Archive for March, 2014

That Ikea, Starbucks love-hate thing.

March 31, 2014

A recent discussion in my Brand Equity Management class reminded me of an obvious yet sometimes overlooked truth. Certain brands can be as polarizing as people. A lot of that, I think, stems from the degree and appeal of brand culture.

Cases in point: Ikea and Starbucks.

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The “yellow brick road” of Ikea

Ikea isn’t just a store. It’s an inspiration showroom. The three-step shopping process, from design possibility presentation to smaller purchase temptation to commitment-pieces greeting customers in the warehouse, is very customer-centered. Throw in quintessential Ikea rulers/pencils, yellow carts, pathway-guiding arrows, and quirky products that comprise the store experience, and I’m hooked. Not to mention the DIY at-home assembly.

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Of course, the things that appeal to me don’t appeal to everyone. I’m sure you’ve either heard or said some of the following remarks:

I hate putting Ikea furniture together. The instructions are useless. The store is hard to navigate. Ikea furniture is cheap.

Like Ikea, Starbucks has its “haters.” I’ll admit, my past hesitation toward the brand probably came from not knowing what I was ordering- stand in line behind a regular whose order specifications are down to the milk percentage and number of flavor shots… It can get intimidating if you’re unfamiliar with the lingo.

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The identity that feeds into being a loyal Starbucks customer has grown on me, though. The simple thrill that comes from seeing your name written on a cup is one way the brand makes you feel special. Recently, I’ve added the Pittsburgh design from the You Are Here line to my own growing collection of mugs. The new line features abstract skylines of famous cities throughout North America, and each city mug is only sold in that city’s Starbucks stores. Again, the brand knows how to build consumer identity and loyalty.

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Part of the You Are Here line from Starbucks

What other brands do you think have a love-hate following?


Breaking Down Business Book Wisdom into 250 Words

March 25, 2014

Screen Shot 2014-03-15 at 9.20.16 PM is a site that debuted this year that provides book lists, interviews, novel advice, and opinions on the wisdom of business books. As described in their introductory post, “The main component of 250 Words is an original daily essay—250 words long. These pieces are not summaries or reviews but intended to excavate useful anecdotes and interesting ideas from books on management, leadership, investing, finance, marketing, psychology, and any other topic that touches on business—no matter how tangentially. The emphasis is on wisdom and practical advice. We want to provide ideas that will help you rethink the world and your work within it.”

If you sign up like I did, you are eligible to receive a free ebook from

What books do you want to learn more about in 250 words or less?

A few of the books on my reading list have been broken down into sizable chunks of wisdom:

Creative Confidence: Unleashing the Creative Potential Within Us All by Tom Kelley & David Kelley

Thinking, Fast and Slow by Daniel Kahneman

March Madness Marketing!

March 20, 2014

This year, I’m picking the Louisville Cardinals to win it all. Yes, I know they’ve defeated my beloved UCONN Huskies three times this year (including a Kevin Ollie ejection, a 33 point loss and the inaugural AAC championship game), but they’re playing good basketball and I think they could go all the way. No matter what happens, I’ll be glued to the TV and my bracket (which will likely be busted by Thursday evening) all weekend.

Image from Slate --- screenshot from

Image from Slate — screenshot from

This is my favorite time of year! I’m not alone, though. Marketers love this time of year as well and I’m seeing basketball themed advertising on the television, popping up in my Facebook newsfeed and everywhere else I look.

I’ve been prompted to fill out NCAA brackets by just about everyone. I’ve heard from Buffalo Wild Wings, my local NBC affiliate, and most dramatically by Quicken Loans who is offering the chance to win a billion dollars. A number of writers have already established why you won’t win a billion-dollars, but it is easy to see that these brands are winning big by banking on bracket gimmicks and piggybacking on all of the basketball fever in the air.

