In the KnowThis Blog, we make an attempt to cover a wide range of marketing topics. However, looking over our past posts, there is one topic that seems to capture our attention quite frequently. That topic is retailing, which we discuss more than any other. It is somewhat difficult to pinpoint the exact reason we discuss this so much other than pointing to the remarkable changes this industry has experienced over the last 25 or so years. In particular, thanks to technology, retailing has evolved well beyond what anyone would have predicted.

Unfortunately, not everyone in the industry has benefited from the technology evolution in retailing. As we have reported several times, many retailers, who made the mistake of not adapting to change, are no longer with us. We first discussed this back in 2010 when we reported on how Hollywood Video, a chain of video rental outlets, was calling it quits as new technologies had hit the company hard. In 2011, we again looked at failed retailers when we listed 11 U.S. retailers that went bankrupt after the 2008 economic downturn. While at that time we primarily placed the blamed on the economy, in a post a few years later that discussed RadioShack, it was becoming clear that the failures back in 2011 were as much the result of customers shifting their purchases to the Internet as it was to a down economy.

Today, we have the report of another retail casualty. As discussed in this New York Times story, SkyMall, the in-airline shopping magazine, has filed for bankruptcy. At the top of the list of reasons for their failure is the change in fliers' in-flight activities, which are due, in large part, to new technologies, such as tablet devices.

Like many famous retailers, SkyMall was unable to adapt easily to technological changes that have taken place. And because of this, along with most retailers that have failed in the last ten years, SkyMall will serve as an excellent case study on how not adjusting to technological innovation can negatively impact a company.

At one time, the catalog was considered a big deal in U.S. retailing. Leading retailers, most notably Sears, would produce numerous catalogs every year, each consisting of hundreds of pages. These direct mail pieces were shipped to homes, where customers would page through a catalog and then place their order by phone or, in the years before the telephone, by mailing a print order.

For most retailers, the days of catalogs are long gone thanks in large part to the Internet and e-commerce. While Sears built its business with catalog sales, they are now barely surviving, with many blaming the retailer's struggles on their slow response to recognizing the Internet's impact on retailing. Other big catalog retailers, including Montgomery Ward, have also gone away.

So it is a bit curious that another struggling retailer, JC Penney,  is returning to the catalog business. According to this Entrepreneur story, after a nearly six-year absence JC Penney is once again sending out catalogs. As the story notes, the new catalog is very different from the last one they mailed in 2009, which contained over 800 pages. This one is a much skinner version, 120 pages, and likely serves more as an alternative to looking at products on a computer screen, as the actual purchase is still mostly made online.

JC Penney's return to direct mail catalogs may also be an indication the company is beginning to feel they are on the road to recovery. Of course, given the incredibly competitive environment that is retailing, that road to recovery may require they come up with many more interesting marketing ideas.

Product NamingSeveral times in the last few years we have noted how difficult it is becoming for marketers to come up with names for new products and new businesses. Back in 2012, we saw the difficulties Kraft Foods encountered when they split into two companies and were searching for a name for the new entity. Kraft, like many companies, faced a number of challenges when contemplating a new name including whether someone else owns a name, how well a name translates into other languages. and whether there are Internet domains still available for a name.

Just two weeks ago we saw another situation where product naming was becoming an issue. The example this time was in the craft beer market, where companies are discovering that the explosion of craft beers has made it extremely challenging to find names for new beers.

Given the issues with product and company naming, it should be no surprise that there is a growing industry of firms offering naming services. One such company was highlighted in this New York Times story that was published last week. It looks at the circumstances that led a start-up tech company to seek out a naming specialist to create a company name. The story explores the techniques used to come up with various naming options and then what was involved in getting to the final name – Jaunt. If you think that name seems pretty simple, the path taken to get to that name is quite involved.

