25 Trendsetters to Watch

Posted on by Brian Quinton

As we round the turn into the new year, the editors of Chief Marketer thought we'd stop to compile an educated but fairly personal list of the trends and tactics we expect to see driving marketing in 2012, and an equally informal list of the brands at the forefront of those efforts. These aren't the only new initiatives around, nor are the 25 brands named here the only practitioners. In many cases, they're just executing particularly well on strategies that many are pursuing. But we expect them all to make for interesting watching in the months ahead — especially by their competitors.

Speaking Straight to Shoppers:

Once, CPG companies had only a handful of ways to message to customers: mass media, instore campaigns and free-standing inserts with coupons and special offers. The companies controlled the media buys; in the other channels, they often had to work in tandem with retail partners.

Not anymore. Thanks to new media, and particularly the mobile and social channels, CPG brands can now make direct connections both with their longtime loyalist customers and, increasingly, with new customers in store aisles.

KRAFT FOODS (1.) has been in the vanguard of this outreach. Individual Kraft brands have made news with record-setting numbers of Facebook likes (Oreo), Twitter campaigns (Kraft Mac & Cheese) and recipe ebooks (Philadelphia Cream Cheese). But it's the company's broad cross-brand efforts to find fans and drive sales that are most compelling, and hardest for competing brand parents to copy.

Those initiatives are embodied in Kraft iFood Assistant, the smartphone shopping app that launched in December 2008 for the iPhone as a paid app (99 cents), and last September rolled out as version 3.0. The original allowed users to access Kraft's inhouse recipe content, build shopping lists on the phone, and locate stores and occasional offers. That earned it a spot in an iPhone commercial, rankings as one of the most useful smartphone apps of the year, and the #2 download spot among iTunes Store lifestyle apps. By some reckonings, 60% of those who have downloaded the app are still using it regularly.

The new iPhone app soups up that functionality by letting users share recipes on Facebook, scan barcodes in their pantries to build shopping lists, and link mobile coupons to their grocery loyalty cards in a third-party partnership with Coupons.com. Those coupons can be for non-Kraft products (although nothing that competes with a Kraft brand).

At launch, the app's aim was to make Kraft more relevant at the grocery point of purchase, says Ed Kaczmarek, director of innovation, consumer experiences at Kraft Foods. “We wanted to make meal prep, planning and shopping easier and a bit more fun, and provide daily inspiration that pulls from the years Kraft has been developing recipes,” he adds.

It's never been about the ads. “The utility was always more important than the branding, and the consumer experience was where we spent the most time,” Kaczmarek says. Nevertheless, he says, Kraft got some early complaints from users who felt they'd spent 99 cents to buy Kraft ads. To counterbalance the fee, Kraft now offers iFood-specific coupons not available in any other channel.

The coming reorganization of Kraft has added some uncertainty, but for now Kaczmarek's function is unique in a CPG company. He and his team members control an independent budget, so they can not only strategize pilot campaigns with brand managers, but support those trials with dollars.

“When I go to get our brands involved in our innovation initiatives, while I need their time and their belief, I'm funding the effort,” he says. “That helps get more traction than if I was asking each of them to use their own money.”

Last year Kraft also took the lead among CPD brands in rolling out an iPad app. “Big Fork, Little Fork” targets parents with recipes, lots of video and interactive games for teaching kids about healthy foods. Kaczmarek says Kraft is also testing Internet-linked ads on Google TV, allowing viewers to click through spots to relevant product videos and other content.

Earlier this year, Kraft partnered with Intel on a demo instore kiosk that can take shopping-list and loyalty-card info from users' iFood apps and suggest meals for that night's dinner based on past purchases. Even more, it can use a camera to scan the user for gender and age and tailor those suggestions to the detected demographic — about as close to the customer as a brand can get instore.

“We're now working on iFood Assistant 4.0,” Kaczmarek says. “I can't give details, but look for some big innovations to come.”



By the numbers, 2011 has probably been the year of the QR code. Tracker comScore reports that 14 million Americans (about 6.2% of the total mobile audience) scanned QR codes in June 2011. Scannable codes are so ubiquitous that some marketers are detecting QR fatigue in their customers. The fact is that code scans are effective only when they deliver something useful to a user. In other words, making someone take out her phone and open an app just to get your URL is a waste of effort. It has even been hinted that some retailers might be throttling back on instore Wi-Fi connectivity to make it harder for shoppers to scan barcodes and look up comparative prices.

