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Time has arrived.

In Apple, brand-building, innovation, iPhone, Technology, Uncategorized on April 12, 2015 at 2:56 pm

Apple Watch customers could wait months.

by Robert Liljenwall

Gold-Apple-WatchAnyone who has been through an Apple launch before, knows you have to get in line early or be phone-ready when the clock strikes midnight.  Pre-orders started Friday April 10 at 12:01 a.m. (Pacific Standard Time) and true to Apple’s prediction, it was a sell out, not for all models but for the lower-priced editions.  For many, they’ll have to wait until June and in some cases, August.  Those who got their orders placed early will get Watches in May.
Theories abound about Apple’s strategy — did they purposely reduce the number of Watches available to create a “sold-out buzz”, thus hyping the Watch’s popularity? Is it really that much in demand?  Do consumers (Apple fanatics) really crave this new wearable device?  Many of the skeptics and cynics opt for the former — one professor cited “this has always been Apple’s strategy — create a sense of high demand even if there isn’t one.  But it works.”
Apple doesn’t comment on these conjectures, but in March, Apple provided rough estimates — 5-6 million watches (in all editions) would be available at the launch.  Wall Street analysts in Fortune’s review had predictions up to 44 million would be sold in 2015.
Stories abound about how to get around the wait.  There are speculators who will sell you their pre-order on eBay for a $1000 over the cost so you can have your immediate gratification.  And people are snapping them up.  There are high-end, specialty retailers — like Goldgenie.com, who has created a 24k Gold, Rose Gold, or platinum Apple Watch with Swarovsk-style crystals that come with your choice of exotic animal skin straps for the $17,000 variety.  Apple is surely going to string this out as along as the buzz and demand are there.  But what about the Watch?  Is it worth it?  Does it do all of the ‘tricks’ that Apple says it will do.  (See the iimpressive Apple Watch video on www.apple.com)
Reviews project another Apple “hit”
Although there are mixed reviews about the Apple Watch, from the more than 20 such reviews we have seen show a clear and sometimes enthusiastic approval for the Watch.  Early testers said — “It’s goes beyond my expectations…”  “It makes me want to wear a watch again.”  “It takes a bit to get used to it but once you get over the learning curve, it’s incredible.”  But what is really driving this Apple Watch demand?  See our Eight Reasons Why.

Eight reasons why Apple Watch will be successful

In Apple, brand-building, Fashion, innovation, iPhone, mobile & tablets, retail, Technology on April 12, 2015 at 2:54 pm

How will fans love thee?  Let us count the ways.

