Thursday, February 15, 2018

Lays Baked Sweet Potato Chips A.K.A My Marketing Research Class

Over the course of the past six weeks we have been working on a fictional product from a preselected list major companies. We were given the assignment to create this product and research it using various methods taught to us during the class.

The major company I chose was PepsiCo and the fictional product I came up with was Lays Baked Sweet Potato Chips! This is a growth area as I found out in my research, sweet potato recipes are becoming more common place rather than reserved for the Thanksgiving table in pie form.

Sweet potatoes are rich in many vitamins and minerals and a far healthier choice than the more common russet or golden varieties. Baking them rather than frying them in fat is an additional boost to the health conscious among the population is just an added bonus and would preserve many of the healthier benefits by not submerging them in vats of grease.

The trends I have found tend to make this more of a growth product. There are a couple of smaller potato chip companies that have made this in the traditional fried of kettle form but baked has been missed out on. Add to that no major company has a line of sweet potato chips, not Ruffles, not Pringle's, not Guy's. No one, which leaves a rather large market to be tapped by a national company.

My marketing strategy was to focus group the chips in their baked, fried, and kettle cooked formats and adding flavors such as BBQ, Ranch, etc. with the main flavor being plain and baked which is the idea. Testing to see how the various tweaks on the baked chip would work compared to the one variety that is the real idea.

Focus groups would be used in the southern states first where sweet potatoes are more common and harvested such as the Carolinas. Regional testing is essential as tastes and flavors change from state to state and region to region. Lays Baked Sweet Potato chips might fail in California but thrive in Florida, regional testing would help determine the size of the market.

Smaller markets would be chosen such as quick shops and maybe a chain of grocery stores and sales would be measured until a big enough sampling size could be determined as accurate. The sampling size would be one of the more easier of the products I've read about as it would be anyone that has eaten or would eat a potato chip! That's pretty much everyone in the United States.

This proposed marketing strategy aligns perfectly with any legal or ethical concerns, there are no sweat shops to be concerned about, there are no import tariffs as sweet potatoes are heavily grown in North Carolina. The only concern would be for a fair price to the farms that produced the sweet potato which a buyer on the scale of Lays is used to negotiating prices and contracts for delivery.

I have not encountered many limitations for the idea of marketing proposal of this product. On the contrary, it's been one of the more enjoyable classes I've had as I work towards my degree! Way better than Business Systems and Design which left me with a rather poor teacher. That was the worst experience I've had since I started back to school in 2015! This is the complete opposite of that experience! This class has been faced paced and enjoyable! I've found myself at work thinking about how I would market this product if I really were in charge of such a thing at PepsiCo and what I would do to ensure a successful marketing strategy!

Monday, January 08, 2018

I'm Digging The Blog Assignments!

Well here we are again! I've got another assignment in my quest to earn my bachelor's degree in marketing that requires a blog post! This is the kind of assignment I can handle, if only every course had a similar requirement.
Alas, my current course is Marketing Research or MKT 337 in technical academia slang. My goal is to chose a Fortune 500 company from an approved list and create a product idea for launch.

Well friends I have chosen PepsiCo. Those of you who know me know that I used to be a Coke man until I suffered just north of 20 kidney stones over fifteen years and since then I've drank around a gallon of water each day to stave off such nonsense. The past year however I have become an avid ice tea drinker and rarely touch any kind of pop anymore.

PepsiCo is a strong company with worldwide brand recognition. They own Lays potato chips which is important because my product will be Lays Baked Sweet Potato Chips to capitalize on this health crazed country in which we reside.

The Lays brand has been known in the last several years to have fans vote on unusual potato chip flavors such as Southern Biscuits and Gravy, Sriracha, Wasabi, and many more. They are limited edition chips and never added to the permanent product line. I have not seen a chip made by Lays out of sweet potatoes, let alone in the baked variety. I believe it would be a natural combination of sweet and savory in chip form and would fit hand in glove with how Lays has been market testing fan voted flavors to push the envelope in snack design. They've become known for adventurous flavors and this should be no different.

