think smaller, bigtime

SmallBusiness Saturday
{photo via Jackstraw}
Small Business Saturday may be an American Express holiday meant to eke more pennies from retailers with higher percentages, but it's heart is in the right place. Small is big — supporting independently operated and/or local stores is more than just a trend, but a means necessary to survive in a volatile retail climate.
In 2008, well before Fashion Night Out or Small Business Saturday, we developed City Stimulus: the first city-wide shopping event to generate this same kind of enthusiasm in Seattle. Four years later, three of our favorite participating local retailers — Jackstraw, Far 4, and A Mano — have combined efforts on Small Business Saturday to illustrate what neighborly love looks like.
Sustainability is not just about the foods you eat or purchasing local and organic produce. It’s also about the social, cultural, and economic success of the community. Today, we applaud American Express' efforts and hope you're willing to go big by shopping small.
UPDATE 11.26.12: According to this report in USA Today, anecdotal evidence indicates Small Business Saturday is really catching on.

have a mobile black Friday

Mobile Thursday
According to a recent report by the Future of Retail Alliance (FORA), an online community advocating the broader use of technology by brick-and-mortar retailers, many stores are embracing the showrooming trend for Black Friday and hope that shopping apps like ShopSavvy will influence more than 40 million smartphone and tablet users this holiday season.

"Consumers have been empowered by shopping apps. They've been armed with more product knowledge than the clerks in most retail stores have. Retailers used to be threatened by this; now, they are finding ways to capitalize on it — such as through aggressive price-matching, as well as ship-to-store and other omnichannel strategies. That's the big difference between Black Friday 2011 and Black Friday 2012," said Alexander Muse, founder of FORA and ShopSavvy.

"In the past, traditional retailers have been scared to death of Amazon, which has aggressively encouraged shoppers to showroom in stores and then buy online.  FORA was created in part to show retailers how they can better compete with Amazon by embracing technology," Muse said. "The fact is, our studies show that, when comparison shopping, Amazon has the lowest price only 6 percent of the time. That means they don't have the lowest price the other 94 percent.  Why do you think Amazon is scrambling to develop a brick-and-mortar strategy? Retailers are in a much better position to compete with Amazon than they think."
This is hardly the death of Black Friday but, as founder of the No. 1 shopping app in the United States with 40 million downloads, Mr Muse does have some creditability. And it's hard to dismiss other studies, like this one from Harris Interactive on behalf of Digitas, that find that shopping via smartphones and tablets will nearly double from 2011 on Mobile Thursday — the day before Black Friday.

As we suggested in our previous post, Harnessing the Showrooming Trend, smartphones and tablets might take shopping beyond the boundaries of four walls, but familiarity with a brand is also a key influencer. We are glad to hear that retailers are embracing Smart Commerce strategies to reach this massive audience when the iron is hot.

{Source: PR Newswire / FORA}

adventures in being awestruck

We had the opportunity to attend a variety of presentations from speakers and panelists on technology, creativity, and emergent media at the Seattle Interactive Conference last month. It was a wonderful opportunity to meet new people and share ideas and insights on creative solutions for transforming communications across mediums.
One session that keeps replaying in our mind is that of filmmaker, Jason Silva, who's “shots of philosophical espresso” help to bring awareness to complex futurist principals and changes in society. Here is one of three shorts that he played during "The Creating and Sharing of Awe."

{Source: The Biological Advantage of Being Awestruck - by Jason Silva on Vimeo}

Throughout the film, a common theme was Pattern Recognition (something we might know a thing or two about as we convert trends and cultural insights into strategies). This second short, which was also part of the presentation, centers on cultivating the power of ideas with "Radical Openness" and imagination — "allowing us to conceive of delightful future possibilities, pick the most amazing one and pull the present forward to meet it."