Quicken Loans will never pay out a billion dollars (they’ve insured the payoff with Berkshire Hathway) but they could end up being big winners themselves. Individuals who would like to test their luck and fill out a bracket are asked to provide their contact information along with the interest rate on their mortgage. Leads like this might normally cost Quicken Loans $50 – $300 making this a valuable campaign for them, especially considering how much earned media the gimmick has garnered.

Not only are there brands that are effectively banking on brackets to earn themselves some loyalty from existing customers or to acquire new leads, but there are also brands who are taking their liberties with risky “ambush marketing” tactics. With any large sporting or entertainment event, there will be brands that attempt to leverage the excitement to further their own interests, but there is a fine line between what is legal and ethical and what is not. Check out what Brian Heidelberger, a legal expert on advertising, marketing and entertainment law practice has to say on the matter in this video from Advertising Age:

It is certainly an exciting time of year for sports fans and marketers alike. Those brands that have figured out how to create their own “shining moment” may achieve great results. Is your brand making the most of March Madness and what do you think of all the marketing surrounding this event? What do you think about ambush marketing and are brands pushing things too far?

Most importantly, who did you pick in your bracket this year?

A little organization never hurt

March 18, 2014

I am very excited to say that I am officially halfway done with my degree program. (That’s probably why Bon Jovi has been playing in my head all week – Living on a prayer!)  I’ve known for a long time that I’m a very process-oriented person, and yet I am still surprised by the fact that how I do my homework has changed and evolved over the past two years.  As I’ve mentioned before, I take three courses a year, which means I’m in the program longer, but I get breaks twice a year to catch up on other things.  As I celebrated being halfway there (ooohhh, living on a prayer. I’ll stop now), I wanted to share with you how my process has evolved and some of the resources I’ve used to get this far!

So, let’s start at the beginning!

I order my textbooks a month before the class.  I look on, which has $3.49 shipping on all books and a wide variety of used books.  I’ve found a lot of great deals on this site, especially some of the more expensive books.  Of course, I also check, which as a free Amazon Prime trial for students – just make sure you remember to cancel it after the trial if you don’t want it!  After you’re done with the class, keep those text books.  Kris wrote a great post about preparing for the capstone course and highly recommended resisting the urge to sell them.

Onto lessons and assignments! I have found that a mix between digital and print has done wonders for me.  Once I get access to the class, I put all of the lessons into one word document and all of the assignment into another.  I keep those in Dropbox and print them out to put into a binder.  I find that I retain things better when I am able to highlight and make notes.  I like keeping the digital file because I can keyword search if I am having trouble locating a specific section.

**If you don’t have Dropbox, get it now! It is an amazing service that houses your files on line.  You can download the application onto your computer so it acts like another folder, but you can also access it online.  It is free to use and if you invite your friends you get more space.  In addition, you can share folders with people, so everyone can access documents and you can link to files in your folders so others can view (and proofread) them.**

I do the same thing with readings.  I download them and keep them in a file in Dropbox, but keep a printed copy in the binder so I can highlight and make notes.  There are apps that allow you to do this, but that’s one area that I prefer a pen, highlighter, and paper!  I also create folders in dropbox for discussion posts, assignments, readings, and materials for the final project.  Keeping everything in Dropbox means that I can access it quickly at work, at home, or if I have some down time while I’m out and about.  When I first started, I would download everything to my iPad and read off of that.  It worked well, but I didn’t feel like I was retaining enough information.

I also keep my discussion posts in Dropbox.  I create my discussion posts in word and then copy and paste into blackboard.  I do the same for my weekly responses (I can’t live without spell check).  I read the discussion posts and then pick the four that I want to reply to.  I copy and paste them into a word document, write my responses, and transfer them into blackboard when I’m done.

I  recommend taking notes on the computer as well.  I started handwriting notes, but found that it was time intensive and also didn’t allow me to easily search for information.  Now, I type all of my notes in one word document and life is much easier.  I would recommend putting things in quotes that are copied verbatim from the book and putting in page numbers so that when you go back and look at the notes, you know exactly where to find things and what is paraphrased and what is a direct quote.

Here’s a little sample of what my Dropbox and file organization looks like.