But some brands have seen great promise in code scans, both bar and QR. GLAMOUR MAGAZINE'S (2.) September issue deployed QR codes from provider SpyderLynk. Called Social SnapTags, the codes took users either to content like a video clip of Rihanna, to contests and giveaways from Glamour, or to advertisers that were running their own contests, offers and samples (a year's worth of Lancome makeup, or 40% off items at The Gap). According to SpyderLynk, the special “Friends and Fans” issue saw more than a half-million reader engagements with the codes, and unique users amounting to about 4% of Glamour's circulation. Of the readers who scanned the codes, 67% liked the magazine or brand to access deals or offers, and 18% of those shared the deals with their social friends.

According to the comScore study, about half of the codes scanned in June were found in printed material. But multichannel seller HSN (3.) saw a chance to bridge the gap between TV and online in October during a four-day sale of electronics and innovative gadgetry. In what was billed as a test, the retailer built QR codes into the onscreen product displays; users could scan the codes on the tablets and mobile phones that HSN is convinced they have open while viewing anyway, and be taken to product pages with full specs and links to the ecommerce checkout.

Integrating code scans with broadcast has one advantage: On-air presenters could explain how to download and use scanning apps — no need to rely on viewers' digital literacy. If the test is termed a success, ecommerce vice president Jill Braff told the press, HSN might investigate code scans that load an item directly into a user's shopping cart.

In the 1D world, WALGREENS (4.) has seen outstanding adoption of its smartphone app, which offers a number of functions but perhaps none as popular as the “Refill by Scan” feature. Users open the app, point the scanner at the barcode on their prescription bottles, and send that scan to Walgreens. The code automatically identifies their local store, the medication and dosage, and suggests a pickup time; users can change both the time and the pickup location. The transaction is done in less than 30 seconds, with no wading through a 10-level voice menu. Four months after its launch on the iPhone, in Oct. 2010, the Refill by Scan app was already accounting for more than half of all refill orders received via mobile phone.



Whatever else the daily deal explosion has done, at its best it has trained consumers to look for enticing offers in their mailboxes every day. Of course, too many irrelevant offers begin to look like spam, risking user backlash. But when the offers are properly targeted, tailored or segmented by customer interest, they can become a very regular habit.

While it has moved beyond its flash-sales base, GILT GROUPE (5.) still relies largely on merchandise from select brands offered at 50% or more rebates in time-based sales that last 36 to 48 hours. The day's offers are announced in emails sent just before noon EST, and for many of Gilt's 3 million members, the 10 minutes in which those emails are opened and read is appointment shopping, according to CMO Alexis Maybank. She told a conference that 65% of the average day's sales happen within 90 minutes of the mailing. From its start in women's and men's apparel in 2007, Gilt has broadened into a lifestyle marketer with offerings in kids' clothing, home decor, luxury travel and gourmet foods.

Gilt then combines site analytics with member registration data to personalize the experience to the interests, lifestage and preferences of each shopper. That daily email has 2,000 iterations tailored to the customer and contains the top-six product categories based on their past buying, along with categories they're likely to be interested in based on browsing behavior. “We run daily regression models to update new mouse movements and clicks that could give Gilt Groupe new information about that customer,” Maybank said. “That lets the customer think, ‘Wow, Gilt really knows me.’”

More than Gilt's rival Groupon, LIVINGSOCIAL (6.) has made it a point to develop verticals of offers targeted at specific audience interests. Right now, in addition to its daily deals, the platform offers LivingSocial Escapes (packaged travel deals), LivingSocial Adventures (short-term travel or experiences) and LivingSocial Families. Via mobile in New York, San Francisco and Washington D.C., it also offers LivingSocial Instant discounts on restaurants and services in the user's vicinity; and it recently rolled out Instant Escapes, last-minute weekend travel deals.

The brand is currently testing two food-delivery options in its D.C. home market. Instant Ordering will offer home or office delivery from some 70 area restaurants as part of the Instant platform and be available all the time. LivingSocial Room Service will offer prix-fixe menus delivered with “white glove service” including fancy glass- and tableware, and will be available from only one restaurant in a market per week on Thursday and Friday nights.

