March 8, 2010

What bacon and voodoo can teach us about differentiation

This week I received a note from Youngme Moon, one of my former business school professors, that she’s about to launch a new book entitled “Different: Escaping the Competitive Herd.” The creative trailer for the book cleverly illustrates the challenge of differentiating in a crowded field of “me too!” yet reminded me of a business school case in lacking even the slightest glimpse into the solution. So, while I wait in anticipation of a good read on the April 6th release date, here are two inspiring companies who definitely chose to go left when others turned right:

The Eponymous Donut from Voodoo Donut in Portland, Oregon

The Voodoo Donut from Voo Doo Donuts in Portland, Oregon

Two businesses crossed my path this week that are valiantly unafraid to specialize. Incidentally both were started by pairs of friends, but that’s material for another article. The first, Voodoo Doughnuts of Portland, Oregon specializes in off-beat, dare I say eccentric varieties of the beloved pastry that would positively scandalize Dunkin’ Donuts. Case in point: their signature Voodoo variety is a person-shaped doughnut frosted with eyes and a smile and filled with raspberry jelly. Included with each purchase- a pretzel rod “pin” to stab the doughnut, which oozes red jelly filling. The business has been featured in the New York Times, Fast Company, and enjoys a passionate following at its two Portland locations.

JD's Bacon Salt. It comes in three varieties.

The second company, JD foods, specializes in bacon condiments. The past few years have given rise to an unprecedented passion for bacon. First, a sleeper blog of things wrapped in bacon became a runaway success, with the arterial-clogging “Bacon Explosion”. Soon bacon appeared on menus across the country as tempura, icecream, and even vodka. It was suddenly socially acceptable to profess one’s love of the fatty yet delicious meat amidst crowds that eschewed carbs and even meat. In the midst of the rising bacon tide (hmmm, perhaps not the best visual) friends Justin and Dave invented bacon salt and bacon-naise with the catchy tagline “everything should taste like bacon.” With product additions like “Baco-Pop” popcorn and bacon-flavored ranch dressing, even vegetarians are singing J&D’s praises.

Both of these examples support the premise that there’s no such thing as “a little different” for small companies that want to capture consumers attention. Would J&Ds have 4,212 Twitter followers if they were a spice company that happened to also sell bacon salt? Would VooDoo have gained the same volume of press attention if it offered an unusual doughnut once or twice a year? By embracing their specialties these companies have earned a place in the heart of consumers, and differentiated themselves from their much larger competitors. Tell me, which companies do you admire for “going left when others go right?” Hit comment below.


August 27, 2009

From the Pages of Fiction: Augmented Reality Hits the Market

In his 2007 novel Spook Country, William Gibson envisioned a word where virtual art installations were suspended in the real world using GPS coordinates, visible only to those wearing special goggles. Massive astral sculptures loomed in warehouses and recreations of celebrity murders stood on the streets of LA. Today augmented reality (AR) for the masses became a reality thanks to the iPhone and the Paris Metro App: check out the Fast Company article here.

Paris Metro Appliation, from Fast Company

Paris Metro Appliation, from Fast Company

For the uninitiated, augmented reality is a term for a live direct or indirect view of a real-world environment whose elements are supplemented with or augmented by computer-generated imagery. The most familiar example for US audiences is the first down symbol that appears in television broadcasts of football (Wikipedia). The new iPhone application allows users to peer through their camera screen at the surrounding neighborhood and directions to the nearest Paris Metro stop hover like beacons over the landscape.

Early adopters of technology include automakers launching new cars and publishers seeking new and better advertising vehicles. The June 2009 issue of Popular Science featured a cover highlighting GE wind technology that became 3-D and animated when held up to a webcam, using software by Metaio. Here’s a quick profile by Mediapost.

What’s next in AR? Surely retail businesses that depend of foot traffic will jump onboard (Find my Starbucks apps? McDonalds?) How long until personal navigators, worn individually, will replace my Garmin GPS? Will visions of my renovated home stand optimistically on the spot of my fixer-upper? The applications seem limitless. How would you augment your reality? Leave a comment below.

If you’re working in augmented reality, drop me a note!

July 14, 2009

Job Opening or Savvy Marketing Campaign?

