How to Sell Embarrassing Products

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Juj Winn/Getty Images

In the modern retail environment, it is becoming increasingly difficult to use packaging to stand out. The shelves of stores are packed with fantastic fonts, strategically designed color combinations, and unique product forms all competing to draw the attention of consumers.

But is it possible that attempting to stand out in a crowd is actually hurting your business? Our research shows that for products consumers find embarrassing to buy — for example, condoms, acne cream, hemorrhoid cream, and lice shampoo — having packaging that stands out may reduce consumers’ purchase intentions. While this may seem obvious, a quick trip to your local pharmacy aisle shows how often embarrassing products are packaged in ways designed to grab your attention, with loud fonts or bright colors. This is particularly pertinent given the decline of in-store sales for these items. Consumers are moving toward purchasing their embarrassing — and non-embarrassing — products

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Customers Won’t Pay as Much for Digital Goods — and Research Explains Why

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jeremy villasis/Getty Images

Every day, we interact with two kinds of goods. The first kind is acquired and shared instantly, is weightless, impervious to damage, easy to customize, and impossible to lose. Even a child can carry thousands of it at a time. The second kind requires travel to acquire or share, is difficult to alter, cumbersome, easily lost, and can be damaged in a myriad of ways. Only a few of its kind can be crammed into a single bag. Despite the many advantages of the first kind –– digital goods — companies find again and again that people value and are willing to pay considerably more for the latter –– their physical counterparts. Our research aims to explain this puzzling behavior.

Modern life has been transformed by the widespread digitization of many consumer goods, from books, to magazines, newspapers, music, movies, airplane tickets, and calculators. Digital photographs, first

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Knowing when to scale (and how to prove that you can do it)

When you’re talking to investors about a Series B, Series C or later round, one of the questions that will inevitably come up is “What are your CACs?”. It sounds like a simple question, but from the question of what costs to include and the right way to account for organic traffic to the pandora box of multi-touch attribution, there are lots of devils in the details.

What's more, the real question is not "What are your CACs?" but "What will your CACs be if you invest $10-20 million in sales & marketing?". It’s hard enough to calculate historic CACs for different acquisition channels with a high degree of accuracy. It’s much harder to predict future CACs at bigger scale.

And yet it shouldn’t come as a surprise that later-stage investors are so focused on this question. When you’re raising a Series B or later round, Continue reading "Knowing when to scale (and how to prove that you can do it)"

Clara Labs nabs $7M Series A as it positions its AI assistant to meet the needs of enterprise teams

 Clara Labs, creator of the Clara AI assistant, is announcing a $7 million Series A this morning led by Basis Set Ventures. Slack Fund also joined in the round alongside existing investors Sequoia and First Round. The startup will be looking to further differentiate within the crowded field of email-centric personal assistants by building in features and integrations to address the needs of… Read More

Reach Robotics closes $7.5M Series A for its augmented reality bots

 After years of research and development, Reach Robotics has closed a $7.5 million Series A, co-led by Korea Investment Partners (KiP) and IGlobe, to bring its augmented reality bots to market in a big way. The Bristol-based startup is looking to expand into the U.S. and the team is exploring opportunities for growth into other European and Asian markets. Reach Robotics first product,… Read More

ZenIQ lands $4.6 million to help marketers escape ‘dashboard hell’ using AI


ZenIQ, a company that applies AI to help companies with their account-based marketing practices, just raised $4.6 million in seed funding in a round led by Costanoa Ventures. Salesforce Ventures also participated in the round — which is interesting, considering that the company just started offering a similar service. The company’s product is supposed to help by taking in signals about potential customers and providing marketers with the best next action to take in order to land business from a particular account. ZenIQ uses machine learning to help figure out what that action is by integrating data from multiple systems. “Marketers [are in] dashboard hell right now,” ZenIQ CEO Srihari Kumar said. “They have to interpret the data from so many different [services] and try to figure out what to do next.” Overall, the product is supposed to help businesses get the most out of account-based Continue reading "ZenIQ lands $4.6 million to help marketers escape ‘dashboard hell’ using AI"

How U.S. Health Care Got Safer by Focusing on the Patient Experience

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Before 1999 “performance” had a simple, unidimensional definition for health care leaders and their boards: It was shorthand for the CFO’s financial report, summarizing operating margins. In the years since, “performance” has become more complex, now including dozens or even hundreds of quality measures. “Numbers that numb” has become an all-too-common description for performance reports in many organizations. Now, however, a unifying theory has emerged for how to improve performance for all these dimensions — safety, quality, experience, and financial. What is that theory, what is that driver, and what evidence supports it? First, a few words about where we came from and how we got here. Before 1999 the assumption was that quality in health care was basically pretty good — and in any case was difficult if not impossible to measure. The financial health of the organization was the most important metric for management and governance to follow. But 1999
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What Most Companies Miss About Customer Lifetime Value

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Steven Moore for HBR
For managers and marketers alike, the power to calculate what customers might be worth is alluring. That’s what makes customer lifetime value (CLV) so popular in so many industries. CLV brings both quantitative rigor and long-term perspective to customer acquisition and relationships. “Rather than thinking about how you can acquire a lot of customers and how cheaply you can do so,” one marketing guide observes, “CLV helps you think about how to optimize your acquisition spending for maximum value rather than minimum cost.” By imposing economic discipline, ruthlessly prioritizing segmentation, retention, and monetization, the metric assures future customer profitability is top of mind. For all its impressive strengths, however, CLV suffers from a crippling flaw that blurs its declared focus. The problem is far more insidious than those articulated in venture capitalist Bill Gurley’s thoughtful CLV vivisection. In fact, it subverts how customers
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Aiden closes $750,000 seed round in its quest to amplify marketers

 Aiden, a London-based startup building a machine learning-powered personal assistant to save mobile marketers time and money, closed a $750,000 seed round today from Kima Ventures and a number of angels, including Nicolas Pinto, Pierre Valade and Jonathan Wolf. The team first demoed the capabilities of its service on the stage of TechCrunch Disrupt as a Battlefield finalist. Read More

When It’s Smart to Copy Your Competitor’s Brand Promise

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Marketers know they should keep their messages simple if they want to cut through the noise and reach customers. The key question is then: Of your product’s attributes, which one should you focus on? New research of ours suggests that companies may want to emphasize the same attribute that their rivals do.

