November 8, 2013

5 Invaluable Lessons from Virgin

For many entrepreneurs Richard Branson is the epitome of bold and successful entrepreneurship.  His companies are known around the globe for upturning their categories and challenging the status quo.  While executives and the press clamor to meet the man himself, far less is written about the unique training ground that his companies have been for entrepreneurs, social entrepreneurs, and marketers.  While Harvard Business School gave me an indispensable foundation in general management, Virgin offered unparalleled lessons in building businesses that remain true regardless of industry, audience, or trend.

1.  Your product is your most important form of marketing.
Long gone are the days when an ad campaign could hide a multitude of sins.  In today’s highly connected world, positive and negative word of mouth spreads like wildfire.  Virgin invests in developing stand-out products and services that are measurably different from their competition, and that their customers love with near obsession.  Case in point:  Virgin Atlantic’s Upper Class.  No focus group could have foretold the need for business class travel with mood lighting and a stand-up bar.  Yet by investing in a measurably different, better product, Virgin can spend 1/10th the funds on advertising that its competition does, and carries a much less costly loyalty program.  By focusing on “points of re-evaluation” or experiential touchpoints that differ dramatically from what’s expected in the category, like the spa pool in their airline lounge, or the inflight massage, customers not only begin to think differently about the status quo, but they are  more likely to tell their friends.  The virtuous cycle of word of mouth begins!

Here’s a technology counterpart:  Mint.  By focusing on solving a pain point with delightfully elegant UI, Mint experienced record-breaking adoption that led to its acquisition by Intuit only 3 years after its founding.  Like Virgin, Mint didn’t invest in costly ad campaigns or even multi-touch nurturing- instead press and word of mouth drove incredible adoption because it made managing finances  just.that.easy.

Screen Shot 2012-12-11 at 11.52.42 AM

Virgin Atlantic’s category-defying Upper Class Suite reset the bar for transatlantic business class travel.

Richard Branson celebrates Virgin Atlantic's 25th Anniversary

Richard Branson celebrates Virgin Atlantic’s 25th Anniversary









I will never forget the last time a product literally made me shiver.  It was 5am and my taxi arrived at the curb at the airport.  At that hour, I was clumsily gathering my luggage and fishing for cash.  The cab driver noticed my disheveled state and said “I take cards” and he slid my Amex through a tiny white box attached to his smartphone with great ease.  I signed with my finger and a receipt appeared automatically in my inbox.  “Oh my gosh, what’s that called?” I asked incredulously.  It was Square.  In the next 24 hours, I mentioned it to no fewer than 5 people.  It was so incredibly different than what I expected- so delightfully easy to pay on the go- that I had to spread the word.

In my next post, lesson #2:  you can’t afford to blend.


January 13, 2009

Simple human truths

Filed under: Marketing — aimee @ 4:20 pm
Tags: , , , , ,

My pulse quickens when I learn of a company that has identified a simple, human truth as a basis for their new strategy. So I smiled this morning when I received my Mediapost newsletter and learned that OfficeMax has identified cubicle misery as a universal phenomenon. (Hurrah! Cubes stink and someone outside of academia actually conducted research about it!) They believe they can differentiate themselves from their competition (Staples, Target, Walmart) and grow their business in a declining category by launching a line of products to beautify one’s cube. The campaign launched with cinema and is aimed at professional women 20-50.

The new cinema spot is lovely and relaxing, a Calgon-like moment with pretty graphics. But I have one humble question: does anyone have a budget these days to buy pretty office supplies? I imagine most businesses that have cubes have either centralized purchasing or expense policies, and I can’t seem to picture an office manager approving my new paisley file folders with a wink and a smile. Bob Thacker, SVP at OfficeMax indicates the target includes female small business owners and entrepreneurs, but again I question demand for products one could perceive as a luxury in the current business climate. Aren’t most small businesses sole proprietorships, who likely don’t suffer as cubicle-dwellers?

Perhaps this is primarily a branding attempt to differentiate and reposition themselves. While Target clearly dominates their position of “design for all” I applaud Office Max for introducing design in a category where it has been lacking since, well, the invention of manila file folders. Eager to explore the product line, I visited the OfficeMax website. Alas, there was no mention of the products on the home page! A few Google searches later, I discovered an article that Office Max launched four private label brands in October, one of which could possibly be the line in question. But here’s another simple truth: your consumers aren’t going to expend more than 3 minutes searching for a product that could be considered a novelty. In fact, every search term I could imagine would lead me to OfficeMax led me to paid search by Target. Yikes!

Trying to explore every angle, I thought “perhaps this is just a move to gain some incremental purchases from existing in-store traffic.” Buy why pay for creative development and media when you could just throw up some endcaps at checkout?

Okay, enough nitpicking. What have we learned here?

-Fantastic insight + good creative isn’t enough to build your business. If you’re going to invest in PR and advertising, make sure you reap the return on the investment by having a search and web strategy in place to facilitate research and purchase. Don’t let your competition benefit from your ad spend!
-Public relations, marketing, and e-commerce/web departments need to align on strategy and execution. What good is getting the message out if you’re unprepared to capitalize on it?

Beautify your cube: love it or hate it? Which companies have you seen execute integrated marketing well?

December 30, 2008

What’s in a name?

Filed under: Marketing,Uncategorized — aimee @ 12:28 am
Tags: ,

What does the name Kinko’s evoke for you? The name transports me nostalgically to an age of term papers and dissertations. I recall the weary camaraderie at 2 am in Cambridge Square, after the campus printing labs closed, the young staff behind the counter, and the smell of coffee with a hint of desperation. After murmurings in June, FedEx Kinkos confirmed in early December that it was retiring the Kinkos brand for a new name “FedEx Office.” Citing a strategy to serve as an office for traveling professionals and branch office for medium and large companies, and a desire to part with associations of poor customer service and analog technology, the new branding will rollout across the chain in the next 2 years.

FedEx purchased Kinkos in 2004 to take a bite of UPS’s ground shipping business. As Daniel Gross wrote in an article in Slate at the time:

“Putting together a company that derives most of its revenues from sending documents and small packages overnight with a chain of stores where people go to create the sort of documents that need to be sent overnight—résumés, business plans, papers, reports—seems like a brilliant idea. For 1990.”

Revenue from services provided through the Kinkos stores represents roughly 5% of FedEx total, and with no mention of an improved service model or expansion, one wonders if FedEx has shown their true strategy: more convenient shipping centers without the expense of dual branding? And as for the dog-eared but beloved Kinkos brand? Time will tell if retirement benefits FedEx’s office services business. When I think of FedEx I think of shipping, logistics, and reliability. Computerized mechanization that removes any prospect of human error. None of the hand-holding involved in graphic production or small business services…yet. No friendly undergrad behind the counter who knows how to sweet-talk the hulking copier into printing double-sided. I wish the best of luck to FedEx, but admit part of me hopes that Kinkos will return triumphantly like Brett Favre.

This week’s MVP:
The TSA at Hartford-Springfield airport, who greeted me by name and smiled while checking my ID prior to security and throughout the security line. Despite my experience in the airline industry, I almost fell over with surprise. Isn’t it interesting how the use of your name creates a welcoming feeling? While research has shown using a customer’s name and smiling are two drivers of service satisfaction, it was particularly powerful when I was least expecting it- at an airport during the busy holiday season. It cast a warm glow over my entire journey, and I will definitely fly out of Hartford again.

Thoughts and comments? Do you think dropping the Kinkos brand is wise?

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