With the healthy main ingredient of sweet potatoes over the traditional russet and baked rather than deep fat fried, Lays Baked Sweet Potato Chips would appeal to the health conscious consumer that tends to work out rather than become couch potatoes. A large segment of the population is obsessed with healthy eating decisions but I'm sure like anyone, they crave a good chip from time to time! I can see potential value in a healthy chip!

To research this product I would look at surveys and focus group testing variations of sweet potato varieties, and see how they perform. This would be a fun endeavor indeed!

Tuesday, December 19, 2017

Hooked on Hallmark

Since October 27 I've been watching a lot of Hallmark Christmas movies. This is one crazy world, fast paced, angry, sometimes brutal. This world can be cold and uncaring, kicking you to the curb faster than you can get up and dust yourself off.

Hallmark hit on something, I'm not sure when the Countdown To Christmas began with the marathon of Christmas movies, a mix of premiers for the year and movies from previous years, but it's amazing.
I think of it as a lighthouse in a hurricane when the world feels like it's falling apart. Yes the story lines are simple and all formulaic but popular tropes are popular for a reason. Yes there are maybe 50 actors that reappear in all of the movies. Yes they all have happy endings. Yes they all make you feel good and most importantly they all give you an escape from the world for a bit.

Someone is grumpy at the start and happy by the time the credits roll, simple as that and you're missing out if you can't find a little joy in something simple like that.

Contentment has been a theme in my life lately. What is it to me, what will bring me a sense of peace and quiet in my head, and what steps do I take to feel contentment? You'll recall I'm working on my bachelor's degree and have been since 2015. Well I'd like to report I've got seven terms left! To break it down a little bit there are six terms in my school year so I'll finish in the first term of 2019!

After that my next goal will be to get my thirty years in at work, after that I'll be pension eligible! That will happen in June 2022. I'll have a steady and guaranteed income for the rest of my life and then I'll have a lot of options open to me! My mortgage will be paid off, most of my bills will be done and over with in fact! I'll truly be very free in a very real sense of the word!

So what do you do when you've got that kind of freedom open to you?

I don't know yet. I've been kicking around some ideas. I'd like to find contentment for sure but what is that exactly? How do you know? Is it long lasting or fleeting? I've been very content many times in my life thus far and sometimes it lasted for a long time but then it would end and would be followed by intense times of loneliness and loss. I'm somewhat content right now, just extremely busy with work and school but now I can see the very bright light at the end of the tunnel.

I'll have plenty of time after graduation to find out what I'm going to do with myself. We'll see what that looks like then but I'm excited for the future! I'm hoping for a Hallmark happy ending!

Merry Christmas!

Thursday, November 23, 2017

Happy Thanksgiving!

Well now, let's see what I've got to tell and what you wanna know!
I'm about a year and a half away from graduating from Southern New Hampshire University. Yeah I know it's a Northeastern university but it's got southern in the title so....I'm earning it you Yankees!

Second I've spent a beautiful day with my family and daughters! I started to brine the turkey yesterday around 9 A.M. and got it on the grill at 7 this morning. Yeah, I'm still a badass cook, don't forget it! Great Thanksgiving! Both Things 1 & 2 came up to spend it with me and their extended family. I know soon it'll be a very rare occurrence when we are all together at one time so I'm savoring all the time I can get with them.

Ok, something pretty much only two of you know, I've developed a taste for beer. Yeah I know....go figure. Ok, here's the story. Once I started taking classes in the evening I'd have a hard time destressing from my job. I'd have a hard time concentrating on the materials I needed to study so I decided to go to my go to which is a scotch with a couple of cubes of ice, however the problem started when I found out after one or two of those, well, I didn't care about homework anymore! On a particularly stiflingly hot day after work, I walked back to the coolers in my local quick shop for a coke and picked out a couple of beers instead.

