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“Old” becomes “New” in Pasadena tech venture

In brand-building, innovation, startup, Technology on March 30, 2014 at 9:53 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

85-87 NR and 56 HollyPasadena has always been a technology center in an “old sort of way.”  Jet Propulsion Laboratory and the California Institute of Technology are two venerable brands – institutions that continue to lead space research and produce Nobel Prize winners and provide the nation’s top-ranked scientists.  Pasadena is also home to the Art Center College of Design, which continues to be a world leader in graphic, industrial and automotive design, and creative arts.  And there has been a surge in Pasadena in recent years of startup high-tech firms such as EarthLink, eHarmony, Idea Lab, and more than 300 other notable high-tech companies in the past several years.

Pasadena’s ‘brand’ has always resonated well throughout the world because of its beautiful neighborhoods and civic assets, including the world-famous Rose Parade and Rose Bowl, nearby Huntington Library and the restored “Old Pasadena” – a booming retail, dining, and entertainment center now ripe for its next phase – infusion of trendy high-tech entrepreneurs who want these amenities close by.  In short, Pasadena is a great place to live and work.

Pasadena hasn’t always been “top of mind,” however, for high-tech startups compared to other California tech havens such as Silicon Valley and Silicon Beach, which is a relatively new concentration of high-tech firms in the coastal corridor stretching from Santa Monica through Venice to Playa Vista.  Silicon Beach is a brand that has ‘stuck’, and it attracts techies who love to be near the beach, palm trees, the strand, and soak in the California sunshine.  The area epitomizes the best of California for many.  And with nearby Hollywood, entertainment-oriented tech firms thrive in this focused community.  It would seem that Silicon Beach has a hefty advantage.

But this is going to change.  Enter David Sacks and Rising Realty Partners who have joined together to create an “answer” to Silicon Beach.  Starting with a quiver full of technology and environmental assets, Pasadena is perfectly positioned to exploit new opportunities being created by these two visionaries.  They are confident they can make an appealing case to entrepreneurs who want what Pasadena has to offer – an intellectual, high-tech, high-energy culture along with its traditional community values that attract a young, upward mobile entrepreneurial elite.

Partners with pedigree brands

David Sacks brings a pedigree high-tech startup background to this venture.  Sacks was the first chief operating officer for PayPal, which was later acquired by eBay for $1.5 billion, and the founding CEO for Yammer, which was acquired by Microsoft in 2012 for $1.2 billion.  He has an eye for successful startups as an early investor in Facebook, Inc., Twitter, Uber, Space Exploration Technologies, Palantir, Houzz and Airbnb.  He knows how young entrepreneurs think and what they want.

Rising also has a gold-edge brand as well – headed by CEO Nelson Rising, former CEO of MPG Office Trust, and a senior partner for Maguire Thomas Partners.  And he served as chairman of the board of the Federal Reserve Bank of San Francisco.  His son, Chris Rising, serves as chief operating officer and has a strong background in investment management and hands-on project management.  He is supervising the Pasadena project.  RRP also has a reputation for preserving and restoring older, historical

Los Angeles-based buildings and turning them into profitable commercial investments that feature the best high-tech amenities that are requisite to today’s technology firms.

“First of all, while we’re starting off with three century-old buildings as the cornerstone of this new technology center, we’re insuring that these buildings will have the most advanced fiber network available.  We’re also making Wi-Fi available to the nearby public park so that our tenants can work in a variety of nearby locales and still conduct business,” stated Chris Rising, president of Rising Realty Partners.  “We know that tech companies prefer access to the highest speed Internet services, and we’re providing 10GB fiber for every office.

“But we also know that young entrepreneurs are attracted to older, restored office environments that have been popular in San Francisco, Austin and Seattle.  We’re preserving the original facade and brick-wall interiors,” he said.  Office sizes will range from 5,000 sf to 15,000 sf.  But it will be the intangibles that make this venture a success:  “We’re looking to group together spirited, ambitious high-tech entrepreneurs who share the passion for a new vision in a complex that breeds successful ventures.  We’re here to support their quest to achieve their startup goals.  And we’re willing to provide below-market rates to these startups,” Rising said along with other superior support services.

This landmark buildings – known historically as the Pasadena Plaza – were built in the late 1800s and early 1900s in the heart of Old Pasadena, which until the late 1970s, was the rundown section of the city.  But like many cities across the United States, commercial and retail visionaries came into Pasadena in the early 1980s and restored many buildings – whole square-block sections – which attracted national retailers, specialty shops, fine restaurants and theaters.  The area is one of the hot spots in Southern California today.

So why is this an intriguing brand and technology story?

This is a classic brand case of “old” versus “new.”  Pasadena was and is considered “old money” – the original founders of the city came from Indiana in the 1800s with their strong, conservative work ethic and Midwest values.  They created a master plan based on classic European cities – large civic plazas, wide thoroughfares, and provided for a variety of large estate and smaller residential parcels.  Ask anyone what they think of Pasadena, and for those who have been here, they ‘love that city.’

The LA business elite settled here, too – such as the Chandlers, who published the Los Angeles Times, and most of LA’s prominent lawyers and bankers made their homes in the idyllic neighborhoods of Pasadena and nearby San Marino.  The Wrigley’s and Gambles built their winter homes in Pasadena.  And, of course, there was always the annual Rose Parade and Rose Bowl game … still iconic brands after more than 100+ years.

