When we look at the wide range of activities that fall under the area of Marketing, there are a few that sometimes lead to questions of whether these are truly part of marketing. This is often due to the perceived separation that exists within many companies. Probably the most often cited example is the personal selling function. Many companies separate Marketing and Sales within their organizational structure, even though the activities performed by salespeople are clearly part of how we define Marketing.

Another area that is often considered a separate entity is Public Relations. As we note in our Public Relations tutorial, while PR is part of the promotional mix, what PR people do is not always well understood.  The experience some have with PR is that of it is more focused on being relational rather than promotional. For instance, PR professionals are often a key link between the company and its investors, and communicate with their investors through frequent press releases. However, relationship building with investors is only a small part of what PR professionals do; they can also be very effective in carrying out promotional activity. We note many of these activities in our Types of Public Relations Tools tutorial, such as building relations with the news media in the hope of getting a favorable story written about the company.

There is also a rapidly evolving outlet for public relations that is shifting PR even more toward the promotional side. This outlet is social media. For instance, posts made to Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are generally categorized as public relations as these postings do not require payment for placement, and the message is totally controlled by the promoting company. The same applies to videos posted on YouTube. While many company-posted videos may seem like advertisements, the condition that no payment is made for the posting would then led these to be classified as public relations.

Unlike more traditional PR outlets, social media can be a much riskier place to communicate a message. The biggest risk is that any mistake or misunderstanding that occurs can be rapidly spread and possibly result in bad PR for the promoting company. A good example can be seen in this story from ClickZ that discusses a PR problem experienced by Pizza Hut in Australia. The company posted a video on YouTube that included the name of a product (Vegemite) that is owned by Mondelēz International (formerly part of Kraft Foods). Unfortunately for Pizza Hut, the Vegemite name is trademarked by Mondelēz, which did not give Pizza Hut permission to use the name in the video. This forced Pizza Hut to pull the video but not before it caught the attention of the news media.

We are in no way surprised to hear of the bankruptcy filing by retailer RadioShack. It was something that many saw coming for several months, if not years. What will be quite fascinating to watch over the next year or so is to see how thing shake out with this backruptcy. In particular, there are issues with branding and franchising that will continue for some time.

On the branding front, as mentioned in this USA Today story, despite the bankruptcy the RadioShack name still holds tremendous value. As we note in our Product Decision tutorial, the monetary worth of a famous brand, such as RadioShack, may be quite substantial, possibly in the several million dollar range. There is no doubt some company or investor will want to purchase this name and continue to use it in some fashion. We have seen this many times with other well-known brand names that went out of business.

The second issue to watch is what happens with retail outlets operating as RadioShack franchises. According to this CNN Money story, up to 1,000 of the 5,000 stores operating under the RadioShack name around the world are independently owned franchises. Moreover, a large number of these stores are doing quite well. While it would appear bankruptcy will dissolve any franchise agreement, these stores could still survive under a different name. Alternatively, maybe, they could purchase the RadioShack trademark name and continue on.

When it comes to finding products on an online retailer's website, a customer's shopping method can likely be classified as being either a browser or a searcher. Browsers are best thought of as those that like to locate products by entering a site and then taking time to look around by clicking down many levels of a product category. For instance, if someone goes to the Target website looking to purchase a toaster, they would start their shopping by clicking on the general Home, Furniture & Patio top level category then follow a click-path that takes them through the Kitchen->Kitchen Appliances subcategory and then into the Toaster sub-subcategory. Depending on how well a retailer's site is designed, the browser method for finding products could take some time.

Searchers, on the other hand, take a more direct approach. They simply enter a search term into a website's search box and are presented with results matching their search query. This shopping method generally obtains information much faster than using the browsing approach. But, for searchers, there is often a problem with this way of locating information. Namely, the results to the search can contain irrelevant information that does not match what the searcher is really seeking. For instance, for a customer that is truly interested in a regular toaster, the results page of a "toaster" keyword search may include not only regular toasters, but also toaster ovens or even Toaster Strudel (food item). It is because of such ineffective search results that many customers find being a searcher is actually more time consuming than browsing. This may especially be the case when customers use their mobile phones to find products as the small screen space often restricts shopping to using the search method.

