O’ Say, You Can See

With the London Olympic Games in full swing, the attention of media audiences in the United States is intently focused on watching the athletes representing our nation compete at the pinnacle of their respective sports. The US has historically been extremely successful at both the Summer and Winter Games, winning more than twice as many total medals as the next winningest nation, the former Soviet Union.

This Olympiad will likely be no different. Many American individual and team competitors are expected to find themselves on the podium when the dust settles. The American Olympic team holds a certain rarified air of dominance, honor, and character, and it is always on display during the two weeks of the games. With all the medals they will be collecting, it is obvious why advertisers and sponsors want to be associated with the US Olympic athletes.

It is a well known fact that successful athletes are magnets for positive attention. Olympians are athletes competing at the highest level, and incidentally, they bring advertisers an ever higher level of value. Brands vying for association with the US Olympic Teams are attempting to capitalize on some of the most positively regarded and emotionally charged personalities in the world. It is no secret that the biggest brands desire this kind of brand association; think of how endorsements by the star of the 2008 Beijing Games, Michael Phelps, fared as he soared to fame as the most dominant Olympian of all time.

Brands like The Home Depot, P&G, and Visa, which has a dedicated “global sports sponsorship portfolio” spend billions of dollars on the quadrennial event. These companies will dominate commercial breaks and integrated ads across television and digital. Social media will be alight with conversation during the Games, and big marketing budget dollars will energize the platforms that carry the discussion. McDonald’s will open its largest store in the world for the Games, right in the Olympic Village. Yes, even fast food brands, often criticized for reasons that place them on the opposite end of the lifestyle spectrum from Olympic athletes, want in on this prime opportunity.

As the Olympic spectacle grows (this Games will involve a global audience of as many as 4 billion watching more than 5,300 broadcast hours), so does the opportunity for brands riding the coattails of the Games’ most recognizable competitors. How the games unfold will surprise, captivate, and inspire us, and the sponsors are counting on it.

Did You See THAT?

Spectators at fashion shows, particularly during the high profile ‘Fashion Weeks’ around the world, are often witnesses to some very unusual showcases. Coinciding with Miami’s July 2012 fashion week, the new Twelv Magazine debuted, featuring a visually stunning colorful dress on the cover. Upon close inspection, it became evident that the 220 pound piece was made entirely of gummy bears.

Creating fashion out of food is a trend that has gained momentum over the course of the past few years. Fashioning edible couture out of things like spaghetti and meatballs, citrus fruits, or other materials commonly reserved for the dinner plate certainly makes a big statement. The works are painstakingly made to last just a few fleeting moments in the public eye, but leave a lasting impact on audiences. It is a great way for a designer or a brand to be noticed and remembered among the thousands of ‘looks’ vying for consumers’ attention.

In a crowded marketplace, marketers are always striving to accomplish what designers like the famous (or infamous) Yeonju Sung manage to do with just a few supplies from the grocery store. Marketing seeks to cut through the noise and grasp attention, even if only for a few seconds, and make an impression that lasts much longer.

It is not to say that businesses should desperately seek to create some sort of stunt to momentarily capture an audience; constancy is pivotal to successful brand marketing. ‘Putting all the eggs in one basket’ is clearly a risk. The lesson that should be culled from the zany fashion scene is that designing solutions that pack punch can leave audiences thinking about a brand even after the messaging stops. Your customers are already advocates for your brand; create something bold to keep them talking.

Checking In or Checking Out: Geo-Regulation

Over the course of the past year, we have frequently touched on how location-based services, specifically geolocation technologies, have facilitated the growth of mobile marketing, discussing topics such as the latest SoLoMo trends and the influential experience of contextual advertising. Now, the government is in the process of moderating a complicated discussion about the future regulation of these powerful technologies.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) have joined forces to open a dialogue about high level privacy and security issues related to this data, playing mediator between telecommunications carriers, tech companies, consumer advocacy groups, and academics. A first official bill has recently been introduced to Congress, and it is now intensifying the debate.

Some groups have voiced their support for new comprehensive privacy legislation that would establish baseline privacy rights and requirements applicable to user information such as the data collected by geolocation technologies. On the other hand, a host of entities poised to benefit from the collection of this user data, have vehemently opposed additional regulation or legislation, arguing that businesses have marketplace incentives to be careful about user privacy. This side has argued that given the relative youth of the geolocation industry, the government likely lacks the information needed to create requirements that would meaningfully protect user privacy without stifling innovation and growth.