The story also offers a number of additional highlights including a brief history of the brand naming business. It also looks at what it costs to hire someone to develop a new name (as much as $75,000) and the key industries where brand namers are in demand. As would be expected, given the expense in using a naming service and as we noted in our post regarding the craft beer naming, companies offering naming services primarily direct their services to well-financed clients and not to small businesses that have little cash. While Jaunt is a startup, they are backed by some big investors including Google.

Ranking of Marketing JobsThroughout our Principles of Marketing tutorial, we make it clear that marketing is a critical component for running a successful organization. We also note that, given the Toolkit that marketers must employ and the skills needed to use the Toolkit, doing marketing well often requires a team approach involving many people responsible for different tasks. Consequently, career options in the marketing field are quite wide-ranging. Moreover, for anyone looking at a possible career in marketing, the future seems to be bright.

According to a ranking of top 25 business jobs provided by U.S. News and World Report, marketing positions are well represented. In fact, the rankings, which include position profile, salary range, required education/training, expected stress level and advice on obtaining a position, show two marketing jobs at the top of the list.

The first, Market Research Analyst, is a specialist position and is number one due to the expected demand for researchers over the next few years. In terms of training, a number of colleges and universities have begun to offer marketing research specific concentrations and certifications, including in the growing field of data analytics. However, it is important to note that strong quantitative skills are a must for this position.

The second job, Marketing Manager, is what the name suggests.  It is the person in charge of all marketing activity. While these people may have initially started their career in a specialized area (e.g., sales, advertising), their skill set now requires they know about all marketing areas. In many organizations, Marketing Managers are the main decision maker when it comes to marketing issues and, as noted in the ranking information, while they face a higher stress level than most other marketing positions, they also are the most highly paid.

These were not the only marketing positions to make this list. Additional positions include Sales Manager (#13), Sales Representative (#15) and Customer Service Representative (#22). There are also several other jobs, such as Logistician (#6), Insurance Agent (#7)and Real Estate Agent (#19), which require people to possess important marketing skills.

There are many business pundits who firmly believe the key to marketing success always comes down to product awareness. They believe companies cannot be successful unless customers know who they are, and that means focusing significant efforts (and money) on promotion. While it is true that, for most businesses, effective promotion is vitally important if products are to succeed, for the majority of businesses it may be a major mistake to believe promotional spending is the most important marketing decision. In reality, which marketing decision is the most important can vary. For instance, for low-cost airlines, that essentially offer the same services, pricing decisions may be the most critical. For quick-stop gasoline stations, the many concern may be outlet location, which is a distribution decision.

While promotion, price or distribution may be at the head of the task list for some marketers, for the vast majority of marketers, who produce their own goods and services, the biggest marketing concerns deal with product issues. For these marketers, everything starts with finding products that customers will want. If they do not want the product, no amount of spending on promotion or lowering price or providing effective distribution will help.

The issue of marketing desirable products is especially a challenge in industries who are apt to experience rapid change, such as computer, home entertainment, smartphone and other technology-heavy industries. But product design is also on the front burner of companies in low-tech industries, such as consumer foods, greeting cards and fashion. These industries, along with many more, realize that a poor effort in new product development is a recipe for disaster that may prove fatal.

Sometimes, though, struggling companies, which have either lacked a strong focus on product development or have done it poorly, can recover by altering how they carry out the design process. However, changing how things have been done may not be easy, particularly if company personnel are resistant to making the adjustments that are necessary for adopting new methods for innovative design.

A good example of a company that faced the tough times and made the necessary changes to improve product development can be found in this Fast Company story. It discusses how Denmark's The Lego Group, marketer of the popular Lego toy brand, was in trouble ten years ago and on the verge of going bankrupt. The leading cause of their problem was product development that was not focusing on what customers (i.e., kids) really wanted. Things changed when a new CEO was brought in and instituted creative methods for carrying out product development. The result is a company that is now not only a leader in toy development, but a model for how most companies should approach product innovation. This story, along with another Lego story we noted back in 2010, should serve as must-reads for anyone involved in product decisions.