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Darrin C. Duber-Smith

Since 2000, Darrin C. Duber-Smith, MS, MBA, has been president of Green Marketing, Inc., a Colorado-based strategic planning firm offering marketing and sustainability planning, marketing plan implementation, and other consulting services to companies in all stages of growth. He has over 25 years of specialized expertise in the marketing and management profession including extensive experience in working with natural, organic, and green/sustainable products and services. He is a co-founder of the Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability (LOHAS, c. 1999) market concept and leader of the first U.S. industry task force that helped frame an industry definition of natural (c. 2005). He has published over 60 articles in trade publications and has presented at scores of executive-level events over the past 15 years. Mr. Duber-Smith is Visiting Professor of Marketing at the Metropolitan State College School of Business in Denver, CO and Affiliate Marketing Professor at the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado-Boulder. Mr. Duber-Smith was the recipient of the Wall Street Journal's In-Education Distinguished Professor Award for 2009, and is author of Cengage Learning's KnowNow! Marketing blog. He can be reached at DuberSmith@GreenMarketing.net

More Millennials Milling In Malls

06-10-2014 2:35 PM with no comments

Research findings may not be intuitive all of the time, but lots of things in life are counter-intuitive, and this is one of the reasons why we are glad to have science. How else would we discover that young adults between the ages of 18-29 (actually this is only a subset of the generation born between 1980-2000) actually prefer shopping in malls versus online? Say again? And it wasn't by a narrow margin--37% versus 27%. Of course it is only one study, and I would surely love to see the results duplicated by another source, what we call reliability, but it does appear to have validity, that is it is measuring what it is supposed to measure. The sample size is adequate, and we can only assume that the sample was randomized and that there was no researcher bias. After all, who would have theorized such a thing? So much for the recently-announced death of the shopping mall.

But the data must mean something. Perhaps younger consumers are excited by the experience of shopping and socializing in a non-digital manner, which would be a refeshing finding indeed. Perhaps "shopping" doesn't mean "buying", which would mean that brick and mortar stores will continue to lose ground to ecommerce, as has been predicted by most, and younger people merely use teh stores as "showrooms" for cheaper goods found online. Or perhaps it is something else altogether. Perhaps we are becoming used to our new digital toys, and things will return to a more physical, and less digital reality. Perhaps younger consumers will respond to the right kinds of brick-and-mortar stores once they join the productive economy and begin designing them. Never underestimate the need for humans to touch and physically experience things, which is a major weakness of the digital universe. Indeed the pendulum swings back and forth with most things, I have found, so why should consumer behavior with regard to technology be any different? Marketers must figure out what's going on, and fast.

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Menswear Merging

06-03-2014 1:04 PM with no comments

It looks like the "cheap suit industry" is about to get a lot smaller. The Federal Trade Commission has finally approved the merger of Men's Wearhouse and Jos. A Bank, two dominant players in what has become a contracting industry. To say that Americans have dressed down over the decades is putting it rather mildly, and nowhere is this social trend more glaring than in the menswear category. Regulators are OK with the move, saying that there are numerous other options for consumers, and that they are unlikely to be hurt by the reduction in competition.

What other options, you ask? Department stores such as Macy's, Nordstrom, and JC Penney have long filled the waning need in the marketplace for lower-end (non-custom) business wear. And it appears unlikely that the two specialty retailers will survive without combining operations, so in that instance there would be even less competition. Thus it is probably better that this merger be allowed go ahead. In the meantime, I will not be buying new suits any time real soon and will likely opt to dust off my Men's Wearhouse suits from 1999 whenever there is a wedding or a funeral. Unfortunately for the industry, I'm not alone.

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

The Price Is Absolutely Right

06-03-2014 12:04 PM with no comments

For those of us who do not watch much PayTV or who have regular, 9-5 jobs, it's easy to miss the weekday morning lineup. After the litanny of national and local news shows have mercifully ended for another day, things get even more bleak. That is, except for a staple of the airwaves, The Price Is Right, by far the longest running game show in history. Bob Barker has long since retired, and the affable and highly competent Drew Carey has assumed command of the show. Almost everything is the same, so longtime viewers need not worry about artistic integrity, tradition, and the like. But if the show is to have a bright future, it must attempt to draw in younger viewers. Drew knows this.