by Robert Liljenwall

8 apple watches1.  Apple relies on its existing customer base to drive initial sales on all new products.  Apple has sold over 500 million iPhones.  Their customers have the highest upgrade % of any comparable smart phone. As they say, the existing customer is the easiest and ‘cheapest’ to sell. If you own an Apple product, you have already received many emails about the Watch.  Apple knows how to mine it’s customer base, and they are uniquely successful at extracting money from their customer’s wallets.
2.  Apple customers are “discreet adopters”.  Apple never introduces a new device (think iPod, iPhone, iPad) that isn’t tested and performs at the highest level.  Apple is not the first to jump into the new product space — they take a wait/see approach, figure out how to do it better, and then fill in all the gaps and produce exquisitely designed devices that are superior in execution in all areas.  Samsung has given them a ‘run for their money’ but they’re perceived as a lower-tier product — certainly not on the same prestigious level with Apple, regardless of their performance.
3.  Apple’s customers are brand loyal.  They ‘believe’ and ‘trust’ just about everything Apple says about its products.  But these customers don’t just take Apple’s word for this — they know first hand that Apple products perform as expected, and they learn that their customer service is superior.  Yes, they pay more and are eager to do so, but they honestly believe their products are worth it.  For example, they know from experience how polite, courteous, and knowledgeable the ‘geniuses’ at the Genius Bar are.  And they love how they can ‘experiment’ and access all Apple products in their store.  All this builds their brand — they know that every contact they have with their customer is a solid building block for selling future products.
4.  Apple’s snob appeal.  Make no mistake about it — Apple is a luxury product.  They  never discount.  They don’t put on “sales” in Apple stores.  That Apple logo that shines brightly from your laptop in a Starbucks says this about you:  I have an Apple laptop….I paid top dollar for it….I am the kind of person who wants and needs the best…I am proud to be an Apple user.  Being an Apple user also says that you appreciate quality products and services because that’s the kind of person you are.  You want the best.  And wearing the new Apple Watch on your wrist for everyone to see will just be another way to express your commitment to the highest quality, the best.  In many ways, Apple users are tech snobs.  And they’re proud of it.
5.  Apple’s frenzied cult.  This brings us to:  Is Apple a cult?  Of course, it is.  It was always Steve Job’s vision to create the best computer in the world, the MacIntosh.  Then the iMac….then the MacBook…..iPod….iPhone. And now, Tim’s Watch.  Apple customers have been enraptured by the company’s products, its culture and position as a truly luxury brand, they have almost a blind passion for any new product.  They will ‘blindly’ buy their next new thing because  even if they may not need it, they want it.  This is based on customers wanting to always be “cool”, “chic”, tech-savvy, smart.  Apple customers believe so strongly in the Apple methods of inventing new things, they want desperately to be the owner of their latest invention.  It’s a sign that “I am truly a member of the one of most exclusive clubs in the world.”  I may not be able to join the country club, but I can own an Apple Watch and enhance my own brand at the same time.
Passionate Apple users also believe they truly own and depend on the best products in the world that makes their life better.  Apple is not a commodity — it’s the #1 brand in the world today (and the most valuable) that stands for something truly great — Superior Invention.  Superior Design.  Superior Innovation.  These are the common themes in the reviews we have seen on previous Apple products, and the Watch is no different this time around.
6.  Apple takes advantage of its market position.  They are not fools ….they can be arrogant for sure, but for the most part, it’s deserved arrogance.  They have earned, time again and again, the loyalty of their customers because they have delivered in the past.  Consequently, they rely on an established and proven methodology for creating and marketing new products that limits (or eliminates) failure.  There have been glitches — the antennae on the early iPhone was one — and the Apple Map app was a disaster.  Since Jobs created the first new Macs after his return to the company in 1996, their development and marketing process has essentially remained the same.  The only difference Jobs made the second time around was to open up the source code so they could extend their programming and offerings to users without having to spend the $$ on them.  Hence, there are over 1.2 million apps today for the iPhone and developers are now pushing for new apps for the Watch, although we doubt it will handle that many apps.
7.  Apple is the World’s Biggest Tease.  Think about it:  We have been teased about the Apple Watch for over a year.  This teaser campaign is perhaps the best marketing strategy ever created in the history of new product launches.  Nobody does it better.  Not even James Bond.  And what this does is create a “feeding frenzy”.  I asked a gentleman last night in a restaurant who was dining with his wife….they were both looking down at their iPhones — he had a 6, she had a 6 Plus (and proud of it).  I asked him if they ever talk at dinner anymore….they laughed.  Of course we do.  Are you getting an Apple Watch…she emphatically said “no.”  He, on the other hand, nodded ‘yes’, with a huge grin.  “Have to.  It’s my destiny.”  Think about that….his “destiny”?  Every brand marketer in the world wants this kind of customer loyalty.
8.  Apple is the ultimate creative force.  There is an old marketing adage:  The Creative Plan is the Marketing Plan.  I learned this while at Disneyland years ago.  Disney’s creative plan — designing and operating the world’s best outdoor attraction — was the reason for its success.  Not its marketing.  And what makes Apple’s marketing so effective is that their products are so damn gorgeous and work flawlessly (most of the time), they require less marketing than what their competitors must spend.  The brand extensions from Apple II to the Watch have proven winners every time.  Steve Jobs is responsible for building this creative culture.  And yes, he was a meanie.  He wasn’t always the nicest guy.  They got rid of him once.  But it was his devotion to creating the world’s ultimate products that serves today as their foundation for being the world #1 brand and most valuable company.  
 