Old Pasadena is not unlike other re-inventions going on in other American cities but the partners know that the city holds some outstanding trump cards – CalTech, JPL and Art Center, plus a growing tech sector. To Silicon Beach, Rising and Sacks are saying – Hold on!  We have something to offer high-tech startups that is as good – if not better – than what you’re going to get in Silicon Beach.  What Rising brings to the table is development and management expertise that is critical to building a critical mass of the ‘new’ tech that is driving the rapid expansion of startups.  Sacks brings the necessary mindset of what is “new tech” and the challenges of starting a high-tech business.  Together, they intend to be very competitive and give these fledgling companies the added expertise of their experience.

“Our strategy is to not try and steal firms from Silicon Beach.  We’re after the many young companies who are looking for help.  Innovate Pasadena is one of the strongest community-centric organizations that is providing a broad range of startup services and support to these entrepreneurs.  We’re an integral part of that initiative,” Rising said, who is a member of the Innovate board.  Innovate conducts a broad spectrum of education and networking programs every month in Pasadena.

One last thought … transportation hub advantage

Rising had one last observation that bears watching.  He aptly noted that California is the automobile manufacturer’s best friend.  Nobody takes public transit.  “But not anymore,” he stated. Ridership on the expanding network of Metro Rail is growing steadily every year … the Gold Line stops just steps away from the new Rising/Sacks project, and is being extended eastward.  Santa Monica will soon have an extension of the Expo Line, and this is where young, hungry entrepreneurs are using these days – it’s cheap, and it beats crawling on the freeways.  Rising fervently believes that the high-tech firms of the future will want to be next to public transportation hubs.  “And we’re practically sitting on one in Old Pasadena,” he said with a smile.  “Pretty soon, one can take public rail transit from Pasadena to Silicon Beach.  Who would’ve thought?” – RJL

Film Festivals Embrace High-Tech

In brand-building, mobile & tablets, social media, Technology, Video, Movies & Television on March 30, 2014 at 3:19 pm
RiverRun International Film Festival April 4-13

by Jeff Sandgren

riverrunThe 16th annual RiverRun International Film Festival will be running from April 4 – 13 in Winston-Salem. Held annually each spring, RiverRun screens a wide variety of feature-length and short films from all genres, and also presents a broad range of special events, including high-profile regional premieres of significant films. This year, festival winners can even become contenders for next year’s Academy Awards.

The festival, like its more famous cousins at Sundance and SXSW, relies increasingly on new technologies to develop and deliver the wonder of traditional moviegoing. We spoke with Christopher Holmes, Program Coordinator for RiverRun, about how they use small-screen and other new technologies to bring this banner event to the big screen in the City of Arts and Innovation.

BTN: How has technology changed the realization of your film festival?

RRIFF: Online streaming platforms have made all of our jobs tremendously easier. Keeping up with the programming landscape at major international festivals like Cannes has become so much more manageable – without ever having to leave the office. In the past it might take several emails back and forth and then the mailing of a physical DVD screener to facilitate the consideration of just one potential film, or even schlepping to the festival in person.

Online filmmaker services such as Cinando and Festivalscope now exist that allow us to request and receive invitations to watch streaming versions of many films, and this can all happen within the span of an hour or less now, given the response time from a particular filmmaker or distributor. Likewise Vimeo and YouTube have become high quality, legitimate receptacles for screeners from filmmakers that respond to our open call for submissions, so it’s really changed things for the better in terms of how quickly we’re able to preview titles that pique our interest.

BTN: How does it help support and promote the event?

RRIFF: Social media tools and their mobile apps have become integral to the way we promote the festival. We used to rely heavily on our in-house printed film guides and brochures, and local print media to get the word out, but now we can do that worldwide within a matter of minutes using Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. These tools additionally allow us to maintain a direct running dialogue with our supporters in the community and make everyone feel actively engaged with what’s happening at RiverRun on a consistent basis.

Keeping in touch with our audiences and staying on their radar in the many off months has always been a particularly challenging undertaking and technology has allowed us to accomplish this in a more purposeful and conversational way. And just in terms of design and implementation of graphic elements, it speeds up turnaround time on the creative end as well, since sharing high-res mock-ups and proofs via email is now very simple.

BTN: What is this new connection with the Academy Awards?

RRIFF: This year, for the first time in our history, we’ve been approved as a qualifying festival for the Academy Awards in the category of Short Subject Documentary, of which there are only a handful in the Southeastern United States and just a few dozen overall. Each year we assemble a jury for each competition category, comprised of noteworthy professionals, writers, academics and other personalities from the cinematic arts. Those juries deliberate during the festival to distinguish films with awards in their respective categories.

What the Oscar-qualifying tag means is that whichever film our Documentary Shorts jury awards with the Best Documentary Short prize is automatically in the pool of films that the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences members ultimately consider for Oscar nomination. Basically we are a necessary filter between the entire mass of documentary shorts produced every year and what the Academy members are able to consider with their extremely limited time. So there’s a decent chance that one of the films programmed will be among the Oscar nominated shorts this time next year, and directly because of its participation in the festival.

BTN: We hear a lot about multiscreen user experience these days. Are you discouraging or encouraging it for events like this? 

