Tag Archives: United States

Coming Together Over Free Coffee: A Starbucks Political Statement and Marketing Magic


 

politics_in_the_workplace_coffee_mugs_donkey_elephant_Republican_Democrat

The U.S. political environment is pretty bound up these days with the debt ceiling crisis and government shutdowns, etc.  All the CNN and MSNBC addicts among my readers (I imagine quite a few) are likely well aware.  If you look to your Facebook and Twitter feeds you will likely see lots of griping and general dissatisfaction with the inability of our government to be able to work together as a team to solve our financial problems in an effective manner.

How do you get politicians to play nice?  If you watch political dramas on TV (aside from the aforementioned “non fiction” news channels)  like House Of Cards on Netflix then it might seem counter-intuitive and darn near impossible.  But Starbucks CEO Howard Schulz would like to think that we can all get along and encourage collaboration – ease the bind in our governments bowels by lubricating the works with a steaming hot cup of coffee!  In that spirit, there is lots of “free marketing buzz” around the  Starbucks free brewed coffee promotion  being activated this week at Starbuck’s nationwide.

The concept:  today through Friday if you buy a cup of coffee for a friend or coworker you get one free.   The political message Starbucks is serving up:  let citizens lead by example by demonstrating a spirit of generosity, togetherness and collaboration.   Obviously more of a marketing ploy to tap in to the political sensibility of those first-worlders with enough taxable income to be concerned about the debt crisis (and spend several dollars a day on coffee) than an effective political activism tactic – but it leverages a warm fuzzy social fact that connects well with the brand – the idea of coffee as a social lubricant in America.

I applaud Starbucks for being so intuitive with their brand strategy in that regard.   Just like tea in Great Britain (and Asia for that matter), cigarettes in China (among only-child teens and twenty-somethings  who seek to make friends by sharing smokes) and other forms of social bonding over consumables – Coffee in the US represents the spirit of community.  It’s why Starbucks was able to so successfully launch a “third space” coffee house chain whereby people can find another place to be and hangout over hat’s not their office or a bar but still offers a stimulating incentive to get together.  The coffee house trend became popular during the Beat era in the US and saw a resurgence during the 90′s.   This was reflected in popular culture with TV shows like Friends  where the cast of New Yorker characters would regularly meet at the “Central Perk” coffee house to catch up and bond over life’s big and little situations.  :)

It’s a far cry to think that congress can solve the world’s problems by integrating some slow-drinking caffeine and cozy couches into their collaboration process. Methinks a bottle of Jack Daniels would go a little further, but I digress.

In any case – this narcissistic anthropologist can appreciate some good strategy – albeit a bit transparent – when she sees it.  I raise my cup of Joe to the marketers who can find ways to make political statements while also making money.

 

Advertisements

In Levi’s We Trust


I contributed the following article  The Marketing Blog  which was published today.  All about how a brand maintains relevance through heritage.

Most treasured item of clothing? / 140 years of Levi Strauss & Co

 

In Levis We Trust

A Heritage Brand Sustains Over a Century of Category Leadership

 

If you are like a lot of people whose most treasured item of clothing is their favourite pair of jeans, you might not know that the origin of denim comes from the sturdy French fabric created in Nimes, France (serge de Nimes, shortened to “denim” in the late 1800s).

This article is by Jamie Gordon, Vice President, Consumer Anthropology at Northstar Research Partners.  Northstar is a leading global full-service market research and consulting firm. Jamie is a brand strategy and strategic research specialist, digging deep into the context of consumerism to find new ways to drive brand growth.

As far as most of the jeans-wearing public are concerned, this wardrobe staple came from the genius of a man called Levi Strauss, who founded the first company to manufacture blue jeans in San Francisco, California in 1853.

140 years later, Levi Strauss & Co remains one of the most recognisable and popular brands in a category that has since become saturated. Whether you are going by industry data or plain-old “stating the obvious” intuition, there is no refuting that Levi Strauss is the brand at the head of the pack.