I've always loved the show, even as a kid in the early 80's. And what marketer worth his/her salt wouldn't like a show based on consumer perceptions of pricing, with a heavy dose of luck and a bit of gamesmanship? Sign me up! And Mr. Carey has already made a few positive adjustments to attract this younger age demographic. The models and the announcer, formerly mute functionaries, are now an active part of the production, interacting with the contestants in highly effective ways never before seen. Yet somehow the change is subtle. This week, Mr. Carey has engaged the Twitterverse, and viewers have the opportunity to interact with the program as well as possibly see their tweets on TV. And of course the more positive the Tweet, the more likely it will be displayed. And there are lots of special guests. This might be a good way to engage younger viewers.

And that's not all! Yesterday, in the midst of the action, Drew (as well as the entire cast and audience) broke into a well choreographed minute-long song and dance, a delightful signature practice fans became accustomed to during his Drew Carey Show years in the late 90's. It was almost like a 7th inning stretch in baseball. Younger viewers will love this show. And with all of the underemployed and unemployed Millennials living at home and working hospitality jobs, it seems that Drew has a ready audience at 10am MDT. If they are still too busy, it's on YouTube. Will they respond?

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Of Michael and Elvis

06-02-2014 2:36 PM with no comments

Just because a musician has passed on, it doesn't mean he/she can't keep earning money. Take Michael Jackson for example. He was a top flight entertainer with a multitude of different talents. He could compose, sing, dance, and also creep everyone out. But that's another story. He was the first African-American megastar, had his own ride at Disney theme parks, and his album Thriller remains the most successful record in history. In addition to this sort of talent, he also seemed to understand the business and marketing side of things from a very young age.

He started his marketing career around the tender young age of 10, understanding that composers could earn residual income from their songs in the form of royalties. And so he began buying up music catalogs, paying $500,000 for Sly and the Family Stone's collection in his first foray, making money almost immediately when an artist recorded a hit with one of their songs. At his peak in the late 80's there was nothing that Michael couldn't do. But, as with many of our heroes, they fail in the human side of things. Jackson, like Elvis before him, was a complete mess. You all know what happened next.

So is that it for Jackson, Inc.? Heck no. The 2009 tour that never happened became a documentary that earned $200 million, and by the end of that year Jackson's estate sold 8.3 million records, twice as many as Taylor Swift, the runner up. Folks, that is the very embodiment of brand equity, and it is not unique to Michael Jackson. The Beatles, the Grateful Dead, Elvis, and many others continue to earn money well after lost the ability to spend it. Some brands, on the other hand, take a long time to finally expire. Jackson's global appeal isn't likely to wane any time very soon.

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

WNBA Goes LGBT

05-22-2014 7:32 PM with no comments

It is a mouthful of acronyms indeed, but nevertheless the groundbreaking decision by the decades-old professional women's basketball league to "officially" target the LGBT community is now on the books. The league has always attracted this community, has finally publically recognized it, and is now acting in the true tradition of target marketing. It is also using PR to talk about it publicly, and it's about time.

Target marketing is nothing new. And targeting the LGBT market is also nothing new. But for a professional sports league it's rather groundbreaking; and on the heels of the much larger social acceptance of alternative lifestyles in the U.S., it makes sense for the WNBA to make this strategic marketing move.

It is no secret that the league has been struggling with fan interest, as reflected by both attendance numbers as well as sponsorship agreements and TV rights. Perhaps having teams participate at local Pride Festivals and Parades, as well as a nationally-televised Pride Game to take place between the Tulsa Shock and Chicago Sky on June 22, will help the brand. And why not? The league is still unprofitable after two decades despite a great deal of private investment. Perhaps a bit of target marketing with some endorsements by prolific members of the LGBT community and some major brand backing might help matters. Let's see what happens.

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Go Go Godzilla!

05-22-2014 6:44 PM with no comments

Yes, there have been literally dozens of these movies produced since the aftermath of WW2. And, yes, most of them have been fairly poorly-made from a cinematic perspective. But, now there can be no denying the cross-generational and globalizing power of the most prolific and iconic of all mutant monsters, Godzilla.

Young adults love it! But what most people don't realize is that there is a behind the scenes situation going on. The rights to this beast are owned by Legendary Pictures whose breakup with parent Warner Bros. has been well documented, and the two entities have now severed ties, except that Godzilla now survives as the partnership's last joint venture. And some joint venture it is turning out to be. Legendary Pictures actually produced the movie, and Warner is handling distribution duties, the synergy of which was probably the original intention of the merger. But although the partnership is almost over, it seems that the "swan song" will be very profitable indeed.

