Thursday, November 27, 2014

Big Data: Opportunities vs. Threats

As marketers, we are receiving overwhelmingly amount of data from multiple channels everyday. We all know that big data provide us with the ability to make more insightful decision. But what exactly is Big Data? 

Once upon a time, marketing is completely an art. Agencies creates ads based on guts. “Leo Burnett didn’t need a legion of focus groups to come up with the Marlboro Man”. With big data, however, marketing is now becoming a combination of arts and science.

For example, the article "Big Data, Big Opportunity" by David Murthy discovers that mobile has become a trendy devices for customers, and ad spending has been significantly increased in the recent years. You may find the full article via:

This finding tells us the consumer behavior of using more mobile devices. However, what are some in depth insight marketers may find in mobile using behavior. For example, If consumers are using mobile than other devices to engage with your brand, marketers could put more investment on mobile ad. If consumers are just browsing one or a few products from your brand, marketers may put design more ads of these particular products on mobile. If consumers are simply browsing your products instead of purchasing with mobile devices, marketers may design easily purchasing feature on mobile to encourage mobile orders, and thus to drive direct orders. Big data tells us some commons sense we might have ignored before, and we should all using the data based on our own needs.

However, marketers can be drowned by data as well. Jeanne W. Ross, Cynthia M. Beath and Anne Quaadgras' article You May Not Need Big Data After All tells that big data has been “hyped so heavily that companies are expecting it to deliver more value than it actually can.” This article illustrates that some companies, even have obtained the consumer insight that may provide them with competitive advantage, however, are not actionable at all. You may find the full article through:

For many companies, the real purpose of big data is to provide evidence for decision makers, and to utilize data to guide decision making process constantly.

Several steps were suggested to improve big data efficiency:  

1.   Making a clear business plan. It is important to define the goal of data, and have a clear vision of how could data contribute to a specific case. Understanding how data would support the business goal, ensuring your effort can be aligned with the business goal.

2.   Understanding the data you already have, and identifying those data you need. Collecting and analyzing data with a reason.

3.   Turning data into structured insight after capturing the data.

4.   Making your data and insight actionable. Based on the original plan, execute the planned project by using elements of the big data. Always keeping ROI in mind.

5.   Making strategic plans and tactics to solve the problem. Testing the market and keep track of the ROI. 

In conclusion:
Big data gives marketers both opportunities and threats. Many companies may put too much effort in collecting too much data without integrating data analysis into profitably used with a business vision. We should always keep in mind that big data is just serving for the company, and we are not serving for the data. 

The author, "Alisha" Fengzhi Chen is an integrated marketing communication graduate student at Northwestern University. She is particular interested in turning data into actionable insight and marketing strategy, therefore to improve ROI. You may contact the author via +Fengzhi Chen twitter: @fengzhichen

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Cable Network Executives: Think Outside the TV

In a time when streaming has become increasingly popular, HBO has joined other companies, like Netflix and is going to offer a standalone streaming service for non-cable subscribers. In this article from, Ben Branstetter discusses how the premium cable channel faces challenges from Netflix in competing for millennial audiences. A comScore study released concurrently with HBO’s announcement shows Netflix leading in premium digital content, with Amazon and Hulu lagging behind. Netflix especially has the lead among millennials, half of whom subscribe to some form of online streaming.

Image Source:

With every device becoming our “television”, television networks have more options in on how they distribute their content and what platforms they use. This New Yorker article titled Outside the Box discusses how television is changing and where the industry is headed.

After reviewing these two articles, here are three action items I recommend you consider:    

Distribute content across all Digital and mobile platforms to allow viewers choice in how and when they watch “television” programming: Expand offerings that reach across all channels. Millennials make up half of subscribers of online streaming and are the first generation of viewers who may not have grown up with traditional television viewing habits.  As the New Yorker article pointed out, “the linear TV experience, with it’s programs offered at set times, is ripe for replacement.” Viewers, particularly Millennials, binge watch and consume programming on their own time. This trend will only continue and become the norm in the future.

Expand Children’s Television Programming on Mobile and Digital: More children are consuming content through mobile devices than ever before.  Viacom’s Nickelodeon is a good example of a cable network adapting to the TV revolution that is underway. “Welcome to The Wayne” is the network’s first original cartoon series that was created for digital and mobile channels, including the Nick app.