Consider bottled water. Evian, one of the most durable brands in bottled water, has cultivated a strong association with purity. Danone, the company who owns Evian, has established this association by emphasizing the purity of its water source: the ageless, untouched glaciers covering the Alps. If you were entering the bottled water market alongside of Evian, following marketing principles might lead you to differentiate your brand on a dimension other than purity. Lifestyle would be a good point of differentiation, wouldn’t it? Not according to Nestle, arguably one of the world’s most successful marketers of consumer package goods.

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What Creativity in Marketing Looks Like Today

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What makes marketing creative? Is it more imagination or innovation?  Is a creative marketer more artist or entrepreneur? Historically, the term “marketing creative” has been associated with the words and pictures that go into ad campaigns. But marketing, like other corporate functions, has become more complex and rigorous. Marketers need to master data analytics, customer experience, and product design. Do these changing roles require a new way of thinking about creativity in marketing?

To explore this question, we interviewed senior marketing executives across dozens of top brands. We asked them for examples of creativity in marketing that go beyond ad campaigns and deliver tangible value to the business. Their stories — and the five wider trends they reflect — help illustrate what it means to be a creative marketer today.

1. Create with the customer, not just for the customer

Everyone likes to talk about being “customer-centric.” But too often

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Our Brains Love New Stuff, and It’s Killing the Planet

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Your brain contains almost 100 billion neurons, each of which, on average, is connected to about 10,000 other neurons. The 1.5 kg marvel we inherited from our ancestors has unparalleled computational power and analytic skills. These have been shaped over hundreds of millions of years by the forces of evolution to favor behaviors that, in the distant past, increased the chances of survival and reproduction.

But although these forces created a brain that can solve highly complex problems, create art, and feel compassion, our clever brains let us down in one key respect: greenhouse gases and other byproducts of our very living now pose an accelerating threat to the future of the planet and its diverse forms of interconnected life, including our own.

How has our amazing brain failed us, in this, perhaps our greatest challenge?

As you read this, thousands of scientists, engineers, policy makers, and advocates around

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Blockchain Will Transform Customer Loyalty Programs

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Loyalty programs have proliferated across travel, retail, financial services, and other economic sectors. The average U.S. household participates in 29 different loyalty programs, according to the 2015 Colloquy Loyalty Census. The result is a maze of point systems and redemption options, with cumbersome processes for exchanging points among program partners. Loyalty programs are ripe for some kind of disruptive innovation that would make them easier to use.

Case Study: How Should an Understated Luxury Brand Compete Against Bling?

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Anh Phan
Wei Song noticed the fashion models first. Preening in chiffon-and-lace gowns, they flanked the entrance to Shanguang Jewelers’ flagship store on Nanjing Road. A vintage Eagle roadster was parked nearby, with a dozen well-heeled men and women clustered around it. Song could see many more people inside the store, sipping champagne. Many were trying on watches. “It’s quite an event,” he said to his colleague, Pearl Zhang, who was standing next to him, across the street. “Yes,” she replied. “If only it were ours.” Song was a director at Rochat & Schmid, a 100-year-old Swiss maker of luxury timepieces, overseeing Greater China from his base in Shanghai. Pearl, his VP of marketing, had learned that their rival Berlinger was launching a line of gem-accented watches, which would be sold exclusively through Shanguang, China’s biggest jewelry retailer. She’d persuaded him to do a bit of intelligence gathering with
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Chinese and American Consumers Have Different Ideas About What Makes a Product Creative

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When consumers believe a product is creative, they are more likely to like, share, and buy it. And yet not everyone agrees on what “creativity” looks like. Jeffrey Loewenstein and I recently published a study examining the features that indicate whether a product is creative in the world’s two largest economies, the U.S. and China. We found that the two countries had different views of what made a product creative. For example, the kind of product that an American loves and finds highly creative might seem trivial to a Chinese person. In contrast, the kind of product that a Chinese person finds creative might lack distinctiveness to an American. All products have a constellation of features; we identified 26 cues that at least one of the two cultures nominated as relevant to creativity. To understand the psychology of how each culture views creativity, it’s helpful to know what both cultures agree indicates creativity,
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Even Life-Saving Innovations Don’t Sell Themselves

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Most businesses wouldn’t survive without driving demand for their products or services, either through marketing and advertising or through involving users so deeply in the design of the product that word of mouth spurs adoption. The same is true for social innovators. However, unlike many business leaders, it is easy for social innovators to overlook making an intentional effort to drive demand because the need for their innovation is so great. But even the most needed innovation does not sell itself. Consider that 86 million U.S. adults were at risk of developing type 2 diabetes in 2015. That’s one in three people. At the same time, some 1,000 nonprofits and community-based organizations were offering a drug-free solution to help avoid developing diabetes, but they weren’t sufficiently publicizing it or engaging users to sell the service. Even though these programs were covered by insurance, making them essentially free, only 20,000 adults took advantage,
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