RRIFF: We are certainly discouraging it during the screenings themselves!  There’s nothing more magnetizing to the eye than seeing a screen light up, and it is an enormous disruption to the immersive environment filmmakers covet when creating their work, so we do everything we can to be faithful to that interaction. However we are certainly encouraging the integration of all sizes of screens and technology in representing the festival more generally—talking about viewing experiences our audiences have had, sharing viewpoints on films we’ve shown, events we’ve put on or experiences we’ve created, and including things like trailer links and other visual content on our web-based analogs.

BTN: How can moviegoers use their mobile devices to select films and track showing and ticket availability?

RRIFF: Our website has a mobile version which enables sorting through film listings, viewing the schedule, watching trailers and buying tickets online. Additionally we have a mobile app for both iOS and Android devices that makes simply sorting the films even easier … it even allows the user to filter out a combination of attributes such as genre and venue to achieve a very specific set of recommendations based on a lot of different variables.

BTN: Looking ahead, how do you think wearables – especially devices like Google Glass – may change the film going experience of tomorrow … for better or worse?

RRIFF: Hmm, we wonder…

We don’t see a small-screen application like Google Glass as particularly conducive to the large scale, projected effect that cinematic communication necessitates. After all, larger screen sizes have been positively linked to viewer engagement and interactivity (even on a physiological level) so the smaller the viewing space, the less control the filmmaker has over the way and degree to which the audience engages with the content.

For more small-screen, commercially driven applications like viewing sports, news, film trailers and social media, we can imagine it being very appealing, even if only from a novelty perspective. People are constantly looking for new user experiences and ways to keep their messages fresh and vital, so Google Glass and other wearables seem like they could present new opportunities in that respect.

Perhaps there’s a way to integrate the glasses with 3D moviegoing and TV experiences, as well?  How about it science? – JTS

Finally! Microsoft wakes up.

In Apple, Microsoft, mobile & tablets, Technology on March 28, 2014 at 6:48 am

MS Office comes to your iPad

by Robert Liljenwall

Office on iPadThe announcement happened March 27, but it has been in the works for months. Microsoft Office is coming to iPad.  I already knew this:  I learned about it a week ago – while ‘camping.’  My Airstream was parked next to another Airstream in Northern California, recently purchased by a just-retired Microsoft executive. We got friendly, and I told him that I would not get an iPad until it had Microsoft Office, one of my major objections to the tablet world.  (I have a MacBook Air, which I love).  He then informs me “… that’s going to happen in the next two weeks!”  “You’re kidding?” He said it was decided that “Microsoft has to be where our customers are … and they’re on iPads, and so we have to be there, too!”

We at BTN have always felt that Microsoft was too narrow-minded in refusing to allow Apple to have the Office suite – it was a strategic decision to drive customers to Surface, their tablet version.  But it clearly wasn’t working – Surface sales have always languished, and while it’s very versatile, it never had Apple’s panache and the new Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella recognized that if must deliver services to both businesses and consumers wherever they are, especially on mobile devices.

The new Office Suite app will be live for free on Apple’s App Store immediately, but for creating and editing content, you will need an Office 365 subscription, which their Home Subscription costs $9.99/month or $99.99 a year.  The expected revenue for Microsoft is estimated at $1.4 billion, which outweighed any risk to Windows.

So, the Microsoft brand has somewhat righted with its iPad move.  Microsoft has been trying to make it in the non-Xbox world of hardware with phones and tablets, but it continues to struggle.  A recent study showed that Apple and Samsung have now just about crushed any attempts from others in the smartphone and tablet business.  So, Nadella may just be on a roll to adjust Microsoft’s focus to the services business.

Always, there were tensions between Microsoft and Apple, stemming from the Bill versus Steve battles from the early days of the PC development in the late 1970s. Microsoft swiftly grew to soaring heights, leaving Apple in its dust.  But Microsoft invested $150 million in Apple when it needed it in 1997 to integrate Microsoft Office into the Apple line of products, which provided Jobs the boost he needed for selling computers.

Apple has not provided any sales projections yet – but BTN will keep you posted. Hmmm … time to go shopping? – RJL 

Branding Tip: How To Humanize Your Brand

In brand-building, innovation, social media, Technology on March 6, 2014 at 1:22 pm

3 ways to breathe life into your brand

by Sookie Lioncourt 

Your customers are human, and so are your business partners. The people who create your products and contribute to the proliferation of your ‘brand’ are also all, human. As a response, it’s just fitting that you should also start ‘humanizing your brand’ to make it more interesting and universally appealing. Tim Ingold Jr. and Jabil Circuit of Wired said that through this practice, retailers and establishments alike “can seek ways to add a personal touch to non-traditional outlets” for your products and services. With the rise of digital technology, this can be done with ease — you can leverage social media interaction to provide real-time information to the public, use an intelligent virtual machine in your freestanding kiosks that dispense products, or take advantage of augmented reality technology to add a lively flair to your brand. To elaborate this further, read on below for we discuss how digital technology can indeed give life to your precious brand.

Through Social Media Influence

Using a social media channel is a thoughtful and deliberate process in giving life to your brand that yields some great benefits when properly utilized. Maren Hogan of the HR Examiner pointed out that the “humanization of a brand fosters more intimate brand-customer communications, customer loyalty, growth through feedback and increased engagement.” Here’s how you can leverage social media:

  •  Document…Document…Document…

Collate all the responses from your customers and visitors, even if they are criticizing your products and/or services. The whole point of having a social media account is to hear, apart from being heard. Treat your online followers as if they are all your friends by listening to their suggestions and sentiments.