Yeah, I could destress and STILL do homework after one or two beers! Well the next dilemma was to find a flavor that I could handle. If you'll recall I got very drunk/sick on beer at the tender age of 19 and rarely, and I mean VERY rarely drank beer since. So I started sampling beers and found a couple I can handle and actually enjoy!

I settled on Pabst (The beer of the blue collars, screw the hipsters!!!! They corrupt everything!) and regular Budweiser. These are pretty much what beer should taste like and after a long day at work with a long night of homework lined up, a PBR tastes as sweet as anything I've ever had before! I've been consistently having one or two so I'm able to read what I've got to read, write what I've got to write, forget where I work, and move on to the next day. 

Well, let's see what else you'd be interested in dear reader, I made a 152 song playlist on Spotify from 70's country hits, one of my favorite genres. I've told you about my dad being a truck driver and how that's what we listened to when he would take me on the road with him once in a while! Yeah, give me a 70's country song title and I'll give you the artist and likely lyrics! Test me sometime, I dare ya.

Now I'm really into watching the Hallmark channel's Countdown to Christmas marathon when I'm not working or doing homework. What a great thing Hallmark has done here. Nothing but formulaic movies with happy endings, standard tropes, and leaves you feeling warm and fuzzy by the end. What more could you really ask for? If you haven't seen it, check it out. It's really something to make you feel good when this crazy world has got you down.

The Thunder seem to perhaps be getting their chemistry together! I've been a Thunder fan since year one, I've still got a magnetic schedule inside my locker at work from the first year. It's pretty special though to me, my mom and I text back and forth during the games. Something we've really enjoyed over the years and believe me, she knows the NBA very well. She's been watching almost every NBA game she can over the past three seasons so I bought her the League Pass so she could watch any game she wanted and she does! She probably watches on average two games every evening.

I know I've not updated my blog on a regular basis, I apologize for that. I write so much for classes that I really don't want to write much else but I've been on vacation for a couple of weeks and go back to work on Monday. I've got some stuff to say. 

Saturday, August 12, 2017

The Influencers of Marketing

This week one of my assignments is to read a 60 Minutes story on social media marketers and how they are a driving force in today's world. Television marketers are becoming more and more nervous as streaming services with zero commercials or full on DVR functions that allow subscribers to skip through commercials become prevalent in the cord cutting movement. This means that there is more competition for the advertising dollar in places where the message of a company can be seen.

The evolution of this has been a rise in online advertisers and people with large online followings that are called influencers. Instagram is a huge platform for influencers to drive traffic to products that they enjoy themselves or for companies that pay them for a shout out. This can drive a large amount of traffic to a site in a very economical way.

I myself purchased a marketing course for physical products and one part of the course was how to use Instagram to drive traffic to your product. For example you can have an influencer shout out your product for a hundred dollars to his followers which might number in the tens of thousands.

If your product is shown to ten thousand prospective buyers and you get only 3% in sales, that's 300 buyers for a successful ad buy. To take this a bit further in how lucrative it can be consider your product costs 1 buck and you sell it for 3. That's 900 gross sales and you subtract 300 for your cost, and 100 for the shout out for a total profit of 500 dollars. Now if you can do that every week, well that's more pay than a minimum wage (7.25 per) job working 40 hours which would be a mere 290 dollars.

Now you can play around with that simple model as much as you wish but that's how influencers work on a basic level. Now larger influencers with millions of followers are more expensive and smaller influencers in more of a niche market are cheaper. It really depends on what you want to sell and in what market your niche is in.

I firmly believe it's too early in this evolution to predict where this type of marketing will wind up and how larger companies will find a way to move away from an uncertain future in TV to an increasingly online form of entertainment. It'll be an interesting evolution to watch and pay attention to being a marketing student and all!

Saturday, July 29, 2017

Interactive TV

Where once a giant stood and spoke to you while you listened, now you can have a dialogue. Back in the day radio was king. Radio was how everyone was connected and kept informed of what was happening around the world.

