Archive for November, 2011

Dunder Mifflin Paper

November 28, 2011

Quill, an office supply company owned by Staples, announced today it was introducing Dunder Mifflin paper. Dunder Mifflin, of course, is the fictional company featured on NBC’s popular show The Office.

So is this a smart move? I think so, for three reasons.

First, it will create enormous PR buzz. The news is already showing up in all sorts of media outlets, including The Wall Street Journal and The Chicago Tribune. The story will generate discussion and comments and get people thinking about Quill, many for the first time.

Second, this move differentiates Quill. If you want Dunder Mifflin paper, you have to become a Quill customer. This makes Quill unique and different and cool, and in the world of office supplies this is a major accomplishment.

Third, the move is easy to measure. One of the great challenges in marketing is seeing the impact of initiatives. But this move is easy to quantify: Quill executives can simply watch orders of Dunder Mifflin paper to see how it is working.

There are of course some concerns. First, it isn’t clear how much more people will pay for Dunder Mifflin paper. Is there a lot of value in the name? Is it worth the licensing fee? Second, the move will likely attract a lot of individuals, which might be an issue for Quill, a very business to business focused company.

On balance, however, the move looks like a winner, a way to put a somewhat low profile company on the map and differentiate it in a competitive market. This is what good marketing is all about.

You can buy Dunder Mifflin products at (

Black Friday Fades

November 23, 2011

Black Friday, the day after Thanksgiving, is a day unlike any other. It is the one day of the year when everyone in the United States is expected to go shopping. And many people do.

Stores feed the frenzy with aggressive deals, encouraging people to get out early and line-up for the biggest savings. The media, faced with a slow news day, covers all the action in-depth.

I’ve always enjoyed watching the frenzy, visiting stores Friday morning just to see people buying and spending in a joyous, if sometimes stressful, scene. It is a wonderful marketing moment.

This year, though, it seems to be fading, at least a bit. Partly this is because retailers are now offering deals earlier and earlier in a bid to compete with on-line merchants and each other. When many stores open on Thanksgiving, there is no need to race out Friday morning to get going.

Partly, though, I think people are a little tired of it all, tired of spending, tired of the expectation that it is important to buy lots of stuff. The fact that many people in the United States are struggling financially only accentuates this. It is hard to get all jazzed up about buying things when you are struggling to pay the bills.

Friday will still be a lively day in the stores and I’ll be there once again watching the action. But Black Friday may not measure up to its usual peak.

Perhaps this will encourage people to stay home and spend a little more time with family and friends and that would be all for the best.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Three Notable Articles

November 17, 2011

Today’s Wall Street Journal has three notable articles about branding. All three are worth a read.

The first article is one about the challenge of creating a powerful brand experience when shipping items through the mail. This is a significant issue; when a customer buys a product at a high-end retailer, the buying experience is an important part of the proposition. The article highlights the different things retailers are doing to create a similarly rewarding mail-order experience, from using hand-written notes to special wrapping techniques.

A similarly notable article focuses on the auto industry and the importance of the clothes worn by their models at auto shows. Everything shapes a brand, of course, so this is an important question, just one we don’t usually think about. The article highlights how brands are focused on identifying fashions that fit with the brand. What should a BMW model wear? How about a Jeep spokes-person, or a Chevy model?

And then there is a positively depressing article about Sears. The main point: Sears is killing its brand by dramatically cutting back on investment. When many brands are working very hard to create positive experiences, Sears is apparently concentrating on finding ways to reduce spending. One startling fact: Macy’s will spend about $400 million renovating its flagship store in New York. Sears will spend a similar amount across its 2,200 stores in the next year. With this sort of focus on brand building it isn’t surprising that Sears has seen declining sales since 1995. The brand really matters.

Here are the links:


Walmart’s Healthcare Opportunity

November 9, 2011

This morning NPR reported that Walmart was planning to become a major player in healthcare in the United States.

This afternoon Walmart denied the story, saying the document NPR saw was real but “overwritten and incorrect.” Reuters quoted Dr. John Agunobi, president of Walmart U.S. health & wellness as saying, “We are not building a national, integrated, low-cost primary care health care platform.”

My question for Dr. Agunobi and everyone at Walmart is quite simple: why not?

Walmart needs growth. It is one of the biggest companies in the United States but growth has essentially stalled. Healthcare is a huge opportunity.

Importantly, Walmart would be a unique and different player in healthcare: low-cost, super-efficient, reliable, practical and friendly. Walmart could do to healthcare what it has done to retailing, which is to force people to get much better, either differentiating in a meaningful way or cutting costs and prices.

Indeed, Walmart may be the best way to fix the healthcare spending problem in the United States. The company has vast scale, immense financial resources and an aggressive approach.

This is all easier said than done, of course. Healthcare is a complicated world. Selling toothpaste for less is a lot easier than selling MRIs for less.

Still, Walmart needs growth and healthcare is a huge opportunity. And the U.S. needs Walmart to bring some fresh thinking and low prices to healthcare.


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