  •  Respond Rapidly and Individually 

Those who will leave a quick wall posting your business page wanted to be acknowledged and addressed immediately. If the information is not yet readily available, at least have the decency to tell them that someone is looking into the situation. Inactive social interaction translates to inconsistency in your business and company as a whole. “No one likes an inconsistent company… this is a glaring flaw when making use of social media interaction,” as highlighted by Wise (@letsgetwise). The web may be far too big to win over everybody, but a bit of personality is way better than being a faceless autobot.

  •   Say Sorry When Necessary 

Humans are not perfect. We do commit errors and mistakes and that’s OK. Apologizing to your customers will help them realize that your brand is committed toward serving them and caring for their personal interests. You’ll be surprised by the favorable effects that you can achieve when you “kill” them with kindness.

The Use Of Virtual and Real-Life Objects

What could be more human than a product that acts like one and operates like a person? One example of this one is the virtual holographic mannequin of Boston’s Logan Airport named Carla. She is an attractive young lady that gives out pieces of advice ranging from air security and safety. She and her other virtual sisters, whose located in strategic locations inside the airport, are also there to greet passengers and accompany them as they leave and arrive in the vicinity.

Another example is the campaign created by Douwe Egberts Coffee Company called “Bye Bye Red Eye.” The Dutch company installed high-tech coffee vending machines in airports and other public places that interacts though facial recognition software. So, when a yawning traveler approaches the machine, it automatically dispenses a hot cup of coffee for that wearied person.

Though these practices are done outside the traditional store setups, using the machine’s lively element can establish a more personal link between the brand and the consumers.

By Augmenting Reality

Augmented Reality, three-dimensional web tools, and interactive computer applications can also add a human flair to your brand even without an actual person from your company involved in the process. For instance, some clothing and Eyewear e-commerce shops are employing the use of virtual fitting room that uses the customer’s web camera to see if a particular product is ideal for them or not, before doing a transaction. Since this practice fosters a product-consumer engagement, using Augmented Reality is a cost-effective way of humanizing your brand.

With the proliferation of technology, adding a human touch to your brand is no longer a difficult venture. As you’ve seen, you can leverage social media interaction to provide real-time information to the public, or use an intelligent virtual machine or tangible object to foster product-costumer engagements and vice versa. – SL

BrandTech News is excited to share the insights of our first Guest Reporter, Sookie Lioncourt, bringing us news and views from her home office in the UK.  Welcome, Sookie!

Guest Reporter: Sookie Lioncourt

Guest Reporter: Sookie Lioncourt

 ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Sookie Lioncourt has a solid background in business administration and marketing, she can give you helpful pieces of advice to kick start your business, and ensure your brand’s success by leveraging the power of digital technologies and online media platforms. Talk to her via LinkedIn.

The “Ultimate Selfie” — Hollywood’s Oscars at its best — Part 1

In Fashion, Video, Movies & Television on February 23, 2014 at 11:33 pm

by Robert Liljenwall

Hollywood is the best at self promotion — and the March 2 broadcast (NBC) will be one long “selfie” of how to create a major global event in honoring one’s self.  Make no mistake, the Academy Awards is an annual trek that all of Hollywood points to — sort of an Olympics held every year, not every four.

There are 25 Oscars being handed out during the three-hour broadcast and a new host this year — Ellen Degeneres, the popular day-time star on NBC.  In the audience will be all of the nominees, looking their finest after parading down the Red Carpet, which has now become a mini-show in itself — another “fashion selfie” where the emphasis is on “who” was the designer, plus who gets “best and worst dressed” awards from fashion “experts”.  Guys need not apply.

The Academy has nine movies up for Best Picture this year — American Hustle, Captain Phillips, Dallas Buyers Club, Gravity, Her, Nebraska, Philomena, 12 Years a Slave and The Wolf of Wall Street.  And of course, Meryl Streep (August: Orange County) is nominated, again, but Tom Hanks (Captain Phillips) wasn’t.  Christian Bale and Amy Adams (American Hustle) are back again, as is Sandra Bullock (Gravity) and Cate Blanchett (Blue Jasmine).  The collective ‘wisdom’ is that 12 Years A Slave will be Best Picture, although Bruce Dern’s Nebraska gets a lot of support, too.  Gravity is also extremely popular with prognosticators, too. We shall see.

The “selfie” has now become a part of our daily lexicon — the ease of taking one’s picture and broadcasting it instantaneously across multiple platforms (Twitter, Facebook,YouTube, Instagram, SnapChat, etc.).  The only real challenge is to make sure your arms are long enough to do your “self” proud.  It does take some practice.

I’ll be watching.  Will you? - RJL

Part II — Post Selfie Awards coming Monday, March 3

The Hacks Just Keep On Coming

In brand-building, Target, Yahoo! on February 1, 2014 at 2:28 pm

Yahoo! the latest victim of hackers

by Robert Liljenwall

hacked

Target, Neiman Marcus, Michaels and now Yahoo!  And God knows who else (there were supposedly six other retailers hacked but names have not surfaced). What is fascinating is that these are not just ordinary e-crooks – these are capable hackers who enjoy Breaking & Entering huge data files and walking off with millions of accounts that is sending shock waves through every retail and financial executive suite in the country.