Continue to create original, drama and comedy series that are distributed across both traditional and digital channels: It’s important to build original programming to attract new audiences and keep existing customers engaged. Successful cable networks, such as AMC, are increasing viewership by creating high-quality, original programming and moving away from unscripted television. Demand for good television shows is higher than ever; however, cable networks need to ensure these programs are reaching audiences across platforms.

Danielle Pizmoht is a corporate communications professional and writer who loves comedy and film. She is pursuing a master’s degree in Integrated Marketing Communications at Northwestern University’s Medill School. Connect with her on Twitter @DaniellePizmoht

Sunday, November 23, 2014

What Businesses Should Learn from Fast Casual Success

The fast casual restaurant industry continues to steal market share from QSR concepts, which have either plateaued or declined in customer traffic in the past five years.

Fast casuals, a market lying between fast food and casual dining on the restaurant spectrum, one-up their QSR rivals with more customized meals, healthier options, and more counter service. They’re not going anywhere anytime soon, with consumers choosing to spend a little extra for perceived fresher, healthier, and more natural ingredients. 

Forbes reports that fast-casual chain sales rose 11% in 2013 due to higher guest count and average ticket spend, while fast food sales rose only 2%. In latest news, Habit Restaurants Inc. more than doubled in their trading debut, according to a recent Reuters article. Five concepts raised $486 million in U.S. IPOs in one year, four of which were fast-casuals, reports Reuters’ Neha Dimri and Sruthi Ramakrishnan.

Photo courtesy of Nation's Restaurant News

So what’s the key to their success?

The fast casual concept’s business model is the way of the future. A Northwestern University IMC student and industry insider with a focus in brand management, my interest is in restaurant concept development and forecasting trends in the fast casual field. Fast casual concepts have proven, both within their industry and in the consumer packaged goods space holistically, that consumers expect so much more out of brands than simply the receipt of an exceptional product.

There’s an increase in consumer demand to “do more.” Restaurants like Chipotle Mexican Grill, Sweet Green, and Panera are not only praised for their food, but also their operations, marketing and sustainability efforts. points to Panera which now focuses on three verticals: people, community, and planet, by expanding their recycling team, decreasing energy use, seeking emerging technologies, building non-profit partnerships, removing artificial foods, and investing in its people.

Photo courtesy of Fast Company

Consumers’ expectations for their food have only increased. The most successful brands combine, sustainability, community engagement and social service, as well as perceived wholesome foods to create an unbeatable experience that fits in line with the consumer’s morale. The restaurants who show they are committed to these three initiatives, will continue to see growth and increased guest loyalty.

Rule #1: Health and hygiene trump cost. People are showing they’re willing to pay more for higher quality ingredients and fresher preparation.

Rule #2: Make sustainability a priority. Discover how sustainability can fit into your company culture. Live it, breathe it, and promote it to your consumers.

Rule #3: Devote time to a non-profit cause that fits with your brand’s goals and devote yourselves to them – quality trumps quantity here. Create partnerships that last so your company can really make an impact, driving consumer engagement to this cause.

Consumers stand behind brands that fit in line with their social, environmental, and health standards. The fast casual industry is a perfect example of consumers’ greater expectations. In the restaurant industry and outside it, companies need to reassess their priorities and create value outside of the product itself. The idea that you can only be as good as your taste, is no more.

Lauren Neuschel is a part-time IMC Masters student at Northwestern University and Brand and Communications Manager for one of the Top 20 Fastest Growing Small Chains in America. In her current role, Lauren led the vegan restaurant concepts recent re-branding efforts, selected and managed multiple digital agencies, executed public relations initiatives, and built content across social platforms. Lauren has a strong background in branding and creative content creation with a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Northwestern’s MedillSchool of Journalism.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Fast Food Marketers: Can Your Restaurants Afford to Stomach Another Bad Year?

If you're in the fast food industry, you are probably seeing a gradual decline in market share as more fast casual competitors enter the market.

As an Integrated Marketing Communications student in Northwestern’s Masters Degree program at Medill, informed on the latest marketing trends, I have identified two articles that can help you compete against these fast casual establishments.