PLUM DISTRICT (7.) relies on one powerful demographic, moms, not only to buy the deals but to go out and source them. The platform offers daily rebates in 20 local markets, including San Francisco, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles and Seattle, along with one nationwide “Everywhere Deal.” Members can also recruit deals from local merchants, promote them within their respective markets, and take a small percentage of the revenue. For example, one mom arranged to place a Plum District registration widget on the local Little League web page on sign-up day and for the company to donate to the team for every new user.



Superman's wearing jeans, and he's not quite the Boy Scout you remember. That was just one of the many changes DC COMICS (8.) made in late summer when it rebooted its entire core line of titles and launched the “New 52,” 52 new comic books that for the most part ditched the established DC continuity and aimed to make comics accessible for everyone — not just established readers. The New 52 not only ushered in altered realities for popular characters like Wonder Woman and the Flash, but debuted non-superhero offerings like “All Star Western,” “Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E” and “Men of War.”

The move, admits John Rood, DC's executive vice president of sales, was not without risks. After all, the changes could have alienated the core fan base. “We were sensitive to that and we do respect our fans, but we had to open up publishing to the widest possible audience, because these characters live beyond publishing.” Indeed, the relaunch took advantage of that, promoting the books via other Warner Bros. companies with previews in Entertainment Weekly, in DVD releases and via “DC Nation,” a new block of programming on Cartoon Network. DC also broke new ground by making the New 52 titles available digitally on the same date as print publication. This move, says Rood, is bringing in both new and lapsed readers. As for print sales, DC topped arch rival Marvel Comics in market share for October, producing seven of the top-10 comics sold, according to Diamond Comic Distributors.

Despite its name, NEWBURY COMICS (9.) is a very different business from DC Comics. The company is a Massachusetts-based retail chain, which began in Boston's Back Bay in 1978 primarily as a record store that also sold comics and magazines. As times changed, those records flipped over to CDs and DVDs, with a healthy helping of pop culture ephemera like toys, posters and other collectibles. And as times changed even more, Newbury saw its competitors big and small fall by the wayside as customers began more and more entertainment digitally. A quarter of Newbury's own sales now come from the web, but it realized it needed to tweak its brick-and-mortar retail concept to stay viable.

The company is closing some smaller suburban stores in favor of larger mall-based locations with a bit of a split, albeit synergistic, personality. Half of the stores are laid out with the traditional Newbury Comics' offerings, while the other side showcases fashion with a youthful, rock-and-roll flair. “I know we can't turn back the clock, and I know we have to change dramatically over the next three years,” Mike Dreese, CEO and co-founder, wrote in a recent note to the company's email subscribers, asking them to take a survey on how they'd like to see the chain evolve. “The question is — what to do? I always say the three most important words in business are ‘I don't know!’ Here's hoping we can figure it out.”



Brands have accepted that they need to integrate elements of social media into their customer touchpoints. But that social integration can still go in many directions.

For some retailers, the time is right to open a full-fledged Facebook store and start selling within the network. In August, AEROPOSTALE (10.) launched a storefront that lets visitors shop its regular online inventory, share or just like the items without leaving Facebook. The store operates on a platform from Usablenet, the provider that also powers J.C. Penney's Facebook store. On the push side, potential customers are spending so much time inside Facebook — nearly one-fourth of time online — that reaching them there makes sense. And the concept has the added pull of potential shopper insights via Facebook: ages, what items they share and how often they come to the store.

Other retailers have taken a real-world approach to sharing potential purchases. With agency LBi, MACY'S (11.) has demo'ed a virtual fitting room in its Herald Square flagship that lets users flip through looks in a tablet, call up the image on a mirror, and superimpose it on a webcam shot of themselves. No need to undress; and if you like what you see, you can send the image to your Facebook page or cell phone — and of course hunt down the real thing on the sales floor.

SEPHORA (12.) has chosen to integrate social media deeply into its mobile and tablet strategies with user-generated reviews from Bazaarvoice for its line of beauty products. In mobile, the authentic customer voice can help shoppers at the point of purchase. In Sephora's new iPad 2 app, ratings and reviews are just part of the social content. The tablet magazine includes tight integration with the brand's Facebook wall and Twitter feed so users can share or retweet Sephora's content from within the app, and syndication of its “Daily Obsession” employee product picks.

When Sephora was strategizing about going onto mobile platforms, enhancing the instore experience was as crucial as enabling commerce. “We have more than 1.5 million ratings and reviews that our clients have posted about our products,” ecommerce vice president Marcy Zelmar said recently at a Forrester consumer conference. “Harnessing that content and making it available for use instore was very important to us.”