In the current regulatory environment, location based services do benefit both consumers and businesses. “Self-regulation” has so far been successful; consumers must opt-in to have their location data tracked. Although there have been instances of companies violating or working around this stipulation, there is yet to be a case stemming from the collection of this data. At the very least, consumers are becoming increasingly educated about the associated risks in privacy as the technologies become more commonplace.

What role will geolocation services play in mobile marketing in 2, 5, or 10 years? The future role of this technology will likely depend on a combination of consumer sentiments and some level of government supervision. Until then, consumers’ wants, needs, and expectation continue to drive the geolocation marketplace.

Hee Haw, Hee Haw

We have all seen or heard stories about controversial ad campaigns on television, radio, and the internet. Some are quickly pulled from public view in reactionary fashion; others are purposefully left to survive in defiance. Universally, very few of these campaigns are easily forgotten. Controversy can work in a positive light, going viral and spreading a brand message over a wide audience, but can also heavily damage a brand’s reputation as a result of poor public perception.

Not all controversial campaigns involve graphic themes, shocking imagery, or ideas conceived in bad taste; something as simple as a single poorly chosen word can be equally unpleasant. Hip retailer Urban Outfitters recently held a sale event the company chose to name the ‘Big Ass Sale.’ While on the surface, the name of the sale might seem to fit with the brand’s young and edgy identity and appeal to its target demographic, it is simultaneously off-putting to others.

The problem goes far beyond ‘the word’ itself; the company’s website featured images of a large tattooed man cannonballing shirtless into a swimming pool – hardly the best means of connote trendy clothing and accessories (he’s not wearing any). Whether someone seeing these ads is offended is only part of the issue. The overall campaign seems dreadfully conceived, and Urban Outfitters is unwittingly alienating potential new customers.

There is a big difference between a deliberately controversial or guerilla campaign and this type of promotion that is intended to push the brand forward by any means necessary. The company surely means no harm, and probably see themselves as ‘playing it on the edge’ to appeal to their customers, but intent doesn’t make a controversial campaign a smart idea. In this age, every brand is heavily scrutinized; it is crucial that marketing messages first filter through an organization’s values before going public and risking harm to the brand.

In this case, Urban Outfitters has come off as the donkey.

Junction Recognized for Supporting Central PA Businesses

On Wednesday, July 11, 2012, the Gettysburg Adams County Chamber of Commerce held a special membership breakfast in Biglerville, PA recognizing members that remain dedicated to growing businesses in the Central Pennsylvania region. Sponsored by Knouse Foods Inc., an international food service company headquartered in Biglerville in northern Adams County, the event welcomed more than 50 regional businesses.

Junction Creative Solutions (Junction) was presented with a certificate commemorating its first year of membership.  Mark Cropp, Executive Director, Business Development and Partnerships NE received the certificate on behalf of Junction. “We are extremely pleased to have reached this first milestone in our efforts to make a positive impact on businesses in Gettysburg Adams County and the greater Central Pennsylvania area,” said Mark.

Mark Cropp (Right Center) and Marci Cropp (Left Center) accept the certificate on behalf of Junction.

The anniversary also marks one year since the formal inception of Junction’s Gettysburg, PA office, extending the Atlanta, GA-based company’s reach in support of businesses throughout the Northeast. In its first year in the region, Junction sponsored the JXN Executive Roundtable event, bringing together more than 25 business owners and community leaders from the area to engage in a dialogue focused creating more successful and sustainable business amidst a challenging economic climate.

Attendees at the breakfast shared information about their products and services and had the opportunity to hear from elected state representatives on issues facing businesses in the Central Pennsylvania region. State Senator Rich Alloway spoke about the recently completed budgetary process in Harrisburg and how the legislation would affect the business community.

Following the meeting, attendees participated in a “Cash Mob” at Pomona’s Bakery and Cafe, where the group reconvened in support of the local business.

Fro-Yo Overload!

