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Best Buy is in the middle of a dramatic turn-around. A year ago it appeared that Best Buy was destined to become another Circuit City and slowly go out of business. They simply couldn’t compete with Amazon, Wal-Mart or Target.

In December 2012, Best Buy’s stock price fell to $11.20, a nine-year low. December same store sales fell 1.2% as holiday discounts failed to attract shoppers. The company suffered from poor leadership, high internal costs and was not competitive on price.

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What a difference a year makes. The press couldn’t have been more negative about what was going to happen to Best Buy this time last year. Recently Best Buy’s stock closed at $42.92, an impressive 383% increase from its low in 2012. The company has pulled off a dramatic turn-around which started with a leadership change. Late last year Hubert Joly replaced Brian Dunn as the CEO.

Joly launched the “RENEW BLUE” strategy which is designed to make Best Buy the preferred authority and destination for technology products and services.  This strategy focused on more competitive pricing, improving in-store experience and internal cost reductions. Over 400 job were eliminated in the corporate office. Joly has implemented a store within a store model, striking exclusive partnerships with Samsung and Microsoft to establish in-store shops within Best Buy stores.

Best Buy has also made it its mission to match Amazon and other e-commerce sites on price. They are committed to being price competitive. In the past they have struggled with being a showroom for Amazon. “Showrooming” is when consumers use physical locations to see and try the very latest technology, but then go online to find a better deal.

Retailers, as you can imagine, aren’t fans of the practice. The near-term future for Best Buy depends on convincing consumer’s that their stores can be the best showroom. Best Buy is attempting to turn that weakness into a strength, embracing the fact that having stores work as showrooms attracts curious shoppers.

Best Buy recently launched their holiday advertising campaign which promotes their stores as “Your Ultimate Holiday Showroom”. New television spots highlight the experience consumers get at Best Buy — online and in-store — while touting things like its “low price guarantee” and the ability to order online and pick up in store.

Best Buy has made great strides in turning their business around in a short period of time in a very competitive environment. It will interesting to see if their new strategy succeeds long-term.

Have you shopped in a Best Buy store recently?

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Many business people confuse marketing and branding. Most people don’t understand what a brand is. Many people think that branding is a logo or a logo design. Design is essential but design is not a brand. Some people think that you can whip up a brand overnight and build awareness instantly.

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For me branding is simply about “Keeping Your Promises”. Brand’s like Zappos and Apple are known for delivering a great experience for consumers. Great brands consistently deliver on their promise. Great brands tell stories that are focused on why.

Branding is delivering on a differentiated promise to a consumer. No matter what you are doing, you are always branding your business. Branding is the perception, thoughts and emotions of your consumers.

Branding is a strategic asset, and shouldn’t be viewed as an expense. Marketing is an expense.

Branding is long-term. When we are clear about a brand building strategy we can direct the marketing tools. Without a proper brand building strategy, the marketing is a tactic in search of a strategy.

Marketing is focused on achieving short-term goals. Marketing usually services one main overall function, to sell.

The Brand is how people remember you, how they feel about you.  Emotions and memory are key components to the brand. Marketing then takes that brand and forms communication that takes advantage of that brand to send out a message.

The great thing about a Brand is that it can be constructed and formed to create that unique memory and feeling you wish to appeal to your specific target.  By clearly defining things like purpose, core values and personality you can create a brand positioning to use as a guide for effective marketing strategies.

Marketing communications not based on a well-defined brand send a message that is not differentiated. A great brand deserves a creative marketing strategy to best take advantage of that unique positioning.

Marketing is a “push” action, and branding is more “pull.”

A Brand is an experience, a story.

Which brands provide the best customer experience?

Investors Business Daily is a great example of building a brand through Content Marketing and Publishing. Content Marketing is a marketing technique of creating and distributing relevant and valuable content to attract, acquire and engage a clearly defined and understood target audience with the objective of driving customer action.

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Investors Business Daily is one of my favorite publishers. It is a must read for any active stock market investor. Investors Business Daily was founded in 1984 by William J. O’Neill. The purpose of the paper was simple: “To help individual investors make better decisions in less time”. Investors Business Daily provides investors with useful and timely information as well as training to help them be successful in the stock market.

The Investors Business Daily story began in the late 1950’s, when O’Neill asked two fundamental questions:

  • What makes a stock become a great stock?
  • What must be in place before I buy a stock?

To find the answer, O’Neill began studying great stocks of the past looking for common characteristics. He found seven factors that occurred repeatedly, year after year, decade after decade in winning stocks. He used that discovery to develop an investing discipline that came to be known as CAN SLIM®, a strategy based on data analytics. O’Neill used that approach to achieve remarkable success in the stock market. By the time he turned 30 in 1964, he had purchased a seat on the New York Stock Exchange and founded William O’Neill + Company a securities research firm. O’Neill founded Investors Business Daily to teach investors the CAN SLIM® investment approach.