{Source: "Radical Openness" - for TEDGlobal 2012 by Jason Silva on Vimeo}

And at that point it was as if a light went on. For as much as we loved the concepts and creativity, Jason Silva was not quoting female thinkers. So, after the session, we took the opportunity to meet him and politely ask why his examples failed to include women. Was there a shortage of ladies in the industry? Thankfully no.
So we suggested a new opportunity to pull female philosophers and futurists to a new film based on his research and findings. It's our sincere hope that by connecting the dots, identifying patterns, and suggesting solutions to “A Timothy Leary of the Viral Video Age” we helped to simply cultivate an additional perspective. As it turns out, we're a quick study in 'Radical Openness".

when bad press really is bad press

If Juice Fasts and Yoga Spinning aren’t challenging enough, try finding an editor or blogger that hasn’t encountered a rogue publicist. The kind that will email a pitch by the thousands and insists Groupon is the best growth platform for any luxury brand.
Most publicists strive to maintain pristine reputations and strong relationships. However, even those in the spin business know that a “bad press is good press” mantra can not fix a publicist gone wild. When it’s done right, PR can help grow awareness and drive sales, but if your brand is in the wrong hands, your PR efforts may be hurting you.
It seems fairly obvious that you shouldn’t pitch electronics to a beauty blogger, but it happens. “It’s an epidemic,” says Lara Eurdolian, blogger and founder of Pretty Connected. “My inbox is regularly flooded with worthless content I'd never feature and it feels like my name is on every press list. Even worse is the lack of research and poor email etiquette — text in all caps, careless misspellings and unprofessional, mass distribution.”
Skilled community managers are strategic in their engagement efforts and will look to target bloggers and editors that align well with the brand they are representing. These are often long-term efforts and cannot risk being harmed by a problematic publicist. On the other hand, if your social media team isn’t strategic with their outreach and habitually spams editors, bloggers, and publicists — they’ll be harming your brand’s image faster than your PR team can run damage control.

Your brand is your most valuable asset, so it’s important to be aware of how it is represented in the media and ensure a strategic, unified presentation throughout all channels. Engagement truly is king, especially among collaborative marketing teams where traditional communication lines have clearly blurred.

Julie Ashkenazi is the co-founder of Medium— a strategic eCommerce and online marketing studio dedicated building unique, compelling and successful brands with cohesive design aesthetics and analytics. Connect with her on Twitter or LinkedIn.

in the works

It's hard not to love Garance Doré — the street style blogger, photographer, and illustrator.
You may have seen her work in French Vogue, her illustrations for Gap, or collaboration with The Sartorialist for J. Crew.
There's been talk for some time about translating her life and work into TV so we were delighted to read that she was visiting Hollywood to "meet producers, agents, and execs from very important companies" regarding her web series, Pardon My French earlier this week. Below is one of our favorite installments of the series with J.Crew's Jenna Lyons.
Regardless of the format, we'll be watching. Her up close and personal transformation has been riveting for those in and out of the fashion industry and we have a feeling that Garance Doré is on the brink of something big.
Stay tuned.

paint job

Who powder coats a Berkel meat slicer?
Renee Erickson, that's who.
To achieve the optimal look in her new restaurant, The Whale Wins, she painted the classic, red, hand-crank, flywheel prosciutto slicer white. We love it.
The look and feel of the space, in combination with the attention to detail and fantastic menu, get high marks in our book. View more photos, including the "Hello" ceiling lighting, here.
Editors note: Special thanks to J&J for the invite to the soft opening service.