What is ironic is that Jan. 27, Yahoo! Finance reported the hack of craft supply retailer Michael’s, only to discover two days later that Yahoo has also been hacked – and it has 273 million accounts worldwide, with a third in the United States. Yahoo is the world’s #2 email account provider after Google, and it has already issued a fix – change your password – and often. Yahoo declined to say how many accounts were compromised or provide a detailed description, although reports indicate it was for the US accounts only. But Yahoo was quick to state that they are investigating it. Really?

Yahoo maintains the breach was not on Yahoo’s systems but obtained from another party who did have access as a vendor account.

Meanwhile, back at Target, they have appeared before Congress – have reportedly lost more than $153 million in replacement costs for new credit cards … sales are down between 2.5 percent to 6 percent as a result of customers staying away … and employees have been laid off. Perhaps the most damning criticisms against the Target brand is that their CEO didn’t respond for nearly 30 days … had a lame offer of 10 percent discount on merchandise upon learning of the crisis … and have been fraught with missteps such as issuing partial statements only to have them revised later. A strong brand seemingly adrift.

Retailers are scrambling to strengthen their security programs, but hacked customers are not happy, regardless of how ‘nice’ the companies are in ameliorating the losses. Target asks you report it to your store, but they recommend you also file a police report. As one frustrated, hacked Target customer who had $2,700 unauthorized charges said … “why do I have to file a police report?  I don’t have time for that!”  The credit card company will reimburse him though. – RJL

New Book Bridges Branding and Technology

In brand-building, innovation, Technology on January 22, 2014 at 6:59 pm

Helping creatives and engineers communicate and collaborate

by Jeff Sandgren

A helpful new book demonstrates the power of skillfully blending branding and technology. It’s already a part of my regular reference library.

Author Vinay Trivedi is an entrepreneur, investor, and tech enthusiast with a computer science background from Harvard. Through his experiences, he realized that nontechnical individuals often struggle to understand the basic technology. This can be especially true for brand marketers and agencies as they try to express their ideas and creative brainstorms on the palette of modern technologies. Like Imagineers and computer geeks at Pixar, it takes a common platform of communication to make the magic stories come to life in the digital age.

Trivedi 6610-5 PODHiResVinay’s new book, How to Speak Tech: The Non-Techie’s Guide to Technology Basics in Business (Apress Media) spells out the essential technical terms and technologies involved in Internet startups and web applications in a way that almost anyone can understand. Nontechnical readers will find their digital literacy painlessly improved with each 10-minute chapter of this illustrative story of one successful technology startup building its Web-based business from scratch.

But this book goes beyond just being a “Tech Talk for Dummies” approach. The world is hardly divided between folks who are fluent in all technologies and folks who know none – far from it. In these increasingly specialized times, many of us are much more conversant in some technologies than others; and that’s where the added value of this book really delivers. Maybe you have a firm grasp on Cloud and Hosting technologies, but need a clearer understanding of what’s involved in defending your project’s environment against security threats; or maybe for you it’s just the other way around. In either case, Vinay’s guide offers quick reads to help you get ready for your next conversation, so you don’t sound like a … well, like a dummy.

“Success, creativity, and efficiency will lie with people who understand how to match the needs of users with the basics of technology,” said Joe Lassiter, Harvard Business School professor and Faculty Chair of the Harvard Innovation Lab. “Through the simplicity of his presentation, Vinay shows that the basics can be straightforwardly understood by anyone who puts in the time and effort to learn.”

Best of all, Vinay demonstrates his conviction in the importance of bridging this communication gap by promising to donate all proceeds from the book toward supporting tech education. Better to light a Rosetta Stone candle than curse the digital darkness. – JTS

Technology Trips Up Target Brand

In brand-building, retail, Target on January 16, 2014 at 9:07 am

There are the good guys. And the bad guys. Pick your Target

by Robert Liljenwall

Cash_Registers

Image from Wikipedia Commons

Well, the bad guys won this round.  110 million hacked Target accounts.  Are you kidding?  And the CEO just now comes out (1/13) and apologizes.  While Rome was burning, he sat there – obviously speechless. Although he made no comments, he did authorize a 10 percent discount for the inconvenience for those on the first wave (70 million) who had their accounts hacked, with PINs no less.  And then, when it was discovered another 40 million were hacked, he decided to descend from his throne and make a comment – on CNBC and the Today show nearly a month after the breach.

The Good Guys

The strength of Target’s brand (which “was” one of America’s strongest, most recognizable brands) could not counter the weakness of their technology.  When technology fails – as it did here, the brand suffers the most.  Sure, they were quick to announce a fix for the first wave, and then another admission of 40 million more breached accounts sorta put a dent in their already weakened brand.

Talk about a brand and technology “perfect storm.”  There is no end to this story of course, since there could be more bad news from Target.  Target reports that they did suffer loss of sales (2 percent to 6 percent) after the revelation of the first 70 million (duh!), but the CEO now says that there are getting back to more normal numbers.

This reminds us of how the CEO of Exxon sat in his office for a full week when the Exxon Valdez ran aground in Alaska in 1989 and had one of the largest oil spills in US history.  He shut down like a dry hole in West Texas.  Like the Target CEO, he was hopeful that nobody was watching … that they, too, would be swept away in the next tide.  It was … and Alaska’s shoreline has proof that it did.  They’re cleaning up that mess and it appears the oil damage in many areas will continue unto the future.