As the economy changes, most fast food chains are not giving enough attention to potential high-value consumers, as Leslie Patton says in her article Have We Reached Peak Burger? These consumers are more health-conscious, have higher incomes, and are part of the generation of millennials who will soon become the drivers of the economy. Fast casual restaurants, like Chipotle and Protein Bar, on the other hand, are capitalizing on opportunities to appeal to these markets by providing customizable menu items, fresher ingredients, and healthier options. 

Similarly, in her article 4 Reasons Chipotle Is Destroying Fast FoodAshley Lutz says that millennials are connecting with fast casual restaurants that give customers the ability to customize their meals. Quick service restaurants are also losing market share as health conscious consumers prefer to eat at fast casual restaurants, which they feel offer higher-quality ingredients rather than throwing new items on the menu, which can be distracting and cause longer wait times. 

From my examination of these two articles and my studies in the Medill IMC program, I recommend considering the following to grow your fast food business and reconnect with your target consumers.

1. Allow for customization - Millennials love the ability to create their own meal experience, and this also allows for health-conscious diners to build a more nutritious option.

2. Stick with classic menu items - As the old saying goes, quality is better than quantity; rather than overwhelming customers with too many menu options, enhance your existing offering with higher-quality ingredients and excellent service.

3. Improve efficiency - Give your customers the quick turnaround they expect by utilizing new technology and operational means that will improve efficiency and make your customers happier.

By following these steps, fast food giants have a fighting chance against their fast casual competitors to win millennial and other audiences in this day and age of ever-changing consumer tastes. Despite recent struggles with connecting to target markets, your success will largely depend on your response to the changing economy and consumer preferences.

Grace is a part-time IMC student at Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism. She currently works in an analytical role at Walgreens corporate office. With a bachelor’s degree in advertising and public relations from Loyola University Chicago, Grace has a background in marketing for nonprofit as well as B2B organizations. As a millennial herself, she is interested in marketing to this increasingly influential generation and is passionate about all things food. 

Contact Grace through Twitter @gracechen92.

Monday, November 17, 2014

CMO: Content is King - Are You Leveraging the Best Content for Your Market?

As a CMO, it’s not surprising that more and more companies are increasing their spend and focus on producing and spreading relevant content. As a brand manager for a Fortune 150 company and owner of several small businesses, I too am shifting my focus to the importance of content marketing. During my time as a graduate student at Northwestern Medill IMC program, I found two insightful articles on leveraging and producing amazing content for your business/organization.

The first article, titled “So You’ve Made Some Content, Now What Do You Do With It” by Tim Peterson and published on October 13, 2014 focuses on how content can make or break your marketing and social strategy. Peterson notes that marketers, on average, are spending 40% of their budgets on content marketing.  Although some content may work on multiple platforms, organizations continue to look at how each social medium requires different types or variations of a particular piece of content. The user’s content needs vary greatly from Facebook to Twitter and everything in between.

The next article, “6 Tools To Jump Start Your Video Content Marketing” by Drew Hendricks was published on October 16, 2014.  Hendricks offers insights into how the content marketing is changing – from social media and blogs to video and infographics in order to appeal visually to consumers. Like the previous article, Hendricks also believes using the right type of content for the right type of channel is key to success.  In fact, he finds that many businesses are finding they need an arsenal of resources to help develop these many different types of content needed and includes a list of affordable video services for organizations looking to diversify their creation types:, Wideo, Screenr and Wistia.

After reviewing these articles, and based on my experience through the graduate program at Northwestern Medill IMC, here are three easy action items any CMO should immediately begin to think about and take action on:
1.     Identify your audience: sometimes your online audience is different than your offline one, make sure you know who you are targeting and what social sites they are currently using.
2.     Make your organization different:  what do you deliver from a product and knowledge standpoint that others don’t? How can you leverage your content in a creative way that other competitors aren’t doing?
3.     Where do you post: do you have more engagement on Facebook; does your business lend itself well to Instagram? Knowing where your customers will go for content is crucial. Determine the medium you’ll deliver your content through and identify what external resources you’ll need to produce and share it.

Jessica Balfour (@JezzieMarie) is a Chicago-based brand manager for Exelon Corporation, the nation’s leading diversified energy provider and a Northwestern University graduate student in the Integrated Marketing Communications program.  In addition, Jessica co-owns two small businesses downtown Chicago including, Chicago Institute of Natural Health and CrossFit 312.