So far, the former partners have made $93.2 million on the movie in the first weekend. It will certainly hit $200 million when all is said and done, and will be a big hit all the way around, despite the forgettable failure of the previous 1998 revival. Memories are notoriously short, however, and the new movie has nevertheless resonated with major audiences in Mexico, the U.K. and Russia in addition to great results in the U.S. proving that Godzilla is indeed an enduring global phenomenon. But what about Japan, the birthplace of this post-nuclear creature?

Warner can't release the film in Japan due to a standing distribution rights agreement between Toho (the 1950's -era monster's official licensing owner) and newly-independent Legendary. Toho will therefore assume the distribution duties therein, so let's see how it does on its home island. Apparently, it's no Spiderman, which now has garnered over $175 million at the box office, but clearly the perpetual "Reptilian Reprise" has some residual staying power, and maybe the movie can bypass the perennial arachnid. But, regardless of who's on first, you can be sure that there will be more Godzillas to come.

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Questionable Characters

05-21-2014 5:28 PM with no comments

McDonald's has been busy lately revising its children's menu with the objective of increasing the number of healthy options, a strategy as much in response to the relentless pressure of health activists over the years than it is to changing market conditions. But healthy eating is here to stay, so why waste a marketing opportunity? Why not create a new, fun character to deliver the marketing message?

Introducing "Happy", Ronald's new sidekick whose schtick seems to be making healthy eating more fun. It is rather strange-looking, kind of a box with arms and legs and the iconic golden arches for eyebrows. Pretty good branding, but It is a rather robotic, caffeinated, overly-globalized character, and reminds me a bit of the strange mascots they had at the London Olympic games. I guess, like the Olympic mascots, Happy is meant to appeal to a global community, but they probably could have done better.

Marketing fast food to children, however healthy some of the menu items may be, will always be under fire. Offering toys as incentives, using cartoon characters, and partnering with kid's movies are all tactics of a very questionable nature to many experts. Happy, however benign his message, is still representing a fast food company with largely unhealthy products. A growing number see this sort of thing as a weak attempt to try to appease the health crowd and divert attention away from the real issue of the nutritional content of its products. Lots of folks even think that marketing to children, already becoming an ethical quagmire, should be much more highly regulated. What do you think?

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Board Games Bring Excitement

05-19-2014 3:12 PM with no comments

Remember when video game makers said that board games would be a thing of the past? Of course you don't. That was over 30 years ago, and we all have to admit that video games have become big business. But what has happened to board games? Have they been creatively destroyed as predicted?

After a few decades in the dolldrums, it appears that board games are on the comeback trail. Sales of board games in the U.S. are up 15-20% in each of the last three years. This is not Monopoly money, nor is it a short-term phenomenon if Kickstarter has anything to say about it. It turns out that crowdfunding for boardgame start-ups raised $52.1 million in 2012 versus $51.3 million for video games. How's that for the power of data? If I hadn't seen it in print, I wouldn't have believed it. Let's see what kinds of new games emerge from this investment, in what ways the video game segment will be affected, and what market segments will be targeted by which products. But, there is one thing we do know for certain. The demise of board games was temporary, and the marketplace might respond favorably to some new, exciting concepts. Investors believe that they will! 

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

More Green Chemistry

05-16-2014 9:37 PM with no comments

It looks like the movement to remove questionable ingredients from consumer products, known loosely as "green chemistry", is gaining some more steam. Increasingly, big companies are succumbing to stakeholder pressure (consumer groups, media, government, activist shareholders, etc.), and are reconsidering their formulations.

Consider Coca-Cola's recent announcement that it will remove "brominated vegetable oil" from all of lines. The ingredient has been the target of petitions by a Mississippi teenager, on the website Change.org, who wanted it out of Powerade and Gatorade. Banned in the EU and Japan, the ingredient has been patented as a flame retardant, and has fallen out of favor partly as a result.

It is probably not a harmful ingredient in any real sense since there have been no adverse health reports and the FDA has not become concerned, but at the same time there are probably better alternatives for a beverage. In fact Coke already has two in mind, sucrose acetate isobutyrate and glycerol ester of rosin. Hmmm. Hopefully that will satisfy the masses. Well, chemistry is not my best subject. What this does demonstrate is the enormous power that stakeholder groups can have over large companies, and the presence of dozens of ingredients in all kinds of products is now under scrutiny on many fronts. As a result, expect more green chemistry in the future.

