “You can still dunk in the dark.”

That message has been retweeted more than 15,000 times, and the total is closer to 26,000 counting the number of Twitter members who quoted the tweet and added their own comments, according to an analysis by San Francisco’s Salesforce.com.

Facebook only reported that the 2nd largest number of posts were generated the day of SB47, after New Years.

Lessons learned:

1.) For the price of a good social media team, publicity they can generate can go a long way (I bet Oreo got more attention than SodaStream).

2.)  Some reports estimate 50% of TV ads contained a social media-type call to action.  Extend the big TV investments w/ social media and open the doors for more engagement.

One of my favorites agencies of all time, albeit nether advertising nor marketing – Edelman.

Why?

Because its behind some outstanding private and pro bono work, and because they share.

Anyone can learn about Edelman and its best practices without being a client like How to Become a Social Business.  The information shared is timely, intriguing and forward thinking.  I like reading their posts here and slides here.

What I’ve learned:

+ History; no need to dwell, but it can explain a lot.

+ Openness; an open culture is core to innovation.  Unfortunately I think a lot of businesses miss the boat when it comes to having and maintaining an awesome culture.  It’s kind of like traveling: if you’ve never done it, you probably don’t miss it.  But, the second you start traveling, you realize that exploration is necessary for personal growth.  Companies missing a stimulating culture probably aren’t cognizant of forgone value  (happy employees are more creative, harder, smarter workers) and won’t realize what they’re missing without a new force to shine light on it and counteract the inertia of the present.

What’s Edelman doing today?

Preaching that

“Every Company is a Media Company in the digital world.  The shift in communications provides new opportunities and responsibilities for all organizations.  Being a modern, engaged, open “media company” means being a social, networked, nimble business, building community, putting audiences at the heart of your communications.  It means producing and distributing relevant content and using it to build relationships as an asset.  Done well, communications is no longer a cost, but generates revenue”

I’d agree with that a lot of companies should act like media companies and broadcasting content.  However, there are there are a handful of significant industries that are slower to embrace social business practices. According to MIT Sloan Management Review’s white paper; Social Business: What are companies really doing? – the majority of those surveyed from financial, manufacturing, energy and utility sectors didn’t report that a social tools are important today.  On the contrary, half of all respondents from each of these industries agreed that social tools will be relevant in the next three years.  What do these respondents expect to change in the next three years – perhaps increased adoption (but then will companies be adopting it for competitive reasons versus the right reasons)?  Maybe they think social tools will be refined into a usable form in three years?

I wonder about the healthcare industry – an industry undoubtedly under the spotlight at the moment.  This sector wasn’t listed as one of the top three least interested in social tools despite the myriad of laws governing privacy for patients and disclosure for drug companies.  Based on Healthcare Finance News article: Social Media Becomes a Business Intelligence Strategy, it appears that consumer demand required the industry’s adoption of open communication through social means:

“According to a recent report by the Health Research Institute (HRI) at PwC US regarding the use of social media in healthcare, one-third of consumers use sites such as Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and online forums to find health-related information, track symptoms, and broadcast how they feel about doctors, drugs, treatments, medical devices and health plans.”

What what forces will guide the adoption of social business practices among the financial, manufacturing, energy and utility industries?

My guess:

For the private financial, manufacturing and energy sectors I think globalization and the need for a competitive advantage will drive adoption.  For public (& semi-public) utilities, I expect adoption to be much slower as competition is regulated and demand relatively consistent.

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