Investor’s Business Daily is known for proprietary stock screens, comparative performance ratings and a track record of identifying stock market leaders as they emerge. Anyone can learn to use IBD’s step-by-step approach to making money in stocks. Countless ordinary investors have utilized the IBD approach to achieve extraordinary results.

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IBD realized early on it wasn’t just in the “printed news” business. It was in the business of helping readers make money in the stock market, and subsequently help advertisers effectively engage with these readers. That required a commitment to train people so they have the skills to succeed and to make sure they have access to tools and research whenever and wherever needed. “When you boil it down, IBD is in the success business”. IBD’s job is to give readers the skills and information they need to make money in the stock market.

At a time when the newspaper industry continues to struggle, Investor’s Business Daily (IBD) is expanding and building one of the most dedicated readerships in the nation. It’s done that by developing a business model focused on proactively training readers to be successful, while providing them with proprietary ratings and research in whatever format they prefer. IBD engages with readers through a newspaper published six days a week, online, through local events, social media and IBD Radio and Television. Investors.com generates 3,000,000 unique visitors on a monthly basis. William O’Neill has also published several books including the highly successful “How to Make Money In Stocks”. Investors Business Daily is another brand that understands the importance of owning their media channels.

Have you read Investors Business Daily?

America has a strong love affair with the hamburger. Half the country reports eating a burger at least once a week. 90% of people eat at least one burger a month. Hamburgers are among the biggest and most competitive food markets in the United States. In 2012, the “Better Burger” market grew by over 20%.

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Smashburger is an American chain of fast casual burgers restaurants that originated in Denver, Colorado in 2007. The company was founded by Tom Ryan. The name Smashburger refers to the process by which its 1/4-pound, 1/3-pound and 1/2-pound burgers are made. It begins with a ball of raw Angus Beef, which a grill cook “smashes” with a handheld steel mold on to a butter-brushed grill for ten seconds, giving the patty a caramelized sear to lock in the juices. Every burger is made fresh to order. Smashburger offers unconventional toppings including avocado, fried eggs and garlic mushrooms. The typical meal at Smashburger costs $10-$12, $2-$4 more than a meal at McDonald’s.

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Every market has specialized burgers created for and sold only in that market. In the D.C. market, for example, there’s the Capital Burger, which isn’t made with lettuce but baby arugula. It’s also has grilled onion, aged Swiss cheese, applewood-smoked bacon, tomatoes and mayo and is served on a brioche bun. Or, there’s the Brooklyn Burger which is topped with grilled pastrami and served on a pretzel bun with yellow mustard. Smashburger also sells sweet potato fries, chili cheese fries, and the house-specialty Smashfries, which come tossed with rosemary, olive oil and garlic.

Smashburger has experienced rapid growth. It is estimated that Smashburger will end the year with over 250 locations. Their goal is to build 400 new units over the next six years. When Smashburger opened its first unit in 2007, the better burger category was just starting to take off. Six years later Smashburger is an industry leader. Forbes magazine ranked Smashburger as America’s most promising company. Smashburger has also made the Inc 500/5000 list an exclusive ranking of the fastest growing private companies for three consecutive years.

Smashburger marketing has relied heavily on social media and generating word of mouth. Smashburger focuses heavily on events, such as when it offered a free sandwich to anyone with “burger” or “berger” in their name on National Cheeseburger day, he said. Each time it enters a new market, it contacts social media trend-setters like restaurant bloggers and “mommy” bloggers who influence where consumers eat. Then, before the restaurant opens its door, it invites the bloggers in — as a group — to demonstrate how the food is prepared.

The other key differentiator is the in-store environment and customer experience. The stores have a cool look. The food is brought to the table, so consumers  don’t have to stand around and wait. The burgers are served in a stainless-steel wire basket with a real knife and fork not plastic.

Have you eaten at a Smashburger location?

Its Labor Day Weekend and a good time to recognize a brand that understands the people who do physical and manual labor every day. Carhartt makes apparel designed to be worn by farmers and outdoor workers. Carhartt is a brand with a rich heritage that has evolved to remain relevant today.

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Carhartt was founded in 1889 in Detroit, Michigan by Hamilton Carhartt. Carhartt originally made clothing for railroad workers. They initially focused on railroad workers need for durable and long-lasting work overalls. Carhartt’s goal was to set a standard of excellence in “workwear” product design to which all others would aspire. The first products manufactured by Carhartt were overalls in duck and denim fabrics. A variety of features such as premium fabrics, rugged construction, comfortable fit and details like triple-stitched main seams, generous work-functional pockets, heavy-duty zippers, contributed to the quality of Carhartt products. Carhartt’s approach to business is best summed up in the following quote

“I believe that when a man wears an article that I manufacture, his self-respect is increased because he knows that it is made by an honest manufacturer, who is honest with his employees”.