You could hear today's news as it happened in some cases like the Hindenburg disaster which you can still listen to today. Even during the great depression the radio industry was strong and FDR started his Fireside Chats to talk directly to the American people without the media filter.

Then TV came along and a new form of entertainment was born. You could watch the people that were once just voices to you. Networks expanded their reach to cover the entire continental U.S. and eventually there was a TV in every home. Then the next big revolutions, color TV, cable TV, satellite TV, HDTV, and then smart TVs with streaming services built in.

What's left? Interactive TV. There have been some good experiments in refining the interactive TV experience since the widespread roll out of broadband internet. Back over a decade ago I remember watching the first season of Big Brother online and chatting with other viewers about what was happening. That was a great experience and then they started charging a subscription price and I lost interest quickly. It was great though as you could switch between cameras and see unfiltered what was happening in the house.

Since then (and thanks to an extended writer's strike) reality TV has found a place in American pop culture, much to my dismay and is here to stay. Networks started to build shows from the ground up with interactivity in mind coupled with the internet experience. Then then the next big evolution happened, social media became a thing. From the early days of MySpace to Facebook and Twitter to Instagram, producers started to utilize social media to have an effect in how the show would happen.

The Voice, a show I have never nor will never watch, was one such show. The producers coordinate with the talent, who then are interactive with the audience and on social media. All I really know about The Voice is that the chick that sings for No Doubt is dating a country singer and they are both judges. I've seen commercials and I'm more than familiar with the pop culture effect of the show and I can see that it's one of the more popular reality TV shows on today, where once American Idol reigned as king.

So if someone like me, that has no interest at all in such a show knows about it a little bit, they are doing a pretty good job. I do however have an interest in watching the evolution of entertainment and how interactive it is. After actually reading about what The Voice does that has pioneered a lot of interactivity, I'm not sure a media form exists yet that would be better. It seems to be the prime example of what to do right.

The Voice does so much with it's audience such as the instant save in which consumers are encouraged to tweet for their favorite. This engages audiences and creates the interactivity audiences will expect going forward.

I was once a firm believer in the idea that you didn't want to see your celebs in real life, you'd eventually learn that they were just people like you except everyone knew their name and everyone had a different expectation of what they'd be like in real life. All of which no one could live up to which lead to disappointment.

Today, if a celeb isn't interactive with their audience, you are disappointed. Tomorrow if a show isn't interactive with it's audience, you'll turn it off and find one where you are part of the experience. Where this leads in scripted shows is unclear but it's an evolution away from trying and a couple of failures away from succeeding and becoming groundbreaking.

Eventually you might see actual shows built for social media exclusively where audiences are the participants. Twitter for example, might give a task and then people tweet back their results of such a task for prizes. That platform has yet to be invented but you can imagine there are some producers out there that have been inventing and trying to make their shows as interactive as possible.

I for one, look forward to such a day!

Wednesday, July 05, 2017

My Digital Life

Long time no blog!
For those of you who know me know that since early 2015 I've been going to college to get my degree, which I changed from game design to marketing. This is going to wind up being a long post so strap in dear readers. My plan was to learn a skill for my second career so I can supplement my pension in 2022 and quit my job of (at this time) 25 years.

I'll be getting into my assignment after I let all of my readers know how I got to where I got to;)

I started at Full Sail, which turned out being a fraud of a "school." Full Sail started out fairly promising for the first four classes which they call the core four. There was a lot of instructor interaction, live lectures, and questions were answered promptly.

After that it started to slide downhill. 99% of the material the instructors used was found on YouTube and you were given a discounted subscription to No text books, digital or otherwise. Very little reading in fact was assigned. If you couldn't see it for free like the rest of the world on YouTube then I guess they figured you didn't need it. I got fed up with lazy instructors, bad assignments, finals that had nothing to do with whatever material I had watched on YouTube and a general attitude of self importance due to their hype machine.

