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.


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.

February 26, 2010

Online Video: The Tipping Point Was Yesterday

This February ComScore released results for online video viewing that indicated 86% of the US online audience viewed videos online in December 2009, up 19% from the prior year. Compare the 178M online viewers to approximately 290M people who watched television in the 2009 season (Nielsen), and the growth is striking. Viewership has grown significantly, as has volume. According to comScore, the online viewer watched an average of 187 videos. So why haven’t brands and broadcasters rushed in?

The industry is hung up in a bit of a chicken and egg dilemma.
Broadcast and cable networks have loads of premium content, but don’t want to cannibalize the television audiences that drive their advertising revenue. Bandwith is expensive, and networks have yet to monetize their online content on a scale that could replace television revenue.

Egg: Large advertisers aren’t yet funneling massive ad buys into online video, because they can’t secure the reach that television provides, and the CPM rates are much higher than their television GRPs. To increase reach, historically advertisers have had to purchase space beyond YouTube and Hulu through networks, which haven’t guaranteed the contextual relevance or quality that television provides. Television equals a safe bet.

Analytics and measurement will move the industry beyond this impasse. A 2008 study by Doubleclick/Google clearly illustrated that video advertisements were significantly more effective than other forms of online media in driving brand favorability and purchase intent. An IAB case study found that online video was equally as effective as television in moving brand metrics. As a marketer, why would I have to dig for these results? Why aren’t there more case studies? Several video platforms offer advanced analytical tools to measure the effectiveness of campaigns- Omniture, TubeMogul, Visible Technologies. Someone brilliant will measure and share these results (both online engagement and offline brand metrics) broadly, and marketers will feel more comfortable with increasingly large spends on video. Larger spends will help drive more premium content.

A variety of monetization options can help fund more high-caliber content. Pre-roll, in-stream, and overlay ads are abundant. Subscription models like Netflix, pay-per-view, product placement, and Hulu’s choice-driven sponsorship are still in their nascency. (Thank you, H&R Block, for allowing me to choose pre-roll and skip in-stream ads throughout my favorite show.) Technology will enable more ways to syndicate and monetize, funding better content.

Potential sweet spots? If you’re a brand with a highly specific and elusive target audience, the targeting capabilities of online video should appeal to you. Smart brands of all sizes are using the latest tracking and analytics to uncover which creative is most engaging, and where audiences are falling off, with a depth of insight simply not offered by television. If you produce professional-looking video content for an attractive vertical or audience, ( and Plum TV come to mind) now is an attractive time to monetize while larger networks and studios gain internal alignment and technology.

February 5, 2010

Augmented Reality and the Selling Cycle: Samsung Series 7 LCD

Filed under: Uncategorized — aimee @ 12:39 pm
Tags: , ,

This week imediaconnection featured the 4 most interesting augmented reality apps. All evoked “neat!” but one is remarkable because it addresses a real consumer barrier in the selling cycle, and should ultimately drive sales.

Ever wandered the LCD aisle wondering “how large a TV do I really need?” and “will this really fit?” To launch the Samsung series 7 LCD TV, Samsung developed an application that allows consumers to visualize the television in the room they plan to place it. Here’s the video on how it works:

Unfortunately, I’ve been unable to find the actual application on the Samsung website or through search! Any information on the developer and location would be greatly appreciated. What do you think the most useful uses of AR are?

Next Page »

Blog at