But it all goes back to the core of branding: Do you trust the brand?  I recall that I was tempted to visit the nearby Target store in Pasadena – but first, I would go by the ATM and get some cash.  Good decision at the time.  And then the news of the second wave hit – “my God, is this never going to end.”  While Target did admit that sales were down, they stated the fix is going to be costly and will affect earnings.

Question:  Are you willing to swipe your card at Target now?

But wait!  Now we learn that Neiman Marcus has been hacked – and more on the way.  Isn’t this just terrific?  The Neiman Marcus hack has not be divulged, but my friends with NM cards have already changed them.

Who are the bad guys?

Was this an inside job?  Was it the Russian mafia?  The latter suggestion has surfaced in more than one news report – “they are very talented in hacking into our systems.  I can see them penetrating other large retailers around the globe,” said one security expert.  Do you believe him?  We think more breaches like this lie ahead.

What is so scary is the apparent ease the hackers had in breaching more than 100 million accounts.  Who is next?  That’s the big question.

But make no mistake about it:  Technology failed.  Brand damage is severe for now – but BTN believes they will recover – especially if there are more hacked retailers.  Spreading the bad news actually helps Target.  Pity the thought. – RJL

The Brand behind the Brands We Love

In brand-building, Healthcare, innovation, retail, Shopper Marketing on January 2, 2014 at 1:01 pm

Inmar leads the way in digital promotions

by Jeff Sandgren

As we wrap up another round of holiday shopping mania, there’s a powerful force at work behind the scenes. For more than 30 years a company you may not know has been quietly helping you shop every day, and lately they’re ambitiously working to change the way you’ll shop tomorrow. In the ‘Emerald City of Retail,’ the hidden Oz who’s helping to enhance your shopping experience (while not bothering to attract your attention) is a company called Inmar, and their ‘Intelligent Commerce Networks.’

Inmar Inside

Sometimes the brands you know and trust deliver on their Brand Promises by relying on other brands. Think ‘Intel Inside®[i]’: a great advertising slogan, catchy, memorable, succinct and effective. When you buy a computer, you’ll hopefully never even have to see the Intel chip, much less actually touch it; but the little sticker on the outside telling you it’s in there could easily sway your purchase decision. Another example, wordier but similarly powerful, is BASF’s old slogan:

We don’t make a lot of the products you buy. We make a lot of the products you buy better®[ii].

In both of these cases, the B2B company wants you, a consumer, to value their brands in order to make you feel better about buying – not from them, but from their customers, the B2C companies that sell finished consumer goods to you. It’s unlikely that you ever bought a chip directly from Intel or a drum of chemicals from BASF (unless you’re a bigger geek than the editors of BrandTech News, or go by the street name “Heisenberg.”)

But while you almost certainly know who Intel is, and probably have heard of BASF – the largest chemical company in the world (even if you don’t know what the letters stand for) – you might not know who Inmar is. And you might be surprised to learn that the financial transactions they process en masse daily have an annual aggregate value of about $44 billion across their promotion, supply chain and health care networks.

If you’ve ever clipped and used a paper coupon, chances are good that it was processed by Inmar. This was their first competency, and remains a major component of the company’s business. They started handling coupons back in the early 80’s, as Carolina Coupon Clearing, a company formed by the son of a Reynolds Tobacco exec who brought in a team of former IBM associates to elevate the process from one which, at the time, relied on weighing masses of paper coupons by the pound. The solutions they built, and the refinements that have evolved since, now enable a smooth, secure processing of billions of coupons from thousands of brands in countries around the globe. They currently process coupons for a large share of US companies; and they serve a global customer base with their broader promotional solution portfolio that has grown to include not only paper coupons, but also rebates, sweepstakes and now digital coupons – more on that in a minute. This approach of harnessing technology and smart thinking to improve complex processes still steers the company.

David Mounts, Inmar CEO

David Mounts, Inmar CEO

“It all starts and ends with people,” explained Inmar CEO David Mounts, at a recent interview. “We strive to find the best minds and intellectual capital we can, then we direct our investments to make it easier for bright people to deliver great solutions to our customers … and ultimately great experiences to consumers.”

Inmar innovation

In the coupon world, paper still dominates in sheer volume, but the most impressive growth percentages there days are being posted by digitally discovered coupons. Digitally discovered coupons fall into two major groups. The already familiar Print-At-Home (PAH) coupons – those discovered online and printed with home computers – increased in use by more than 12 percent in the first half of 2013, relative to 2012. The newer kid on the coupon block is the use of completely paperless “e-wallet” coupons, where the reward is either loaded to a consumer’s loyalty card or stored on a smartphone app. While still a small segment, the use of these promotions increased by more than 230 percent in the same period.

The targeting and personalization capabilities of these digital offers provide powerful new ways for marketers to engage and entice consumers with increasingly relevant offers, and to gain insights on what consumers preferred (and what provided the best return on investment). But with this new sophistication comes the matter of new complexity. To help brands and retailers cut through the cyber-maze, Inmar has developed their Offer Management app, which lets marketers easily create offers, aggregate performance data and score the promotional effectiveness of multiple offers across all channels.

The rapid development of these solutions by Inmar has, in part, been accelerated by two recent acquisitions: the first, a company that pioneered an innovative technology to facilitate the secure distribution and redemption of digital promotions; and the second, a company with deep expertise in shopper behavioral analytics. By combining Inmar’s own knowledge and experience of couponing and promotional strategies with the added power of analytics and shopper insights, and with the real-time, on-demand delivery of offers to smartphones and tablets, Inmar’s innovations are changing the promotional game for brands and retailers – and delivering offers to consumers on products they want, with promotion types they like, across the digital platforms they individually prefer.