So after looking around I found a better school, a not for profit school, that accepted all of my credits I had earned the past year and moved onto greener pastures. Full Sail was four times more expensive per month than my current university is (Southern New Hampshire U) per term! Yeah, it's crazy expensive.

I transferred and started classes early last year! After a few terms and getting into the game design part even more I found that it really wasn't the skill I was looking to learn. It's a super competitive market, pay is fairly low to medium, and you generally had to work at a company with resources to accomplish what you wanted to accomplish. Not exactly what I was wanting to do.

So I did some more research and found a lucrative field that was flexible enough to be used in a variety of ways! Marketing with a focus on social/digital media. This will be a degree I can use on my own and create digital products, I can contract with someone and work anywhere I choose as long as I have my laptop and internet connection. I can do any of a number of things where this degree will apply for me and supplement my future pension handsomely!

My first assignment is to create a blog, how little my fellow classmates know I've written this one over the span of more than a decade and even though it was dormant, I felt it might be time to awaken it once again, perhaps briefly, perhaps as I used to blog. A daily basis before work.

Let's see here:
1. What sites/applications do I visit most often? Describe them.
I use my email application the most on a daily basis. I check it constantly for new emails on a project I've been working on since February and is still in work.

Facebook was a site I used constantly until my divorce. I would look at it all day on my phone to see who was doing what. I caught onto the fact that it was nothing more than a voyeuristic practice to compare your life with your friend's lives to see who was winning, who was happy, who was sad, and who was getting by. It turned into a source of anxiousness over time and I quit cold turkey. It's still active but I rarely log onto it. So you can say I have a very negative reaction to Facebook and believe it'll eventually be replaced by something else in this digital trending world. Will it go the way of MySpace? I doubt it but I suppose it could.

I use the Twitter app a lot during the day to catch up on news from work. In the evenings I'm usually on the SNHU blackboard for a few hours per night. I try to do two to three hours of homework each night and make sure my assignments are good before I turn them in.

MMORPGs were a huge part of my life for maybe 12 years, from Everquest to WOW and dozens of games in between. That was a social way of adventuring together and forming "friendships" through a common cause and platform. Yeah at the end of the day none of it was real but for someone that could use social interaction without being social, it was perfect.

The shiny parts of the MMO have kind of faded since their heyday in the late 90's and 2000's as gamers have latched onto more niche games on the mobile platform and for a cheaper to free cost. They aren't required to wrap up a large amount of time to complete something and can quit anytime they need to and put it back into their pocket.

Digital media in marketing today is very much a growth industry and is practically dawn before a golden afternoon. Companies, particularly gaming companies, worked out a free model to play their games. However they do offer you ways to enhance your game playing time by offering powerups, time savers, extra lives, bonus levels, card packs, or any of a thousand different ways to support the game makers and the overhead of running the game itself. I've found that I've spent more money of "free" games than games I purchased outright! That's not uncommon either as one of my close friends and gaming buddies, Abostang has done the same!

This was a brilliant stroke of marketing! It is similar to the drug dealer's pitch, the first one is free! This also translates to subscription services. Remember when Netflix was just DVDs by mail and you got six with a coupon when you bought a new DVD player? Remember when Hulu was a way to catch up on the network shows from the previous evening? Now look at them! For a reasonable price per month, you have access to more entertainment than you could watch in a lifetime! Updated each and every month as well!

Overall once you learn that if you just enjoy a medium for what it is, the brief time passer, the movie in the minivan to keep the kids quiet, or the salvation from the realities of the daily grind, you find that you can live with it and your decisions and move on when you get bored with whatever is your distraction at the time. 

So there I was in 2015. I had watched some streaming series on another Netflix binge and had finished it in record time. I asked myself if this is what I wanted to do every evening, come home, binge some show, go to bed, go to work, and do it again with weekends being reserved for the serious binging time. I had been a constant volunteer at my local community theatre for over seven years at that point and found myself burned out. No, I needed a challenge, to build my mind back up again instead of letting it atrophy in sitcoms.

What would I do....what indeed.....