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After the class is over, I take the entire folder and put it on my computer until I need to access it again!  This frees up Dropbox space, and reduces online clutter.

I would highly recommend backing up your files.  My sister learned this the hard way and lost all of her grad school work.  She was fortunate that it was after she graduated, but all of that hard work is gone.  I am a bit of an information hoarder when it comes to grad school.  I’ve saved all my grade comments, readings, discussion posts, assignments, and most of my responses.  I want to make things as easy as possible if I need to reference this information again.  I’ve used material I saw in one class as discussion post content in another.  Keeping things organized makes sharing great content much easier.

You’ll also notice that I have a resources folder.  I use this for cool things that I find that aren’t applicable to any one particular class.  I keep this as an idea folder so that when I need some inspiration or other material I have a supply to look at.

If you’re like me and try to plan everything, I’d encourage you to think very carefully about what electives you’d like to take.  I thought it would be best if I completed all my required courses before my electives.  Something to think about is that the electives aren’t offered every term, but the required classes are.  So, if there’s an elective you want to make sure you take, register for it early to make sure it fits into your schedule!

I hope you find some of these tips and tricks useful and would love to hear what you guys have discovered!  Any great suggestions you’d like to share?

Data Privacy: Who Draws the Line?

March 10, 2014

ImageGovernments, privacy advocates, companies large and small, and private citizens all have an opinion on what, where, and how private data should be collected, stored, used, and shared.  It is a complicated problem that leads to more questions as technology evolves.

The latest complication is target marketing and predictive analytics.  Targeted marketing has been around for a few years now.  The process of displaying ads to users based on historical browsing patterns.  However, when predictive analytics is mixed into the game, the ads theoretically become more relevant based on a user’s browsing history and a number of profiles that have been setup to match possible interests with displayed browsing patterns.  The data is collected via cookies placed on a user’s device.

Soat discusses that while predictive analytics can be helpful and even valuable, they do have the danger of getting ahead of the data and making predictions that are not specifically supported by data findings.  The quantity of data being collected today even extends beyond direct browsing behavior but can also include online discussions and offline purchases.  Organizations are becoming very sophisticated in how they gather, aggregate, and organize data, all of this in an attempt to market more effectively and sell more directly to consumers.

Why is this type of data gathering detrimental to consumers?  How does this accumulation of data and the use of predictive analytics and targeted marketing harm society?  How does this data gathering affect a person’s privacy and rights to control what is shared, sold, used, or even gathered?

Data privacy is very important for obvious reasons.  People do not want their browsing history made public for any number of reasons but even from a strictly marketing perspective, this kind of data can have consequences.  Targeted advertising and predictive analytics can open entirely new forms of advertising and selling offering specific promotions to individuals that can include customized pricing online that isn’t available to everyone.  It can include special mortgage rates to one family based on the types of online activity they and others who also meet a developed profile practice.  It could (if taken to an extreme) add meta-information to a company database that could lead to denial of insurance coverage because a family member searched for diabetes treatment options.   Imagine if a healthy family of four was denied coverage because their teenager was performing research for a science project on Diabetes or some other disease?  Farfetched scenario?  Decisions like this could be closer than you think. Soat tells us that even though there are rules stating some practices are forbidden, some companies can get very creative in getting around established regulations.  These are just some examples of where user’s privacy rights must be maintained and why it is important for consumers to understand not only how organizations use their data but how they can understand what is being used, how it is used, and how they can protect their data.

Any reputable organization will have a privacy policy on their website or as a part of their mobile applications.  This policy should describe how they gather data and what types of data are being gathered.  If a user is fortunate, the privacy policy will also include topics around affiliate and third party usage of data gathered but that kind of disclosure is not required everywhere.  Even when various topics are disclosed or included in a privacy policy, every day users quite possibly lack the time and interest in reading a multi-page document that is filled with legal jargon.  When it comes down to it, the user is responsible for their own activity and should read these policies before using an organizations apps or web tools.  However there are two big steps that could be taken by data users that would make consumer privacy concerns less stressful.  Organizations should make more of an effort to simplify their policies to make them easier to read and understand by end users, less legal jargon and more straight talk.  Organizations should also do a better job at getting together and stating clear lines of data usage.  Clarify their boundaries of how data will be used and be very clear where those lines lie.   We as consumers can help in this process.  Consumers are not powerless, they can put pressure on organizations through social campaigns, email blasts back to our vendors or choice, even not buying products they sell, all to make a statement of how consumers want privacy concerns to be addressed and resolved.