Inmar integration

One shopper insight that everyone knows is that shoppers in the checkout line don’t want to be delayed. Retailers are keenly aware of that, and they are particularly (and rightly) sensitive to the impact of any new technology at checkout that might slow things down. So the big hurdle that digital couponing has had to clear has been one of achieving a seamless and super-fast digital redemption when the paperless coupons are presented. No one wants to download a coupon offer to their loyalty card or unique identifier, then have to wait for an elaborate network to validate the coupon, in a setting where passing seconds feel like minutes. But the validation can’t be skipped, either, because coupon fraud can cost retailers millions. Inmar’s point of sale technology, developed by acquired company M-Dot achieves secure, accurate, real-time redemption by leveraging the speed and scalability of cloud technology. In fact, prior to Inmar’s acquisition, M-Dot was chosen as the winner of Amazon Web Services’ Startup Challenge. The solution is so scalable that it has been demonstrated to execute over a million concurrent transactions in a 10th of second.

More recently, Inmar built on that impressive back-end integration with a promising new front-end partnership. They recently announced a strategic relationship with NCR, one of the top Point Of Sale (POS) system providers for retail. The new offering will integrate Inmar’s digital coupon solution with NCR’s marketing and POS applications, providing retailers with a powerful new platform for quickly and easily planning and implementing digital coupon campaigns, offering paperless coupons to shoppers across multiple touchpoints … including mobile phones and tablets.

According to Mounts, “Retailers that ‘opt in’ will be able to introduce digital promotions into their marketing efforts with remarkable speed – and at minimal cost.”

It’s a win-win-win solution: shoppers get the added savings of digitally discovered coupons, without slowing down their checkout experience; retailers get an easy platform for implementing their digital coupon campaigns; and consumer goods manufacturers get a much more targeted delivery mechanism that can yield new insights in minutes.

Inmar involved

For all the technology focus, Inmar hasn’t lost sight of its ‘human goals’ either. Ever since opening shop in Winston-Salem, Inmar has remained true to its community, where it is one of the area’s major employers. This part of North Carolina has seen economic decline over the past decades with the erosion of three of its major industries – tobacco, textiles and furniture – the latter two primarily declining due to relocation of the industries to cheaper offshore markets. Inmar, by contrast, has stayed in the game locally, opening three different offices as headquarters for its coupon, product returns and pharmacy solutions groups. Supporting operations in the supply chain, health care, and coupon redemption networks occupy around 30 additional facilities across North America.

Exterior_8.29.12

Now the company is upping its ante by consolidating all three local offices into a beautiful new complex in downtown Winston, with almost a quarter million square feet of modern office space, renovated from an old tobacco processing plant. Located on the edge of the Wake Forest Innovation Quarter, a cornerstone of the Renaissance of Winston-Salem, the new facility clearly underscores Inmar’s corporate social responsibility and its commitment to the local jobs it has created.

When Mounts says it all starts and ends with people, he clearly means it. – JTS


[i] Registered trademark of Intel Corporation

[ii] Registered trademark of BASF SE

Top Ten Brand/Technology Stories for 2013

In Apple, brand-building, Healthcare, Microsoft, Steve Jobs on December 29, 2013 at 9:31 pm

Big Brand Hits and Misses From 2013

by Robert Liljenwall

Top TenIt’s been quite a year for big brand stories, and even bigger surprises. Here’s our take on the Top Ten stories for 2013, from the intersection of branding and technology.

 1)  Edward Snowden managed to build a powerful, influential global brand in less time than it takes to say, “Gotcha!”  And all on the back of technology and the US National Security Agency secrets he divulged starting in June 2013.  While he may not be a household word, he certainly is now infamously (or famously) known in every government spy agency, every major capital, and by every editor or newscaster carrying the day’s news.  Only 30 years old and a relatively low-level NSA contract employee, he managed to steal rarified, classified material that is called the most significant leak in US history.  He used The Guardian and The Washington Post while employed by NSA contractor Booz Allen Hamilton to leak his material.  At his news conference from his ‘temporary home’ in Russia this past week, he says the leaks and subsequent chaos caused at the highest level of governments around the world has assured him of ‘victory.’  “Mission accomplished,” he says.  He thinks of himself as a hero while others have other apt descriptions.  Time will tell how this plays out.

2)  The National Security Agency’s brand image has fallen fast since the Snowden disclosures.  The NSA-Snowden story remains evolutionary as one judge tells the government to stop and another one just the other day says it’s OK.  But surely this NSA scandal has affected the US brand all over the world. The reality is that probably everyone else is doing it, too … so it’s probably more bark than bite from the average American point of view.  But in government circles, the confusion surrounding NSA and all government ‘oversight’ programs bothers many of us.

3)  Obamacare site bombed on launch.  Millions have been impacted by the false start, and the cancellations of 5 million-plus insured guarantees a major hit on Obama and his signature program.  The continuing debacle exposes tremendous technical shortcomings of government-run program.  How has this affected Obama’s brand?  Obama’s negative ratings continue their downward spiral. Recent polls show that most Americans don’t want or like the Affordable Care Act – and it’s just beginning.  Will more Americans lose or gain insurance coverage in early 2014? How will the voters’ sentiment play out in the midterm elections?  If there was a BrandTech News ‘perfect storm’, this was it!