 

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Minor Leagues, Major Merchandise

05-16-2014 9:09 PM with no comments

There are 160 minor league baseball teams that are affiliated with MLB franchises, and do they ever sell merchandise! Many small markets, although encompassing many fans of major league teams, are located too far away to attend games or are priced out of the market. This is where the minor leagues come in. When it comes to talent and ticket prices, the level of competition matters. AAA teams, AA teams and several levels of single-A teams exist in the hierarchy that feeds major league baseball teams, and the quality of play increases noticeably at each level. But when it comes to merchandise, all teams are created somewhat equal.

The combined MILB teams netted over $55 million dollars in revenue in 2013 in merchandise, and it looks like the industry is poised to rise even further. New teams such as the Hillsboro Hops, a short-season single-A club, sell lots of gear, as do teams that change their logos or their team names, such as the Reading Fightin' Phils. Hats and shirts sell for what they sell for when it comes right down to it whether its the major leagues or minor leagues, so merchandise can be a great source of revenue for these small market teams.

But as is the case in all industries, it is staying power that matters, and certain teams have consistently made the top 25 in terms of merchandise revenue. The Durham Bulls (AAA), Lansing Lugnuts (A), Portland Sea Dogs (AA), Carolina Mudcats (High A), Lake Elsinore Storm (High A), Wisconsin Timber Rattlers (A), and Trenton Thunder (AA) have all made the top 25 for 16 or more years. Indeed, small market fans are still hungry for live baseball, and the areas that have the most merchandise sales seem to be the healthiest of these regardless of the league These clubs move around all of the time in the minors, however, as fans are fickle and facilities need updating, so marketers must be on their toes. But when merchandise sales are humming it is a good indication that brand management strategy is moving in the right direction.

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Tough Talk About Tablets

05-11-2014 6:54 PM with no comments

The product life cycle can be long, or the product life cycle can be short. Much depends on so many variables, but the most important of which is the interaction of the technological environment and consumer behavior. It seems that indeed one feeds into the other in an endless of dance resulting in what famed economist Joseph Schumpeter called "creative destruction". Nowhere is this more evident than in the world of technologically-advanced communications gadgets.

Take tablets, a 4-year old category, as an example. Almost three years ago in these very pages, the very existence of such a device was questioned. Who needs a device that is neither large enough to act enough like a laptop computer, especially for the "rich media" consuming crowd, nor has the capabilities and advantages of the smartphone? Well, for a while plenty of folks did, as Apple has already sold over 200 million iPads, but it appears that the party is beginning to draw to a close.

Sales growth among tablet computers has apparently peaked. Apple, Microsoft and Amazon are all struggling for growth in an apparently saturated market. The priciest tablets may not survive, so marketers will have to find ways to deliver value at far lower price points than they have become accustomed to. Global sales have risen almost 20% but that's nowhere near the over 80% growth achieved last year, so this is not a local phenomenon. The decline of this category will likely occur very quickly.

Let's face it. Smartphones are going to continue to get bigger and do more stuff, and there will always be a need for larger-screen format such as has been provided by makers of PC's and laptops over the decades (although these latter two categories have been in decline for years). These devices, large and small, will "borrow" all of the great things that the tablet has to offer, and the tablet as we know it today will morph into several other products, allowing for even more productivity, more consumer choice, and hopefully some positive societal advancements. I think that this is what Mr. Schumpeter had in mind.

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Michael Kors Invades Europe

05-11-2014 6:32 PM with no comments

Move over Gucci and Louis Vuitton. Michael Kors is no longer satisfied with conquering the fashion landscape of North America, and has officially begun his conquest of the Old World. The fast-growing and recently-iconic brand, propelled by the success of fashion reality show "Project Runway", has found its niche as a less-expensive luxury brand with the personality of a higher-end name, what is known in the industry as an "accessible". Just how accessible is Kors in Europe?

Sales roughly doubled from 2012 to 2013 to over $200 million indicating that the products are very much appealing to cash-strapped Euros who don't want to pay upper-prestige prices to get the style they still crave. The interesting thing is that most high end European competitors have decided to close underperforming stores, raise prices, and limit selection in the hopes that an "exclusivity" strategy might help them weather the economic storm. This scheme has largely worked, but such a strategy is not good for expanding market share, and so Michael Kors has raced in to fill the gap.