Image from The Best Job in the World Campaign

Image from The Best Job in the World Campaign

On May 5th, amid a flurry of press coverage a 34 year-old British man won “the best job in the world”: the opportunity to live on a small island off Australia and get paid to feed the fish and blog about the experience. In June the masterminds behind the dream job campaign, Australian agency CumminsNitro, scooped up three Grand Prix Lion awards for direct, PR, and interactive results that drove awareness of the islands off the Great Barrier Reef for the Queensland Tourism Bureau. The stats are quite stunning: 36,600 entries from aspirational experience-seekers around the globe, an estimated $100M in press coverage in 8 target countries, and nearly 7M visits to the website

The campaign kicked off with job listings in print classifieds and on sites such as and glossy printed and interactive kits to press in the target countries. In a climate of job loss and dire news, the story spread like wildfire among hungry news outlets: “Looking for a job? You may want to consider a move to Australia!” And the imagination of the target audience was piqued, dreaming of a paid year spent on white sandy beaches. While the contest is over, the engagement continues with weekly blog posts by the new “island caretaker” that are punctuated by captivating video and flickr streams. Ultimately the measure of any successful tourism campaign is traffic to the destination, and Fast Company reports that Australian air carrier Virgin Blue launched a new flight to the featured island to keep pace with demand.

This spring a small winery in Sonoma County named Murphy-Goode launched a contest targeted at another genre of dream job seeker: “Wine Country Lifestyle Correspondent.” For six months the lucky winner will: “report on the cool lifestyle of Sonoma County Wine Country and, of course, tell people what you’re learning about winemaking” using social media. Like the island campaign, applicants are required to submit a 60 second video application, and entries have flooded the web. In fact, when googling Murphy Goode hundreds of applicant sites appear, including uber-enthusiastic entrants who have purchased url variations of the company’s brand name to host their videos. (A quality problem?) The campaign took off on blogs, Facebook, and Twitter and a winner will be announced on the site on July 21st.

A few thoughts on why these campaigns will ultimately drive revenue:

Customers not just influencers. The concept drove discussion among groups most likely to be prospective customers. Not generic, faceless groups we so often call “bloggers” and “twitterers” to drive coverage (although the target obviously engaged in both) but well-defined groups of prospective island visitors (“global experience seekers”) and wine drinkers/aficianados who are likely to be purchase the products as well as influence friends.
Brand engagement was built into the contest. How many of us wish our customers spent time pouring over our websites and pondering why our brands were perfect for them? Entrants were required to engage with the companies/brands to create video entries. To improve their chances of winning, they researched the island and winery and spent time creating a pitch on why they would be a perfect fit. After entering, they were well-educated consumers who were likely to think positively about the brand they just invested several hours in. The long duration of the contests (3 months) also assured entrants were likely to think about the brand, imagine winning, and tell their friends as they waited for the final result.
The concept struck a powerful chord due to cultural trends. The best marketing campaigns resonate powerfully because they connect with the cultural psyche at a moment in time. During the internet boom of the late 90’s, a job on an island or winery may not have driven incredible press coverage while twenty-somethings became paper millionaires after their companies went public. However in a time of record unemployment and financial uncertainty, a “paid dream job” captured our imagination in a way a “year-long dream vacation” could not.

Come across another job-opening as marketing campaign? Think the trend will continue? Add a comment below.

May 5, 2009

Trends in Technology: Embracing the Individual & the Collective

This week’s trend coverage ranges from embracing the nuances of the individual to capitalizing on the connectedness of the collective. As Mother’s Day rapidly approaches, I was inspired to purchase a handmade gift on The press was buzzing with handmade coverage in final quarter of 2008, and I wondered if the trend continued to pick up steam in the first two quarters of 2009. According to Google Trends, search traffic for Etsy has steadily climbed even as press coverage of the handmade trend tailed off. Now, with 2.3M monthly visitors and respectable month to month growth (Quantcast), we’ll have to assume the trend is alive and thrives at

Need further evidence? Felt is everywhere. Suddenly the not-so-glamorous fabric we used for crafts in kindergarden is showing up in high end home decor and eco fashion. Check out these pillows for the geek in all of us from and hand-crafted device holders from British design firm Hard Graft:

While researching the handmade trend I discovered Trendhunter a portal that “crowdsources” trends from 22,000 members who actively submit their observations from around the world. In plain english, crowdsourcing is essentially outsourcing a task to an unknown group of people/aka the general public, rather than a contractor or consultant. At Trendhunter, the thousands of submissions made by members are compiled into micro trends and trends, which are packaged and sold to clients such as marketers, agencies, and design firms. Members are paid for a portion of the Google advertising revenue generated from their postings, and can benefit from increased exposure to readers. In many ways, Trendhunter is an ingenious business model made possible only through technology, however I can imagine the final product (trends) would flounder without a guiding editorial hand to sift through and weave stories from, well, golden tightsand prison fun scenarios. Any planners or strategists care to comment on their methodology?

Finally before my head hits the pillow, I’ve stumbled across my first completely meaningless crowd-sourced trend (aside from the aforementioned golden tights and prison fun scenarios.) Tonight on Twitter, the term “Facebook Money” emerged as a trending topic. With a little investigation, it was clear it was purely an inside joke that was quickly embraced by thousands of Twitterers. Kind of cool, but was it trend-worthy? Or are massive inside jokes shared among strangers the next trend?

You can now follow me on Twitter @iheartflooz.

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