The reason? Put simply: heritage.

Levis is one of the few (if not only) brands that has existed since the dawn of industrialisation in America, and that has consistently demonstrated a commitment to authenticity. While they have been adept at reinventing themselves from a product and marketing perspective over the years to be in line with changes in consumer culture, Levi Strauss & Co. has never strayed from their core identity as influenced by the original 501 – “superior quality and fit for all”. Levis’ unparalleled accessibility means that regardless of your demographic realities, or function versus fashion inclinations, if you walk into a shop to buy a pair of jeans, you can be guaranteed to find a pair of Levis that fits your price range and preferences.

What’s also notable is that, as of their 140 year anniversary today (20 May, 2013), they will have remained a stable corporate presence in an ever-changing consumer landscape. You can probably count on one hand the number of global brands that can makes such a claim.

But the timeless tale that keeps Levis firmly affixed to the hearts of the jeans-wearing public harkens back to their American heritage as a product that met a distinct rugged-wearable’s need for the workers of the “wild west” as they literally built America from the ground up. It is this bootstrapping mentality that, no matter how much the economic, sociocultural or consumer landscape has changed, remains a core part of American identity and heritage.

Levis has stayed in touch

The penchant for authenticity and history has only grown over the years as consumers’ culture has shifted to value locally produced goods, and products that offer the benefit of simplicity; Levis has stayed in touch and made a point to connect to these among other evolving needs. For example, they have made a point to return to domestic production for selected lines, and have notably retooled their women’s business (based on extensive research) to offer fits for just about any body shape – something that has transformed the jeans shopping experience from distressing to delightful.

In today’s increasingly competitive consumer landscape, context is everything. Marketers everywhere should celebrate the anniversary of this iconic American brand that has always remained true to the context of their own heritage, while always making a point to stay connected to the context of macro-culture and that of the consumer. It is this commitment to advancing understanding that likely sustain a leadership position for Levis for the next 140 years.

Brands Taking Responsibilty For Inspiring Social Change: Dove’s “Real Beauty” Sketches as a Dialogue-Starter


In today’s consumer culture driven world – especially here in the United States, brands are starting to become a required participant, if not leader, of conversations about social change.   It’ s part of a macro trend related to empowered consumerism and the shifting balance of power between civil society, government and corporations.  Specifically, government is becoming less and less the dominant force behind social change as civil society begins using their economic influence to encourage corporations (who rely on them to sustain their business) to use the power of their global marketing reach to make a difference.

The challenge for corporations (and brands in particular) is finding that social issue or cause that is relevant and credible and participating in a meaningful way.  This has actually become its own industry – but that’s a conversation for another day.

I have observed, in my study of consumer culture, the burden of the backlash for many of these corporations and brands.  On the one hand, you see a lot of big players  who try to do the right thing but then get dinged for “creating the problem” in the first place. It’s a “between a rock and a hard place” situation for many of these brands.  Coca- Cola is one example of a company / brand in the hot seat, which I  blogged about when they launched their campaign to help combat the growing obesity problem.

Today’s example, however, comes from some work I am dong with a global panel of Cultural Creatives.  When asked about brands they have affinity for, one participant in the dialogue talked about her “love / hate” relationship with the Dove Real Beauty campaign, and their latest Real Beauty Sketches (see below)

The issue is that, while many people find fault with the fact that none of the women are “traditionally” unattractive and they are mostly Caucasian, the work still sparks a conversation – and it’s the social conversation that is most important.  In this case, the dialogue is about how our perceptions of our own physical beauty are often a reflection of unnecessary insecurities put upon us by “others” as a result of media or other “smoke and mirrors” influences – and that these detrimental self perceptions can have a negative impact on how we interact with the world.

So, kudos to Dove and any other brand that takes a risk by starting a controversial conversation, because culture only changes when we test our boundaries encourage people to react.   A little bit of context shift goes a long way.