 

Today, Carhartt “workwear” is commonly found on construction sites and anywhere outdoor work is being done.  Their mission is to provide best in class apparel for the active worker. Carhartt has long been recognized for its durable and high quality products. Carhartt makes products for both men and women. All products in its core workwear line are made in the United States. Carhartt is one of the most recognizable and trusted brand in the “Workwear” clothing market. The brand has also been successful developing products for fashion forward consumers. These consumers have adopted Carhartt because of its authenticity and functionality.

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Carhartt has been successful because it understands the needs and pride of the American worker. They understand that these consumer’s want products in their life that says they are proud to be an American worker. Workers view Carhartt as an authentic brand. Carhartt realizes that workers and their employees are what drives the brand. Workers are encouraged to go online and share stories about the most extreme, rugged conditions they have faced on work sites.

The brand has done an excellent job engaging their core target as well as younger people through social media. Carhartt has over 2.4 million fans on Facebook. Carhartt continues to expand its fashion product line under the Series 1889 label.

Carhartt is a great example of a 124 year old brand that has stayed relevant. The challenge in the future will be remaining true to its core target audience while staying current to attract a more fashion forward consumer.

Have you worn Carhartt workwear?

I enjoy stories of entrepreneurs who follow a passion and start a business. I am also a fan of specialty candy stores and wrote about one of my favorite stores Harbor Candy in Ogunquit, Maine earlier in the year. I discovered Sugarfina in a story about the 100 Most Creative People in Business in 2013 on fastcompany.com. I was intrigued so I decided to dig a little deeper into the story behind their success.

Sugarfina is an online luxury candy boutique that offers a selection of the finest candies from around the world. Sugarfina is designed for adults not kids. Sugarfina is attempting to reinvent the candy category by targeting “foodies”. They offer the highest quality candy with an emphasis on premium all-natural ingredients. Sugarfina was founded in 2012 by Rosie O’Neill and Josh Resnick who dreamed of opening a candy boutique ever since their third date. That night they attended a screening of the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory.

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Sugarfina’s gourmet candy collection is unique. They offer exotic candies such as Champagne Gummy Bears, Matcha Green Tea Caramel, Licorice Cubes and Dark Chocolate Coffee Toffee. They offer more than 140 different candies. Sugarfina’s candies are sourced globally from artisan producers in the United States, France, Belgium, Germany, Holland, Denmark, Sweden and beyond. Many of the products that Sugarfina sells are exclusive to them in the United States.

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One of things that differentiates Sugarfina is design. Each candy is packaged individually in transparent cubes and neatly packed into bento boxes inspired by Tiffany.

Sugarfina has been described as a “pleasure” as opposed to a “guilty” pleasure. The candies contain ingredients that are good and good for you. These ingredients include nuts, green tea, all kinds of fruit, high cacao chocolate and coffee beans.

Sugarfina has received a lot of positive press. Sugarfina made the “O List” Food Edition in Oprah Winfrey Magazine in August. Sugarfina has also been featured in a number of magazines including InStyle, Martha Stewart Weddings, Brides, Forbes and Travel and Leisure to name a few.

In January, Sugarfina became the first candy partner on Facebook’s gift platform. Revenues are expected to top $1 million in 2013.

Have you tried Sugarfina premium candies?

Last Saturday, I made my annual trip to Saratoga Race Track in upstate New York to enjoy a day at the races. It is a time for re-connecting with old friends, enjoying family, people watching, enjoying food and beverages and, of course, watching the horses. An August day at Saratoga is a great fan experience. The feature race that day was the Alabama Stakes.

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Saratoga Race Course, “The Track” is one of the most charming racetracks in the country. It was named as one of the “Top 10 Sporting Venues” by Sports Illustrated Magazine and is one of horse racing’s most beloved tracks. It has a unique combination of historical ambience, modern-day amenities and of course style. It is the oldest racetrack in the United States.

This summer Saratoga Race Course is celebrating its 150th anniversary. In 1863, two horsemen decided that it was time to expand Saratoga’s appeal, and the way to do that was to create a permanent racetrack in America. Know as the “Graveyard of Champions,” Saratoga Race Course has earned a reputation for being a challenging track for favorites. In fact, the famous horse Man O’ War lost a race here.

Saratoga has many traditions that add to the overall experience of a day at the races. One tradition is that anyone coming to the track early, just after 7:00am can reserve a picnic table by putting their articles on that table. You must then exit the track when the morning breakfast patrons leave, and pay to re-enter at the time the gates open for racing. Prime tables in the picnic area are in demand especially on a Saturday. Coolers are allowed. The picnic area is a lot of fun and is the way I choose to spend my day at the track. You are also able to watch the horses being led to the paddock. Another tradition is that you can “reserve” a bench seat with a newspaper or program.

The early morning is a spectacular time at the track. It is not crowded and you can watch many horses go through their training runs.

Saratoga Springs is located 35 miles north of Albany and 180 miles north of Manhattan. In addition to the races, Saratoga is host to many summer activities including the Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga National Historical Park and a variety of museums.

Have you been to Saratoga Race Track?