What should the likes of Gucci do? They can sit and watch from the sidelines for now, as hastily lowering prices might dilute hard-earned brand equity and confuse the consumer base. These are storied brands, Michael Kors is a relative newcomer, and the fashion industry is a notoriously fickle beast. Unintimidated, Kors plans on adding another 36 stores to its existing base of 76 in order to make the most of its popularity and get to as many European markets as possible in the fastest amount of time. Smart. But then again, Mr. Kors hasn't achieved such success in his many business endeavors by being feckless. marketers have a real person behind the brand, a huge advantage, so let's see how long Kors can keep the party going. Perhaps, after some time, it will exhibit staying power and will join the ranks of the iconic global brands. For now it must earn its stripes, and for long-established competitors it should be a wait and see proposition.

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Go Bullets!

05-09-2014 4:22 PM with no comments

This Washington "Wizards" thing simply hasn't worked, and it's time for the owners of this exciting NBA franchise to admit a mistake and fully restore the team to it's former glory. It has been 17 long years since the team changed its name from "Bullets" to "Wizards". At the time, the city was the murder capital of the nation and the irony was simply too much to bear, so the owner changed the name saying that it evoked gun violence. I didn't like it. He was much heralded for his decision at the time. But lots of fans still think of the team, which was originally located in Baltimore and played in an armory, as the "Bullets", and DC is a much safer place these days after all.

In all seriousness, crime has decreased by 50% since 1995. And what's with the name "wizards" anyway? The name of the team makes no sense to most marketers because there are probably no actual wizards in Washington DC unless of course Harry Potter gets U.S. citizenship and moves to the city. A good brand name should represent something to its customers. Despite this handicap, team marketers finally acted by restoring the red, white and blue stripes that herald to the glory days of the ABA. Apparel is flying off the shelves. Fans are responding and so is the team, as they play the Pacers in the Eastern semi-finals right now. It's gotta be the uniforms!

But don't get your hopes up. A powerful U.S. senator, Harry Reid, recently cited the decision to change the name as an example that the NFL's Washington Redskins should follow, which I don't think is quite the same thing. So with that kind of politics getting in the way, don't expect a name change any time soon! Hopefully at least the retro color scheme will stick. In the meantime. Go Wizards!

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

FiveFingered Fallacy

05-09-2014 4:05 PM with no comments

Not only does overstating the benefits of a product usually result in customer dissatisfaction, but sometimes it results in a fine. Vibram, maker of the quirky FiveFingers brand of athletic shoes, was recently slapped with a $3.75 million judgment as a result of a class-action law suit filed for false advertising. The company, which was able to charge $100 a pair partly due to the overstatements, must now stop making unsubstantiated claims that the shoes strengthen muscles and help the wearer avoid injury.

When you think about it, these are fairly outrageous claims to make about a product with absolutely no clinical research to back them up, so it is not surprising that a court would eventually become involved. One would wonder how much money the company has made over the life of the product line and whether or not it was all ultimately worth it. Now FiveFingers are merely strange looking shoes, and marketers must develop another positioning strategy. One should now wonder how long this brand will be around.

 

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

Whole Paycheck's Tired Strategy

05-09-2014 3:42 PM with no comments

The "whole paycheck" nickname earned over the years by Austin-based natural foods retailer Whole Foods Markets used to be just a funny joke. At 35% margins, the highly successful purveyor of healthier products is much more profitable than other grocery chains and can afford to laugh, but there is growing evidence that the days of charging enormously high prices for specialty goods might be coming to an end.

I have been in the natural products industry for 25 years, and it has indeed been fun watching both the meteoric growth of the industry, and also the way the Whole Foods has transformed the retail landscape. But that's just the problem. The stuff that Whole Foods sells is now available at many other locations, often for much lower prices. This was an inevitability, as expanding distribution channels increase both overall product volumes and the level of competition, which as we know results in lower prices. Once enough natural products manufacturers got large enough to handle the large volumes demanded by large retailers, it was off to the races.

It is clear that Whole Foods must lower its prices or find some way to enhance value for its customers. Large grocery chains, in addition to borrowing from the retailer's product mix strategy, have also borrowed much about the stores themselves. The look, layout, and overall design of today's grocery stores owe much to the influence of Whole Foods. But nothing lasts forever, and companies must adapt to changing conditions if they are to remain on top. The folks who run the place are pretty smart, so it will be fascinating to see what the company does.

Posted by Darrin Duber-Smith

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