As we note in our What is Marketing? tutorial, being creative is a trait needed by most marketers in most industries. Some marketers will argue that real creativity in marketing is really only needed when it comes to designing attractive products or creating memorable advertisements. But that is not the case. Many other marketing decisions require a thinking-outside-the-box mindset. For instance, being creative by using a sales promotion tactic to achieve a public relations goal.

In our Types of Sales Promotion tutorial we see the message being sent by many sales promotions, such as coupons, trade-ins and promotional pricing, is that customers will be saving money if they accept the promotion. For most marketers, the goal of these promotions is to generate additional sales. For instance, back in July we talked about a $10 all-you-can-eat appetizer promotion offered by TGI Fridays. This promotion was clearly intended to drive more customers into the restaurant with the hope they will spend money on additional food and drinks.

However, some promotions, where the price appears to be lowered, may actually not have a goal of generating more sales, rather its objective is to generate interest from the news media. In effect, these sales promotions are intended to aid public relations rather than directly impact sales. For example, as discussed in this Time story, back in September the restaurant chain Olive Garden ran a Never Ending Pasta Pass promotion where customers, who bought a $100 pass, can eat an unlimited number of pasta meals (that also includes salad, soup and few other things). The difference between Olive Garden's promotion and the one run by TGI Fridays is that Olive Garden only made available 1,000 passes, which sold out in just a few minutes.

So it is obvious the goal of this promotion was less about driving up sales and more about driving up publicity. Moreover, if that really is the goal then it is likely a very successful promotion as it not only caught the attention of the news media, but also lead many customers to share their experience online.

How Customers Are ChangingMany marketers believe the necessary first step to being successful is to have a complete understanding of their customers. In fact, in our What is Marketing? tutorial, we push home this point with a statement that reads: "Arguably the most important marketing function involves efforts needed to gain knowledge of customers, competitors, and markets..." To accomplish this, marketers have been taught to engage in marketing research in an effort to know as much as they can about their customers and what needs they have.

However, marketers know there can be lots of mistakes made when interpreting what they think customers really want. This is because most marketers gauge customer interest based on research driven by statistical analysis, where results may not tell the complete story of what the market really is and what people really want. Why? Well, there are a few fundamental reasons. First, most marketers cannot ask all their customers what they want because there are just too many people to ask. For instance, if Coca-Cola wanted to conduct a survey they would likely only sample a few thousand customers who drink their products. While statistical theory tells us that gathering information from a few thousand customers may still be quite useful in explaining what millions of customers think, the fact sampling is used to gain information on a large population means there is still a chance the results will not be accurate.

Second, even if you could examine all customers or use solid statistical methods, people are prone to change so what their needs were six months ago may be different than what they want now. Thus, many marketing organizations, that are traditionally subjected to rapidly changing customer attitudes/needs (i.e., certain food categories, exercise routines, high-tech products, movies, etc.), need market research to be ongoing all the time to figure out what customers will want in the future.

A good example of how marketers struggle with understanding customers is found in this Trendwatching story. They make the point that using demographics alone to identify target markets may not be the best strategy. They present interesting market information and statistics that may startle some marketers, such as a retirement community in Brazil hosting skateboard exhibitions for their residents or a statistic from the U.K. that says more women play video games than men. The story goes on to suggest reasons why consumers seem to be changing, including having greater access to more information and to more product options.

The takeaway from reading this story is that marketers cannot afford to stand pat. Instead marketers may need to work much harder understanding customers in order to segment at Stage 2 and Stage 3. Doing so is not going to be easy or cheap, but the evolving customer may leave them little choice.

Not all business people interested in a marketing career will do their best work in the corporate marketing world. Some will do better pursuing a more risky path to success by starting their own company in hopes of making it big financially (e.g., have the company go public) or making a big contribution to society (e.g., starting a highly respected non-profit organization). However, for those with an entrepreneurial spirit and who are not ready to accept the risks associated with starting their own business, there is another option – becoming a franchise owner.

A few months ago, we discussed issues with buying a franchise and, in particular, why one should be cautious when making the decision to invest. And a few years ago, we discussed troubling situations that exist in some franchisee-franchisor relationships. However, this story from Franchise Times takes on a more positive approach to franchising (this should not be a surprise since this is a franchising industry magazine!).

