What makes a company successful?...

... delivering products and services that are relevant and create impact among consumers.

I combine my expertise as a Marketing executive in a Fortune 500 company and my passion as an investor to find the Companies that I think have "cracked the code" with consumers. Advertising does work. When I see a new product that fits relevant consumer trends, and that is supported with a campaign that I find particularly shrewd and innovative, I know that Company is potentially a great investment.

One of the great investors of all times, Peter Lynch, recommends to "buy what you know". You watch TV, go to the supermarket and walk around everyday. Observe... look around: what you see can make you money in the stock market. Now, let's be clear: a Company is not good just because it advertises. What we have to look for is great products supported with -and enhanced by- great advertising. The principle is simple: if something is good enough to draw your interest, it will be of interest to millions of persons just like you.

It is my goal to share with the reader my findings in the world of marketing which I think will turn into great returns for investors. Profit from it!

Monday, April 26, 2010

The spirit of the times

In a world regimented by the relationships we had to establish and upkeep in order to have a life, the role of branding was very clear. A brand was to project to others your personality and your character. The ensuing advertising was very straight-forward. A brand would show the type of character you wanted to portray and presto, it was selected by those who required that specific trait.
Nowadays, however, things have changed. The most important change is that people can choose. No, I am not talking about choosing between flavors or between different brands in a given category. Today, people can really choose: choose what to believe, choose who to relate to, choose what to care about. Ultimately, they can choose how to live their lives. The drivers of this change are very simple but very profound: a) access, and b) closeness. In other words, globalization. Not just globalization as an economic trend or economic doctrine, but true globalization: being aware of what’s going on in any part of the world the instant it’s happening; not being limited by geography when choosing who to relate to or what to talk about; the empathy created by being first-hand witness –through the power of media- of the suffering and triumphs of people on the other side of the world, and ultimately, the understanding that we are all interrelated. It’s never been easier or cheaper to move from one place to another. Not that long ago, self-expression and creativity was limited to those who had well-honed artistic skills. Today, self-expression and creativity takes the form of pictures in Flickr, videos in YouTube or a page in Facebook. Suddenly a world is open for everyone and people are exposed to the myriad of experiences that life can be made of. And people today want to have them all. Like never before, life can be fulfilling and diverse and varied and exciting. There is no time to waste and certainly, no conventions to obey to. Molds have been broken, closets have been pried open and non-committal experimentation is possible. In this new world, what you need to be is secondary to who you want to be and what you want to do.

In order to be successful, brands need to follow suit. Consumers today are far more complex and far more fluid than never before. A brand that defines its business, its character or the consumers it serves in too narrow of a way might soon find itself displaced and out of favor among consumers that just moved on to the next thing. The typical criteria for consumer segmentation just don’t work anymore. Demographics like gender or age or geography are simply irrelevant. Lifestyle? There are as many lifestyles as consumers out there.

As a marketer, what do you do? Successful brands need to engender familiarity, trust and a sense of consistency. They can’t be erratic. They can’t change with the wind. But at the same time, they can’t be stagnant. This is the new positioning challenge marketers are facing in this brave new world.

The solution is to embrace and stand for the values that fundamentally define the era we are living in and that in one way or another, touch or are embraced by most people. In other words, praise the journey, not the destination. What is exciting about this approach is that, as a brand, once you stand for a given value or set of values, you can embrace whatever is the expression of such values at any given time and still remain true to yourself and to what consumer have learnt to appreciate in the brand. In very simple terms, as long as you stand for music, you can play any tune. But if you stood for swing, you’d be facing very tough times in a world dominated by hip hop and country. If as a swing brand you started flirting with hip hop or country, then you’d look inauthentic and out-right opportunistic; therefore, not credible and definitely not trustworthy.

This way of defining your brand, and the consequent implications on how your brand communicates and interacts with consumers, is what I’ve called Marketing to the Zeitgeist.
Some examples, and the impact on investment decisions, will be covered in future postings.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Marketing to the Zeitgeist

Two years ago, I wrote a couple of posts in this blog where I discussed the new principles of Marketing that the readers should look for in order to spot products and companies with potential to become lucrative investments. These articles where "Cracking the consumer code" and "Consumer values to look for". The practices and values these posts refer to remain as valid today as they were two years ago. However, there's more to the story. It's not only the way to do marketing what is changing, but fundamentally, the very nature of branding itself and what brands today need to represent for the consumers. I even submit that venerable and seemingly sound concepts like 'target consumer' are, at best, outdated if not outright archaic.

As I continued studying today's consumers' values and the brands that have done the best job in becoming uniquely relevant to them, I coined a concept that I think captures and explains the distinctive marketing approach that separates the brands that are destined to endure the test of time, versus those that will likely fizzle as quickly and soundly as they once grew. I call the concept Marketing to the Zeitgeist. The following diagram explains it in a historical context. It's meant to represent how marketing and branding thinking has evolved through time, and how the required new thinking for today is that, in order to thrive and survive, brands need to embrace and stand for elements of the zeitgeist, or 'the spirit of the times'. I will elaborate on this in my next post.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Is Best Buy cracking?

Best Buy (BBY), in general, puzzles me. I haven't had a decent shopping experience at Best Buy in several years now. I guess it's just because they have a decent array of items that people default to this chain. Stores often look in disarray: empty shelves, displays half-done, and a most frustrating shortage of staff. Sales people are nowhere to be seen -well, sometimes: in clusters, having a conversation-, and when you happen to bump into one of them, their apathy and lack of will to help is astounding. Best Buy has lost a small fortune from the times I've been to the store willing to buy something and simply left because nobody was really interested in earning my business.

I am not suggesting to invest against the grain and rush to sell Best Buy at this point. The company enjoys an inertia that will play in its favor for the years to come. But they are becoming vulnerable. All that is needed is for a new entrant -or a current competitior- to step in and do what is necessary to provide a truly satisfying shopping experience for Best Buy to follow in the steps of the now gone Circuit City. Remain on the lookout: the next winner will look more or less like this:

a) Profuse use of digital stations to allow customers to get as much information as they need about the products they are seeing in the shelves. Today, Best Buy's -and other retailers'- model is flawed: they over-rely on the sales people to answer questions consumers might have, and yet, they don't have nearly enough of them to do that. This is critical when you are -as Best Buy is- in the business of selling highly priced, technically sophisticated items. The result is frustrated consumers. These retailers should leverage both the type of technology and the shopping behavior the Internet has trained consumers on. Call it a hybrid shopping experience.
b) On-demand sales asssociates: once a consumer does want to talk to a sales associate. he should be able to ask for one through the digital display he's been using. Don't make the consumer walk half the store looking for a sales person. Likewise, don't waste sales people time roaming areas with no consumers in sight.
c) Intensive use of interactive displays. While this is a relatively common practice today, interactivity is still an afterthought, haphazardly squeezed between spaces primarily devoted to static-display shelves. Reverse the thinking: sales space should be primarily devoted to interactivity. It's all about the experience.

d) Another learning from the Internet: allow your customers to see what their fellow shoppers have done. Have real time statistics about the products: how many have been purchased, how many have been returned, product reviews made by customers, etc. These companies need to remember that they are in the business of reassurance. Customer want to make the best decision: allow them to feel good about what they are buying.

If and when you see a retailer that is applying this model, that will be your cue: sell Best Buy and buy this hypothetical (for now) newcomer.