Right now, it is a matter of people educating themselves and taking the time necessary to read policies and understand the uses of their data.  They then must make the decision of if they are comfortable with the possible risk.  It’s going to take a societal change to make a dramatic impact but it can be done.  Organizations need to be transparent in their use of consumer data and people need to be aware of how their data affects the way organizations seem them.  Let’s all help draw the lines sharing responsibility and accountability.

Put Your IMC Campaigns Into Context

March 6, 2014

What if you had a tool that made it easier for you to bring your entire IMC campaign off the page and into the context of the real world? This would allow you to take your layouts and apply them to surfaces, which might include outdoor billboards, or magazine covers without having to leave Adobe Illustrator. The application that makes this a seamless process is called Context and it is designed specifically for the MAC platform.

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Up until last week, I had never heard of this tool. As I continue to move closer to taking the Capstone course, I definitely want to investigate how I can make my future integrated campaign appear as realistic as possible.

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With just one click in the surface library, you can turn any flat art into three-dimensional mockups! This takes the headache for searching for stock images that might not work in the context of your specific layout. Instead, have the layout dictate the concept and not the other way around.

Has anyone ever used Context before? If so, I would love to hear about your experience!

A fresh summer start

March 4, 2014

For most people, spending their summer studying integrated marketing communications would not be their first choice – especially if this was their first experience in a graduate program.  Starting the IMC program in the summer wasn’t necessarily my first choice, but I am extremely happy that I was able to do so.  Initially I wanted to start the program in the Spring however; I was participating in a service learning trip to Ecuador and since the introductory class is only offered in Early Spring, Summer, and Early Fall I pushed IMC 610 back to summer.  Here are some of the best things about  my summer start!

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“Slow time” at work – At UW-Whitewater our summer months are a little bit slower, not entirely slow – but a little slower.  More people take vacation, there are less students on campus, and things are a little more flexible.  I was able to dive into grad school and get a better understanding of the time commitment of classes.  I hadn’t been in classes for three years and I had never taken an online class. Starting in the summer allowed me to gain my graduate school footing while still maintaining my employment.  That’s been the greatest part of the program overall.  I am able to work, go to school, and sneak in a few hobbies here and there because of the flexibility of the WVU online program.

Summer Capstone Class – I will take the capstone class in the summer.  I know that my situation is a little different.  With the tuition support I receive I am only able to take three classes a year instead of the five that are offered.  The way the stars have aligned means that I will also take the IMC 636 class in the summer.  I am very excited about this because I will be able to adjust my schedule accordingly and take the time I need to be able to create a great campaign.  Sometimes you have to think about the beginning and the end!

Don’t wait! – I didn’t want to wait.  I could have decided to push back my starting date to the fall but I thought that if I waited, I would never start.  Yes, a graduate degree is a lot of work.  Yes, your life will have to change a bit.  Delaying the start of the program is not going to change any of that.

Fresh air and warm weather – I know this sounds a little bit ironic, but it really helped.  We’ve had some pretty rough winters here in Wisconsin.  I had always heard people talk about seasonal depression and cabin fever in winter, but didn’t think too much of it until recently.  In the summer you can go out, get some exercise, and let your mind relax just a little bit easier than you can in the winter.  Because of this I was around more people to bounce ideas off of and I was traveling more, which  helped create discussion content for my classes.

I highly recommend starting classes in the summer.  As I said before, you’re always going to have a reason to wait, but it’s not going to make starting any easier.  Once you start, you’ll be happy you did.