Now it appears search results at online retailer are getting better. As discussed in this Internet Retailer story, several companies are promoting search software that is much better in pointing customers to the products they are really interested in seeing. As noted in the story, the new technology often presents searchers with what the software predicts to be the best match to a search query. Thus, in some cases, instead of seeing multiple pages of products, the searcher may only be shown a single product that the search technology estimates is the best match for the query the customer entered. How can search technology know this? Primarily by using "learning" methods that evaluate hundreds-of-thousands, if not millions, of search queries to see how customers behave.

The story presents the site search experience of several retailers, including one retailer who believes it has helped increase sales by more than 20%. The story also discusses the companies offering advanced search technology.

Checkout Lane Impulse BuyingOne of the most curious behaviors exhibited by consumers is their propensity to make unsought or impulse purchases. Just walk into any convenience store and you are bound to see someone making a purchase they had not thought about making when they first entered. Appealing to the unplanned purchaser is a key marketing strategy for many companies, such as those selling fast foods, snacks and soft drinks. Firms in these industries, and many others, make every effort to have their products noticed while a shopper is still in the store. For instance, while standing in the checkout line at a grocery store, consumers are surrounded by racks containing candy bars, magazines and money cards, as well as small refrigerators containing soft drinks. In convenience stores, there is barely space on countertops as these are well stocked with takeout food.

However, to successfully appeal to impulse purchasers, a marketer must make sure the consumer is slowed down. Customers who breeze through a store may not be exposed long enough for unplanned buying to set in. The result is that sped up customers are leading to a slowdown in impulse purchasing. The reason, according to this story from the Washington Post, can be traced to such retailing trends as self-checkout lanes, curbside pickup and online purchasing. Additionally, the story examines how the reduction in impulse buying is negatively affecting candy giant Hershey. The company is now responding by planning new ways of stimulating consumer unplanned buying. Their efforts will focus on the use of new technologies and, more importantly, new locations for placing their products. The options being tested include adding kiosks or menu boards in curbside pickup areas, adding vending machines in unusual locations (e.g., next to gasoline pumps) and placing new candy dispensers at self-checkout spots.

Curiously, much of the slowdown in impulse purchasing is happening because of changes made by retailers despite the fact that such purchasing can be quite profitable. For instance, as noted in the story, while products sold around a checkout area represent just 1% of a supermarket's sales, these products represent 4% of total profit. So it would seem retailers may be very open to new new ways to spur unplanned purchasing.

We have mentioned many times in our KnowThis Blog that the competitive environment forces marketers to be creative. For instance, we recently looked at how creative methods are used to design new toy products. We also saw how a creative pull promotion was used to increase movie theater sales. And we discussed how designing creative advertising can help a brand stand out.

It is important to understand that being creative does not mean a marketer must sit in a room and come up with all new ideas on their own. Good marketers know ideas come from a variety of sources, such as conducting research to find out what customers want or observing how marketing is done in other industries. Additionally, many marketers shift idea development by hiring specialized companies, such as advertising agencies.

Along the lines of shifting idea generation, there is a growing alternative for finding creative marketing concepts. According to this story in the Los Angeles Times, marketers are turning to crowdsourcing as a way to generate ideas. Crowdsourcing is most often associated with fundraising through such websites as Kickstarter. But websites, including Talenthouse and Tongal, now offer marketers access to potentially hundreds of creative people. On these websites, marketers place a request for ideas, generally seeking new designs (e.g., product packaging) and advertisements (e.g., video ads). The creator of the idea chosen by the marketer is then awarded a cash prize.

The crowdsourcing idea for advertising is not new. For instance, Frito-Lay has been running their Crash the Super Bowl ad creation contest since 2006. However, what is new is that crowdsourcing an idea is now being viewed as an affordable creative tool that can help almost any marketer.