With every new launch, Apple takes its brand equity for a spin.  They use this equity — tangible and intangible assets — to insure that their products are superior in every aspect of their design, function, and purpose, but more importantly, Apple hires the best “experts” in their field to guide the company down a new path — in this case, the watch business.  They recruit the best and brightest (“who can resist?”) from the world market and make sure that they pay attention to their cultural beliefs and practices at every turn.  They may, perhaps, stumble on the Watch launch, but for any company to take on such a mammoth undertaking in a whole new category — such as the tradition-bound watch business, there is no company better qualified to take this plunge than Apple.  They’re not betting their farm on this one product — but they are indeed dealing from a position of strength.  It’s a marvel to watch, pun intended.

Am I going to get the Watch?  Yes.  When?  Not sure.  I have gleaned myself from the frenzied rush to stand in line for hours or dial 17 times to reach an Apple order taker after the clock strikes Midnight.  I’m older now…and besides I have learned that, like with the Watch, I don’t really need it.  I want it.  And yes, it’s my destiny.

Google dips its toe into the retail world….

In brand-building, Google, innovation, retail on March 18, 2015 at 11:46 pm
Liljenwall 3-18-15by Robert Liljenwall
It’s only a “toe” — not a full, dedicated retail store like its rival/pal, Apple.  But nonetheless, it represents the first-ever physical presence for the Silicon giant Google.  Here’s what they have done:  This past Wednesday, Google unveiled its debut foray in London’s Tottenham Court Road within retailer Currys PC World. Designed in similar fashion to Apple’s successful model, the storefront plays host to a wide range of Android phones and tablets, as well as Chromebook laptops.  Customers will be able to comb through the store to test out devices and software, as well as attend classes and events that teach them how to use the products.
“The pace of innovation of the devices we all use is incredible, yet the way we buy them has remained the same for years,” James Elias, Google’s UK marketing director, said in a statement at the store launch. “With the Google shop, we want to offer people a place where they can play, experiment and learn about all of what Google has to offer; from an incredible range of devices to a totally-connected, seamless online life. We think it’s a genuinely unique try-before-you-buy experience.”  But for now, Google will be sticking with the store-within-a-store model and the company plans to unveil two more shops later this year!  Where?  No one knows yet! — RJL

“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

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.

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

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

iPad Air’s Magic Ride

In Apple, innovation, mobile & tablets on November 8, 2013 at 3:37 pm
Image representing Apple as depicted in CrunchBase

Image via CrunchBase

by Robert Liljenwall

Perhaps the biggest ‘noise’ generated since Apple introduce its Fall Lineup of new devices and software was the iPad Air. It’s lighter, sleeker and faster. But its Retina display makes it so pleasing and attractive to the eye; one can’t help but want to plunge right into the screen.

I have an regular MacBook Air now and while I love its lightness and quickness, I don’t love the screen, and I am tempted to get an iPad Air. But then what?  Honestly, with my current Air, I still enjoy the luxury of the lightest-weight laptop out there that can take all of my applications, like Microsoft Office – which has become a major battleground between Microsoft and Apple. As long as Microsoft is in the tablet business, they’re not going to let Apple have Office – regardless of how Microsoft’s sales for its Surface are not setting any sales records. Does this really go back to Jobs versus Gates “days”?  Probably. Can you imagine the day Microsoft announces that they have struck an Office deal with Apple for the tablet market?  My suspicion there was someone in Seattle who made the statement … “over my dead body.” (Bill is only 58, so don’t hold your breath.)

But getting back to the iPad Air. Macworld‘s Jason Snell (11/6) couldn’t say enough good things about the new iPad Air – “they made the best tablet better!” And while initial sales figures have not been released, according to Chinese suppliers, the initial sales response is nearly three to four times that of the iPad4 (a year ago) … which means that the iPad Air will most likely be the holiday’s premier, high-end gift under the tree.

With the world’s fastest processor – A7 – the iPad Air will most likely not sway too many iPad Mini owners to switch since it is expected that Apple will convert the Mini to a Retina display come early 2014. And then there’s the issue about “hand-ability” – the Mini is easier to hold with one hand versus the Air or regular iPad4.