A Perspective On The Context Of Millennial Brand Engagement From the AMA


I had the pleasure of sitting on a panel hosted by my company, Northstar Research Partners, for a discussion on Millennials at a meeting of the Toronto chapter of the AMA.
Below is a clip from that event where I am responding to a conversation about Millennials as consumers and the importance of brands having a dialogue.  It was such an interesting conversation and I was delighted to share the stage with Nicole Galluci from Boom Marketing and Greg Ambrose from Coca Cola Canada.

How Millennials’ American Dream Has Become An American Reality and What It Means For Brands


hire me1

Back in 2000 when I began my professional consumer anthropology career, I was working in brand strategy and my focus was “youth” – in particular, helping my clients understand how to connect with Millennials. At that time, they were in a generational age range that comprised everyone from pre-tweens to recent college grads.

To say they are a generation that has gone through a lot of change is an understatement. Pre 2001, Millennials were the new frontier for marketers: having come of age in a time of prosperity and respective peace. They were characterized based on their over-scheduled lifestyles, purchase power (both with regard to their own spending as well as their influence over parent’s purchases), optimism and high expectations for their future and general savvy and awareness of their importance as consumers / desire to be catered to with regard to customized products and experiential marketing.

Then, in 2001, 9-11 irreversibly rocked their thus far un-cracked foundation. They realized very quickly that they were indeed not the center of the universe and that their world was not the invincible bubble they thought it was. While still optimistic about their futures, they began re-evaluating their priorities – in particular the importance of family and community and having a support system. They became more invested in close ties to their parents, tradition and religion as a source of guidance in a now very uncertain social reality. Their parents became even more involved in their lives and developed increasingly peer-like relationships whereby open dialogues about anything from social coming-of-age issues to personal family financial issues became fair game.

Then as an even larger group of Millennials were graduating college and entering / rounding out their first several years in the work force, America’s previously untouchable economy took a nose dive. The “dot bomb” crash that happened during the span of time between 2000 and 2012 didn’t have nearly the impact that the economic crisis of 2007 and 2008 where they witnessed the collapse of everything from the housing markets to financial institutions and automotive companies.
They watched their parents, who had in many cases sacrificed many of the fundamentals of family life and quality time in favour of two-income households and financial security, lose their jobs, investments and homes and consequently became sucked up by a wave of distrust in corporations and institutions. Not to mention they were entering a less than optimal work force, if they could get a job at all.

Many Millennials ended up back at home with their parents after college and / or back in school trying to give themselves a leg up. But net / net they ended up a generation caught in limbo as they tried to bust out of their socially-induced extended adolescence into adulthood.

Now, looking at America’s new generation of young adults and young families, the American Dream has morphed into a new American Reality. How has this impacted their outlook? There are positives and negatives to the realities they have experienced:

Technological Innovation: Lets not forget the power that evolution in communication technology has had toward creating a profoundly connected and savvy generation. Despite the many challenges faced from a socio-political and economic standpoint, this generation is the most empowered by access to information and one another. They have embraced virtual platforms in knowledge sharing and networking to connect to one another and activate not just an American culture but also participate in a global culture entrepreneurship and change. They are spearheading the conceptual economy empowered by technology and as a result are creating a new type of workforce and making headway on securing a brighter future for their generation and those to come.

Social networking platforms like Facebook and LinkedIn provide unparalleled connection resources. Online media platforms like YouTube, WordPress and Reddit also allow unparalelled access to getting your message out there and sharing those that are most worthy. Millennials have the power to create their own media influences rather than being subject to them and that makes all the difference in empowering a generational culture.

Raising their Voice: Having born witness to the onset of financial, social and political instability both on their own turf and around the world, American youth have taken activism and addressing social issues to a new level. Social responsibility has become a part of the fabric of their being and they use all the resources at their disposal to make it part of their day to day: using technology platforms as well as their spending power to support good causes and raise up new ones every day.