The iPad app also includes a pretty amazing “Virtual Mirror” function. In split screen, users can watch makeup application tips from Sephora's experts while watching their own application of the same products. It's a serious bit of sizzle meant to ensure that, once downloaded, the app gets used again and again.

And in yet another social approach, HEINZ' (13.) U.K. subsidiary tested the response to sampling within Facebook, offering a new balsamic vinegar ketchup to the first 3,000 fans before shipping the item to stores.



Discounting is grand for short-term sales gains, but it doesn't necessitate word-of-mouth or long-term loyalty. But experiences customers can share with their friends are another story.

CHIK-FIL-A (14.) creates memorable experiences for customers as a way to make the fast food chain a special place in their lives. For example, local franchises run daddy/daughter and mother/son “date nights,” complete with fancy tablecloths and entertainment. Stories from customers elated by their outings are posted on the company website and — Dan Cathy, Chik-Fil-A president and COO hopes — satisfied customers share the experiences extensively in their own social media presences. “You can't control social,” he says, “but you can manage it.”

Procter & Gamble's FEBREZE (15.) found a natural partner in the Macaroni Kid e-newsletter's National Costume Swap Day events before Halloween. As kids debated whether to disguise themselves as Dracula or a fairy princess, brand reps were on hand to freshen the gently used costumes with a spritz of the fabric refresher. And, full-size samples were handled out for parents to take home. The costume-swap events tied into Febreze's “Breathe Happy” campaign, which included a day-long yoga event in Times Square and a mission to combat tough odors at the Gilroy Garlic Festival.

Medical technology marketer HILL ROM (16.) had a trade show booth that didn't showcase the range of patient care solutions the company offers. Beds were on display, but none of Hill Rom's digital solutions were showcased. The target audience was nurses attending events because, says Philip D. Settimi, senior vice president and CMO, “clinicians hold tremendous weight with supply organizations in hospitals.” The solution was a booth broken down into six demo stations that let nurses try out how the technology could be beneficial to their patients. “It showed how our products worked together, rather than laying them out like a used car lot,” he says. Because the company's trade show booth was due for a refresh anyway, the cost of the new set-up was already factored into Hill Rom's budget. And, leads generated for the major shows at which the company exhibits have increased four to 10 times.



It's an achievement that big brands can energize several million Facebook advocates enough to like them in social media. But how does that translate if you're a multichannel merchant that needs to talk to shoppers in different regions around the country?

WALMART (17.) is tackling that problem with a Facebook app that lets all 3,500 of its U.S. stores communicate with all 9.4 million of its Facebook fans on a localized store level. Visitors will be able to click on the “MyLocalWalmart” tab on the Facebook page and like any of the local Walmart outlets in their area. They will then be able to see special offers and sales tailored to those markets: for example, golf clubs in Sarasota, FL, in January, but heavy-duty car batteries and snow tires in Worcester, MA. Walmart managers will also be able to post notices of local instore events and promotions in the space.

While the new localized effort apparently won't lead Walmart to cut back on other forms of local marketing, such as FSIs or direct mail, the brand hopes it will increase likes on its product pages. Fans will get two messages a week from their local Walmart to start with.

“Now those stores can have a relationship with their local consumers,” Carolyn Everson, vice president of global marketing solutions for Facebook, said at the recent Path2Purchase conference. “Managers can get feedback on which products are most important to that local community, and thus which ones they might want to feature. If the local football team has a great weekend, maybe the store wants to offer something special as a promotion. It's bringing back a personalized shopping experience.”



If you're a parent, chances are the LEGO (18.) brand is all over your house — along with a lot of Lego bricks. Lego has had a presence in mobile with apps like “Ninjago Spinjitzu Scavenger Hunt,” an extension of the popular ninja-themed Lego line. Now, Lego has introduced “Life With George,” which combines real-world Lego bricks with an interactive app that offers challenging building tasks. Apps may be the future for Lego, which in January is closing down the online multiplayer game Lego Universe because it couldn't convert enough players to paid subscribers.

Deloitte studies indicate that 36% of customers used their smartphones while grocery shopping in the last year, most often to check a list or look up a recipe. SHOPRITE (19.) is making that trend work for it with a free weekly specials app for both iPhone and Android. The app offers a virtual version of the weekly circular and allows users to create grocery lists, with pricing updated every Sunday. It makes sense — if your list is in the ShopRite app, you're probably more likely to go there as opposed to a competitor.