As summer brings sweltering  heat coast to coast, Americans are beginning to abandon traditional relief from sweet treats in ice cream parlors and popsicle stands in favor of an explosive new trend; frozen yogurt shops. These dairy-slinging stores are in the business of selling happiness, and feature diverse flavors and toppings for consumers to customize and enjoy. Frozen yogurt capitalizes on the overarching trend of ‘healthiness,’ offering a lighter option with probiotic properties; a delicious delight without the associated guilt.

A myriad of new brands have sprouted up in the past year, latching on to the fad and serving their tasty concoctions to the masses. Given the relatively niche market that these franchises would seem to fit, they are outrageously popular – there are now at least 17 unique chain or standalone frozen yogurt brands with nearly identical business models within the metro Atlanta area alone.

The first 20 of plenty of results of a search for frozen yogurt in the Atlanta area on the Yelp mobile app.

The industry is thriving thanks to real demand (2012 has been the hottest year on record thus far) and a model that fits consumer wants (self service means customers can take just a little or indulge heavily at a reasonable price). As a result, there are countless “fro-yo” fanatics who develop deep devotions to a favorite location, spending hard-earned cash for a well deserved treat as often as every day. With much of the product itself being relatively similar across the board, how does one generate this kind of loyalty and compete in a marketplace so oversaturated?

In the month of June, Junction designed an experiment to evaluate several rising yogurt chains. We took up the very demanding task of tasting our way through the various frozen yogurt experiences that Atlanta has to offer. We examined the selection and quality of the yogurt itself and available toppings, the design and branding of the stores, and the overall experience factoring in customer service, price point, and convenience of the locations. With temperatures soaring above 100 degrees, it all tasted good, but we encountered several unique brands that offered fantastic experiences and a handful that left us a little cold. Here are the results:

The standouts:

Yogli Mogli (25 locations) – An Atlanta-based chain offering great flavor selections, friendly customer service, colorfully designed and well-kept stores, and a consistent brand experience, all at a lower price point than the competition.

Cowlicks (2 locations) – A smaller franchise with outstanding customer service, a brand that is clever and on-point (Cows, get it?), numerous discounts and promotions, and the unique addition of a soda fountain for customers to create frozen yogurt floats.

Cowlicks has fun branding marked by cow prints and Bella, the mascot cow.

Menchie’s (190 locations) – Impressively branded, with interesting ‘guess-the-flavor’ and other promotions and discounts as well as the single largest selection of flavors and toppings. Also features plenty of merchandising, and a distinctive spoon that doubles as a great takeaway.

Menchie’s sturdy spoons make a great takeaway for kids and adults alike.

The less impressive:

Yoforia (21 locations) – Also based in Atlanta, had a ‘trendy’ brand that was uneven across store design and experience. Despite offering Stonyfield Farm Organic yogurt, selection was more limited and taste fell short. Little to no interaction with employees makes for a less friendly atmosphere.

Yoforia’s branding is uneven and somewhat confusing.

The Yogurt Tap (1 location) – A freestanding operation with a neighborhood feel and great tasting product, but lacking any uniform brand at all. Without distinct emotional touch points, the experience falls noticeably short of other shops.

After visiting dozens of locations, it became evident that strong and uniform branding, attentive service, and consistency were crucial factors in separating the outstanding shops from the field. Perhaps unsurprisingly, the franchises that managed to create the most memorable experiences earned the attention and likely the future business of our testers.

Quality and constancy in branding are key components in building any successful business, and as frozen yogurt mania continues to build, the brands that best manage to connect with their customers are primed to outlast those that miss the mark. Have you declared an allegiance to your favorite frozen yogurt shop?

The Perks of the Grind

How far would you go for the perfect cup of coffee?

There is seemingly no limit to the United States’ torrid love affair with coffee. Like many other consumer mediums, tastes for the ‘other black gold’ have gone through drastic changes in the last 100 years, evolving from the military grade canned coffee that is likely still collecting dust in back corners of home pantries across the country to a new cult-like obsession in the pursuit of the perfect premium blend.

The new wave of coffee mania could be the subject of its own college-level course. What exactly is single-origin, Kenyan Peaberry brewed by reverse osmosis in a Japanese Vacuum Siphon? Coffee connoisseurship has exploded, leading to an explosion of smaller specialty roasteries and corner coffee houses listing tasting notes on their menu to help customers navigate the breadth of options.