But in the end, I know if I wander into the Apple store, I will be reaching for my wallet. I’m still unhappy with iOS7 and its pastel-colored, hard-to-read screens on its apps … but I’m patient. – RJL

Niche and Innovation: Simplicity Sofas Puts the Pieces Together

In brand-building, innovation, retail on September 24, 2013 at 7:59 am

by Jeff Sandgren

The Piedmont Triad of North Carolina, formed by Greensboro, Winston-Salem and High Point, was once the dominant hub of furniture manufacturing in the US. High Point still tags itself as the “Furniture Capital of the World,” boasting some of the largest showrooms in the country; but the manufacturing core that fills them has moved offshore to lower cost facilities in Asia. Much of the area now has a ghost town feel, with shuttered factories – and shuttered local businesses that once thrived when furniture-making drove a vibrant local economy.

In the middle of this arid business landscape is a bright, thriving oasis of success: Simplicity Sofas. Starting with a small factory in High Point in 2007, they’ve already had to relocate to a bigger facility to keep up with the demand for their specialized product, shipping more than $4 million of furniture to thousands of customers … without a single negative review. Along the way they’ve been a finalist for the Customer Experience Innovation Awards, received two “Best of Market” awards at the International Home Furnishings Market, and been recognized with a $20,000 Grand Prize as Small Business Innovator of the Year. All without moving out of town.

How have they pulled off this commercial miracle?

The answer is twofold: niche and innovation. Back in 2003 designer/inventor/master craftsman Glenn Laughlin and furniture industry veteran Jeff Frank teamed up to create a line of high quality, quick-assembly upholstered furniture that fits into small rooms and tight entranceways where normal furniture cannot go. Glenn and Jeff spent four years perfecting the revolutionary technology and building the first prototypes. Locating in High Point has allowed them to tap into a deep local talent pool. They custom build one piece at a time using solid oak frames, and back their product with a lifetime warranty.

I experienced the ingenuity of this solution firsthand a year ago, when I ordered a full-sized couch, oversized chair and storage ottoman from them. The whole shipment arrived in the back of a van, with room to spare. Because we’re local, a company employee delivered it and assembled the furniture in our living room, in less than 15 minutes. For those outside of the Piedmont Triad, they offer free catalogs and fabric swatches, and shipping across the US.

Dawson and Sydney, furniture installation experts

Dawson and Sydney, furniture installation experts

Watching the assembly process, I realized that I could just as easily have done it myself – and that’s saying a lot, since I’m all thumbs. See for yourself: here’s a video of an 8-year-old boy assembling a couch in less than five minutes. Not impressed?  Then how about a 7-year-old girl assembling a chair in a minute? Go, Sydney!

This fall, the company is innovating into another ‘tight spot’: the RV (recreational vehicle) market. Simplicity began to hear of customers who were installing their furniture in RVs, easily navigating the extremely narrow door width and avoiding the headaches and cost of the previous solution. The old way? Remove the windshield. No wonder they love Simplicity Sofas. But what the RV enthusiasts said they really wanted was a convertible sofa bed that could fit into the same tight spot.

So Simplicity Sofas innovated for this new niche, designed one, perfected it and launched it earlier this month at the largest RV show in the country, the Annual Pennsylvania RV & Camping Show in Hershey, PA, drawing more than 40,000 attendees. It takes a little longer to assemble, and probably isn’t a project to delegate to the children, but it’s still … simplicity.

Jeff Frank, President Simplicity Sofas

Jeff Frank, President
Simplicity Sofas

“Everything we develop is designed to meet an existing need,” said President Jeff Frank. “Our sectional sofa is another example. We had a customer whose family room was at the end of a particularly difficult staircase, so even our sofa couldn’t navigate the turn. We went back to the drawing board and developed an easy-to-assemble sectional [just see Sydney’s video] that solved their problem. Today they’re another happy customer, and we’ve got another successful product line.”

Therein lays perhaps the simple key to Simplicity Sofa’s success: fanatical devotion to understanding and satisfying their customers. They listen to customers, innovate designs to solve problems no one else addresses, and then delight buyers every time – all right here in the former heartland of American furniture making. As William Shatner (yes that William Shatner) recently observed, “Simplicity Sofas furniture boldly goes where no furniture has gone before.”

And by the way, I love my sofa.  Maybe too much. – JTS

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