The app and a corresponding .mobi site are synched with marketing campaigns on ShopRite.com for a consistent message, says Donna Zembo, manager of ecommerce and digital technology for ShopRite parent Wakefern Food Associates. Monthly visits to the iPhone app are up 78% quarter over quarter, with smaller increases for the Android app and the mobile site. One additional benefit: Because the app links to a loyalty card, users were asked to register to get their savings. That let ShopRite acquire 126,000 new email addresses for potential opt-in messaging.

Like many catalogers, HAMMACHER SCHLEMMER (20.) has realized that while many customers like the experience of browsing the print catalog format, they may not appreciate the ecological impact of all that paper. Enter the digital catalog. Hammacher offers a digital edition of its catalog on both its website and the iPad app Catalog Spree, where users can browse and link directly to the company's site to buy. “We'd tried other Flash-based catalogs and e-catalogs on our website, and they never quite hit it,” says Hammacher ecommerce director Henry Coleman. “You could use the web catalog as a navigation tool, but when you clicked on a product you were taken right to the product page. Our catalog shoppers really value the browsing experience; they like turning a page and not knowing what they're going to see next.”



Social media is about communities of shared interests, and two big brands have recently expanded their efforts to talk to those communities — in their language of choice — about concerns and values of their own.

First, SEARS HOLDING CORP. (21.) has rolled out a new bilingual Facebook page and Twitter handle @SearsLatino to address Spanish-speaking shoppers within social media. “Given its population growth and high adoption of social media, this is a natural extension of our online initiatives,” Oscar Castro, director and general manager of Sears international ecommerce, said in a prepared statement. The bilingual SearsLatino Facebook page, launched in July, has about 90,000 likes, thanks to promotions such as “Mama Back to School.” The Spanish initiatives complement Sears' long-standing attention to Spanish audiences in ecommerce and the rollout in 2010 of a Spanish site specific to its Puerto Rican stores.

MCDONALD'S USA (22.) is reaching out to two communities, one ethnic, the other demographic. The company has just launched a Spanish-language Twitter handle, @MeEncanta, that will speak directly to the Hispanic audience in the U.S. Of the 8 million Latino Twitter users in the U.S., about 2.5 million prefer to use Spanish in the channel, says Cristina Alforo, external communications manager at McDonald's USA. “So we saw an opportunity to connect with those who like to engage in Spanish, or those open to doing so in either language,” she says. Some content on the feed will feature educational, music and soccer promotions specific to Latino customers. But the feed will also serve to push broad McDonald's efforts, such as the current “You Want Fries with That” sweepstakes/instant win.

Separately, the company is now accepting applications for a new McDonald's Family Arches online community that will launch next year. Those accepted for membership will get direct access to the company's executive chef and nutrition team as well as peer relationships with influential parenting bloggers around the country. They'll also get perks such as early sampling of new menu items, invitations to corporate events, and free food and Happy Meal toys.



Marketers should remember that there are places on their audiences' social whirl besides the now ubiquitous Facebook and Twitter.

In some ways, GETGLUE (23.) could be considered the check-in site for people who don't like to leave their house. GetGlue is an entertainment check-in destination, a place for people to check-in to the TV show or movie they're watching, the music they're listening to, the book they're reading or the pop culture idea they're just thinking about. In exchange for checking in, they can join “fan clubs” for their favorite shows, become a “guru” of a topic they chat about frequently, and get stickers — both virtual and real-world copies — sponsored by entertainment companies.

Location-based check-in site FOUR-SQUARE (24.) may hold more appeal for marketers and the consumers who want to get off their couches to reach their real-world destinations. American Express, for example, partnered with Foursquare to offer users who check in with and spend $25 or more at participating businesses a $25 credit on their AmEx statement as part of this year's Small Business Saturday campaign.

Microblogging platform TUMBLR (25.) allows users to post photos, video, links and comments, and offers customizable designs and domains for users. At press time, the site boasted just shy of 35 million blogs and over 13 million posts. And that may be rising: In November, Nielsen reported that Tumblr was just behind Facebook but ahead of Twitter in total minutes spent on the network. And recent comScore findings put Tumblr at more than 210% growth year over year, compared to about 50% for LinkedIn and 30% for Twitter.


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