Starbucks, the company arguably most responsible for driving the coffee renaissance, now finds itself being challenged and repositioned on every front by the new breed of caffeinated zealots it helped create. Starbucks certainly has achieved immense commercial success over the years, setting the bar for quality and accessibility high for mass-marketed coffee in the process. The company is still the standard-bearer and the choice of a great majority and wide variety of coffee consumers, but the model of a nationwide chain is under threat from the growing market of distinguishing palates.

The store has begun efforts to address the wants of the coffee-obsessed, rolling out the $11,000 Clover Brewing System and a selection of Starbucks ‘Reserve’ single-origin and premium blend coffees to stores in select metropolitan areas. As consumers trend more towards what is artisanal, local, and unique, Starbucks seems conscious of the need for increased attention to quality and is smartly shifting its approach. The strategy goes beyond just coffee; to address other market trends, the company has also begun expanding an experimental beer and wine program and set plans in motion to revamp its bakery offerings with the recent acquisition of French bakery chain La Boulange.

The edge that Starbucks maintains over emerging competition is the brand affinity that it has worked so hard to build over the course of 50 years as the innovator and leader in the coffee space. The impeccably crafted brand focuses on the experience of the European coffee shop – featuring high quality beverages in a sleek and comfortable social setting. Of course, loyal customers are only benefitting from the delicious new products that the company must roll out to hold on to its share of the high end market.

The great coffee revolution shows clearly that competition drives change in the marketplace; with the right shift in strategy it is all for the better. As the heat continues to rise, Americans may not have to look very far for the best cup they’ve ever had.

Happy 4th of July from Junction

There is no doubt that here at home, the difficult times of the last handful of years have brought questions, fears, and doubts to businesses of all sizes. Joblessness, sluggish spending, and struggling financial markets leave the emerging economies of the world threatening to overtake the limping United States.

China, Brazil, and other emergent foreign economies are indeed growing at an incredible pace, but on Independence Day, we are reminded that the US is still the home of many opportunities and liberties that very few lucky people around the world can claim to enjoy. Our relatively short history is marked by a free flow of ideas and a never-say-die attitude that have helped millions succeed and achieve dreams.

It is easy to take the advantages that the US has to offer for granted, but America’s historical position as an unchanging economic superpower is truly an anomaly. From a business owner’s perspective, there is simply no greater nation on Earth.

Junction wishes everyone a happy and safe 4th of July. Celebrate the many rewards of living and operating a business in the US, and think about how to create some fireworks of your own. 

Checking In on Checking In

A unique concept bridging social networking and location-based marketing, check-in applications have become one of the most prominent trends in marketing. A few years ago, the first round of mobile check-in apps hit the market, spurring the excitement for this technology. By allowing users to announce their presence at a restaurant, bar, or event venue and earn badges and achievements, these apps were a fun way to find and connect with friends.

It did not take long for advertisers to realize the potential of these platforms to reach users with location-based marketing opportunities, and the check-in app market experienced a significant shift. For many users, these apps have now become all about the “gimmie.” Consumers are demanding more than just a place in a ‘leaderboard;’ instant deals, coupons, and prizes are far more attractive and more effective in creating new customers.

The principal player in the check-in app market, Foursquare, recently rebranded to facilitate more social interaction on the app and the site, in line with the preferences of its users. As a result, the company’s level of user engagement has been amplified, adding value for businesses and advertisers as well.

Google also took notice of the shift, eliminating its underperforming Google Places and choosing to integrate check-in functionality on its budding social network, Google+. Calling the new service Google+ Local, the tech giant hopes to spin the momentum of the check-in trend to build popularity with the

Now, check-in features have spread to other platforms. Facebook and Twitter, among others, are in the competition, offering optional location based services that help personalize user experience on the sites. Adoption has been fairly slow, but as always, there is incentive for members to connect with their networks on a local level.

Where is this trend headed? Some are concerned that advertisers will have an extremely close pin on where a consumer is at any time, but this isn’t necessarily a bad thing. As is the case with all location-based services, users must first opt-in, protecting them from undesired monitoring. Still, as social networks manage to better target the extensive user bases, a massive amount of data is being gathered that is extremely useful to marketers in offering products and services in line with consumer wants. For many consumers and advertisers alike, the proliferation of check-in apps may just be the key to more mutually beneficial relationships.