The story discusses franchise opportunities that are available for a relatively small investment (less than $100,000) and it reports on a market research firm's ranking of the top 100 low-cost franchises. While the full list of top franchises is not provided, the story does name a number of franchise operations appearing on the list. Additionally, the story shares experiences from several professionals who have purchased these low-cost franchises.

Overall, the information presented in this story supports what we discussed back in August, namely, when purchasing a franchise it is wise to spend a significant amount of time and energy fully evaluating the franchisor, the industry and the likely customer before making the franchise investment decision.

Last week we discussed how digital marketing was finally taking off after what some feel was a slow start. Today we look at another technology that many marketing experts have been preaching will be a game-changer. The technology is mobile payment systems. While there are many flavors of mobile payments, the ones that appear to be gaining the most traction are systems that conveniently allow purchasers to simply tap, point or wave (a.k.a. contactless payment) their mobile device to make a payment.

Mobile payment technology, to some extent, has been around for a several years and has attracted major banks and credit cards companies as well as Google, with its Google Wallet, and few others. Back in 2012, we discussed this technology and indicated that several leading retailers, including Walmart, Target and CVS, were working together to develop their own mobile payment system. However, the system the big retailers are working on is different because, unlike nearly all the other systems on the market, control of the financial side resides with the retailers and not with the big financial houses.

But is it really a big deal who handles the money? You bet! So big that it appears these retailers are circling the wagons in an attempt to keep out competitive mobile payments. As discussed in stories in both Los Angeles Times and USA Today, top retailers have put a stop to allowing customers to pay using a new mobile payment service introduced last week by Apple. According to these stories, the issue is all about control. The retailers, and specifically the group they belong to (Merchant Customer Exchange) that is developing the technology called CurrentC, want to bypass banks and credit card companies and avoid paying credit card processing fees. These fees range from 2% to 4% per transaction. While these fees may not seem to be very big, consider that the mobile payment market in the U.S. is forecasted to be $90 billion by 2017. Thus, the CurrentC mobile payments system, which is linked to users's debit card accounts, offers retailers the potential for enormous savings while accepting other payment systems may still leave retailers on the hook for huge processing fees.

Whether the big retailers will actually implement their own technology remains to be seen. They are only in the test market phase, and much can still happen to derail their system. Also, potential backlash from customers who want to use Apple Pay or another system could create even more problems. If Apple and others remain strong, one could see that, even though members using CurrentC will have their own system, retailers will have little choice but to accept other payment systems.

Power of Digital MarketingEvery day it seems marketers are being confronted with more evidence signaling a change is underway in how promotion should be done, especially for consumer products. And at the heart of this change, we are seeing traditional methods of promotion, such a television and radio advertisements, newspaper coupons, product demonstrations and many others, are being displaced in favor of new digital promotions, such as social media, online advertising and mobile technologies. While traditional promotions still represent the bulk of spending on consumer product promotions, many companies now understand that what they originally thought about digital must be reevaluated.

For instance, when social media was first used by marketers, it was primarily intended to be a one-way communication tool, such as using Twitter to let followers know about a new television advertisement that they could watch on YouTube. However, as social media has evolved, marketers have learned that it can be used to stimulate conversation and, thus, become a two-way interactive form of promotion. This makes social media more like personal selling than advertising. But that is not all, marketers are now finding that actively monitoring social media can be used as a way to signal when other types of digital promotions should occur. This has led to an explosion in so-called responsive or real-time marketing, where companies look to program their promotions based on something that is happening right now, such as one of the company's product receiving heavy social media coverage. With responsive marketing marketers may be able quickly to adjust other promotions, such as online and electronic billboard ads, to take advantage of what is being discussed in social media.

In the mobile technology arena, companies are obtaining promotional value by creating product-oriented apps downloaded by loyal customers. The apps not only serve as useful freebies for valued customers (e.g., games), they also become promotional outlets as companies target ads and special sales promotions on these apps.

A very nice example of a company that has jumped into digital marketing with both feet is found in this story from Fast Company that looks at cookie giant Oreo. Oreo's parent company, Mondelez International, is planning to spend 50% of it U.S. advertising budget on digital promotion. The story traces the path Oreo has taken that has led to digital promotions becoming so important. The story also notes how the digital marketing area continues to evolve and how new options may be coming, suggesting marketers must not only understand what is currently available but also be ready to adjust when new options emerge.