4)  Cyber Monday surpassed expectations, and mobile commerce on smartphones and tablets are making inroads toward becoming the biggest e-commerce sales day in history, up 16.5 percent to $2.29 billion.  Mobile traffic (as a part of online sales) showed similar record sales – IBM’s data demonstrates that mobile shopping did grow significantly from last year – with traffic increasing by 45 percent to 31.7 percent share of all online traffic, and total sales growing by 55.4 percent year-over-year to surpass 17 percent share. But, mobile’s share of traffic was down 20 percent from Black Friday while its share of sales was down 21 percent.

5)  Target‘s 40 million ‘error.’  This story moves onto the list and no, it’s not the first time hackers have gotten into credit card files.  But 40 million?  Is this a brand-buster for Target? We at BrandTech News think that Target has really mismanaged this fiasco – offering a lame 10 percent discount  … they beefed it up a bit, but it was, as one writer put it: “… a puny effort.”  News reports that a group in a Target parking lot were regaling in their recently purchased Christmas gifts – only to have police discovered they did so with purloined credit card #s.  It sends a chilling message on how fragile the relationship there is between a brand’s success and the failure of technology.  What will it take before you trust Target again?  We’re still skeptical.

6)  Changes at the top – Microsoft’s Ballmer moving on. Michael Dell takes control back. Personal brands linked to their technology heart/soul have been the hallmark of America’s technology history, starting with such iconic brands as Thomas Edison, Tom Watson, Bill Hewlett and David Packard.  Their brands were synonymous with their technology.  Ballmer leaves on a mixed note and no one has been named to replace him.  Dell tries to reclaim his past glory days by taking his namesake company private.  We believe that Apple, Google, and even Samsung have all whizzed past the former Whiz Kid. The future of the PC – as we used to know it before smartphones and tablets – is in doubt.  And let’s not forget ‘golden boy’ Ron Johnson – former head of retail for Apple – who was unceremoniously disposed as CEO of J. C. Penney.  Personal brands will be forever linked to their founders and managers over time … and to be sure, it’s a challenge to survive in these chaotic times.  Perhaps Steve Jobs ‘got out’ at the right time – the pinnacle of his career and company?  Time will tell.  We’ll be watching.

7)  Apple wins China Mobile.  This is probably the biggest, best news Apple has had in a while.  Their fall launch was successful to a point – rave reviews on the technology and upgraded products, but capturing China Mobile with 760 million users is the big (nix that, it was HUGE) win on the global stage.  Surely this will propel Apple’s future onto solid ground in Asia, but on the homefront, Apple has some homework to do, in our view.  The Apple story is two-edged – #1 – Apple has made up lost ground on its stock closing in on $600 after plunging below $400 in the past 52 weeks … .and Apple is now worth $503 billion, making it the most valuable company on the Planet.  So the brand continues to perform well with investors, but the #2 worry is whether Apple has lost its creative and innovator brand status. Not everyone is saying this, but we suspect that Apple’s brand will suffer greatly in the winter rollout of new products if they don’t come up with something new, spectacular even.  Is Tim Cook really something more than a good operator?  He is that – but Apple customers and investors want more to insure the future.

8)  Facebook and Twitter go public – check your calendar – both are healthy at year’s end!  Brand turnaround for Facebook is our Comeback Player of the Year. Twitter’s early success is not assured for the longer term – too early to tell, but Facebook has legs and is riding high for now.  Thank you, Mister Zuckerberg, for your vision.  After exploding out of the box and hitting a high of $65, Twitter fell back to Earth just a tiny bit – losing 13 percent as of last week before New Year’s.  Finding the economic models that is going to propel these two behemoths toward financial security seems to be the challenge – initially for Facebook they are fast figuring out the ad revenue model, and soaring at present. Twitter remains optimistic it will solve their revenue challenge in the near term.  From a brand point of view, both Facebook and Twitter have ranked high with users … and investors, too.  Our question for you:  Do you visit Facebook every day?  Do you tweet?  Let us know your answers.

9)  Microsoft buys Nokia.  You’d think this was a ‘marriage made in tech heaven’ several years ago, especially when Nokia controlled the world’s mobile market share.  But BrandTech News – and others – aren’t so sure this recently done marriage is going to last long.  Nokia had already accepted a ‘live-in’ relationship with Microsoft when they committed to Windows Phone several years ago, and many thought this merger was on fast forward, not on pause.  But it finally happened.  And the Finnish folks couldn’t be happier since they were on a death march much like BlackBerry – too little, too late.  But now with Microsoft’s Bank solidly behind the new couple (and publicly committed in splashy television ads), Nokia has another chance to again be a dominant player the mobile market.  The brand still has plenty of strength in Europe and elsewhere, but we think it’s been critically diminished in the US market – perhaps irretrievably.

10) BlackBerry’s ‘death watch.’  Here’s the latest: executives jump ship; huge losses; burnt through $800 million this past year.  We heard there were reports for hospice care until the new Foxconn deal in Indonesia put all talk of being ‘done’ on hold – temporarily, at least.  Indonesia is a stronghold for BlackBerry, but the brand is so tarnished that it would take a miracle to turn it around.  BrandTech News expects that BlackBerry will not be able to catch up with Android or iOS, and even Windows Phone in many markets.   They will remain – forever – a second or third tier player.  Not enough to survive. – RJL

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