From Kickstarter (an alternative funding platform for entrepreneurs) and Etsy (online shopping for hand crafted goods) to programs like the “It Gets Better” project (itgetsbetter.org) that combats the high suicide rate among gay and lesbian youth by showcasing inspiring video messages from celebrities and adult gays and lesbians who have been there and moved on. Not to mention movements like Occupy, the growing “green” consumption and local food trends that have had multi-generational influence by have been embraced and championed by younger consumers.

Financial pragmatism: With all of the financial instability this generation has experienced, budgeting, discounts and smart spending are a permanent part of their vernacular. Young people tend to be stereotyped with expectations of behaviour geared toward instant gratification and peacocking (in this day and age with brands, etc.). But Millennials are far from short-sighted and frivolous. They are entering the workforce carrying student loan debt, paying off credit cards and delaying expensive purchases.

There are apps galore (like Scout Mob and Foursquare) to help them save money . They seek advice from their parents on considered purchases like cars, opting for practicality versus flash and unlike any other previous generation are more inclined to give up four wheels all together for alternative transportation. In a recent study, nearly half of 18-24 year old drivers said that if forced to make the choice they would rather have access to the Internet over a car!

Holistic Balance-Seekers: Their financial pragmatism is only part of the bigger picture. Inspired by lessons-learned form watching parents pay the price for commitment to work and making money over following their passions and spending more time with family, Millennials have been forging a new path to fulfilment. Having watched the aforementioned financial collapse, they are realizing there is more to life than building net worth. This is a generation who would rather have a job with purpose or one that fuels their passions then make lots of money.

Many Millennials have, however, taken that traditional route only to have early-onset midlife crises. I can’t tell you how many conversations I have had with disillusioned late twenty-somethings who have already burned out on their high paying professional careers and decided to go back to school or start an entrepreneurial endeavour that makes them happy. One young lawyer told me “I’m 29 and already burned out. I’m sick of working 70-hour weeks for something I’m not passionate about. I’ve decided to quit and put together a business plan to open up a bakery.”

Entrepreneurial Motivation: Lest you think that this New American Reality has beaten Millennials down, be reassured that this generation is nothing if not resilient. They have all kinds of power in their hands and they know how to use it. On the brink of an emerging conceptual economy they are bursting with ideas, energy and entrepreneurial spirit. Millennials are empowered by technological, social and economic platforms of their own creation (per previously mentioned examples) to find their niche and succeed. They may try on several careers in their lifetimes, but they will definitely not stop until they have gotten it right, setting the stage for “Gen Z” and others to come by showing them that not only can you change the system from within the system, but you can create a whole new one…all you need is the will and you can find the way.

So how do you make sure your brand is relevant to today’s savvy and empowered Millennial customer?

Empower their ambition: be a source of support and inspiration and provide platforms that help forward their entrepreneurial spirit

Listen to them: Brand building and innovation should be a dialogue, not a monologue…and who better to help you evolve then a generation committed to new concepts and ideas!

Use technology to facilitate connections: Don’t be afraid to connect with your customers. Utilizing online and mobile platforms is a smart way to connect with Millennials in their context and shows your commitment to dialogue.

Be a source of stability: for brands who have sustained over time, longevity is an asset and can have strong emotional resonance with this generation who has seen a lot of turmoil in their young lives. Authenticity – a hallmark of brand value for Millennials, starts with having a heritage to call upon.

Be Optimistic: a positive attitude is contagious. Make your brand an easy choice by virtue of its good energy.

Have a point of view and walk the walk: Millennials seek to live lives of purpose and gravitate toward brands that can express a unique purpose of their own. Take ownership of your brand’s perspective and make a point to consistently communicate that voice in your marketing communications and activate that within your corporate culture. They will know and if they trust in your intention they will also follow.

Most importantly, take the time to understand their context and take the initiative to understand how and where your brand fits. A little insight goes a long way in making human connections that can seed la generation of loyal customers