beauty is more than skin deep

In case you haven't already heard the news... retail has a new hero as a result of the economy: the beauty category.
The effects of this surge in affordable luxuries have spurred growth in new products, line extensions, and licensing agreements across all price points. According to data from GCI, global retail sales of premium beauty products were up 5% in 2011, the best performance since 2007. Hair care and fragrance also posted strong numbers – 10% and 6% respectively. The selected statistics below help to illustrate the success and the opportunity within the category:
  • For the first six months in 2012, a study by NPD Group showed an 8% increase in prestige makeup sales in US department stores.
  • LVMH’s perfumes and cosmetics business group reported organic revenue growth of 8% for the first nine months of 2012. The company's selective retailing business group, which includes Sephora, achieved organic revenue growth of 14% for the first nine months of 2012.
  • The Estée Lauder Companies Inc. reported a strong financial performance for the fiscal year ending in June 2012 with net sales of $9.71 billion, a 10% increase compared with $8.81 billion reported in the prior year. The company’s strongest divisions in terms of growth year-over-year include: hair care (+100%), skin care (+14%), makeup (+10%), and fragrance (+3%)
  • The male grooming category has demonstrated a consistent performance throughout the recent years of economic instability, having increased its global revenues by an average of 6% per annum since 2006, to reach close to $33 billion in 2011.
Given the growth and potential, it's a mystery why retail design and merchandising have not evolved much within the segment. Traditional department store beauty counters are similar to shrine-like communal tables in restaurants with a linear and exposed fashion – meant to tap into the emotional and rational motives and allow customers to see and clearly be seen.
That's why we were delighted to discover the "beauty capsules" within Holt Renfrew in Vancouver, Canada this summer.
The narrow entry to each branded boutique encloses the customer within a private space that extends beyond the need for self-esteem and status. Each concept, complete with a dedicated flat screen TV, reflects that particular company's own specific style and color palette. For example, the Chanel section within the store, feels more like a room than a beauty counter.
Unlike many department stores with traditional footprints and promotions, the Burberry space promotes a feeling of luxury branding and experiences with a U-shaped configuration. The dual entry to this "capsule" is partitioned off to evoke privacy from other customers, departments, and brands. The counterless concepts allow salespeople to get out from behind fixtures.
The "beauty capsules" also provide unification without seeming cluttered. Each brand has a unique theme and materials, but the closed nature of each section and the white backdrop of the store interior allow varied fixtures to coexist without seeming messy. 
branded elevator
Beyond the cosmetics department, promotional fixtures and beauty campaign banners at Holt Renfrew are practically nonexistent, with the exception of well-placed elevator wraps and in-wall displays that tempt customers with media instead of messaging.
Holt Renfrew is not alone in rethinking it's design, merchandising, and services related to beauty.
  • Selfridges launched its largest-ever 5,000 square foot beauty project, The Beauty Workshop, in September. The concept showcases 50 new brands and has treatment rooms for personalized services. Employees are trained to work across a variety of brands and are employed by Selfridges rather than by brands. “If every woman emptied her makeup bag on the table, there would be a variety of products — there is no brand loyalty,” said Jayne Demuro, Selfridges’ Head of Beauty. “This is about giving the customer what we think they want, and it’s about offering our customers choices.”
  • Harvey Nichols is looking for more locations for a new specialist boutique, Beauty Bazaar, and is planning on introducing beauty product vending machines in its department stores in 2013.
As brands vie for premium placement, it seems logical that they also consider cohesive design that emulates their luxury company-owned freestanding locations. Design and merchandising are key elements to the puzzle.


{photo: Machine Project}
Here's a new spin on personalization from Machine Project in the Echo Park neighborhood of Los Angeles. 
The art gallery is hosting an educational, deconstruction, and consumption class/event tomorrow to explore the distinctive flavor of various beers by playing around with different extracts, oils, and other flavors to create new styles on the spot. Home brewers Andrew Hong and Nick Clute-Reinig will discuss the different ingredients to create "beer magic" or turn a boring old pale ale into an IPA in a matter of seconds.
This hands-on approach to food events can work in many industries with minor modifications. Machine Project has already hosted a series of classes and workshops on a variety of skills from bookbinding to welding.
We love this new take on informal education – which combines DIY with storefront retail as a 501c3 non-profit corporation.

Italian craft

Caffe Umbria
How do you improve on sophistication and heritage? For Caffè Umbria, the answer is all about design.
As fans of the Italian-style espresso and coffee roaster for some time now (we pour Bizzarri Blend using a French Press at the office), we were delighted to see the brand evolve with powerful new packaging that is differentiated with simple details that capture the true artistic essence of the companies rich history.
Caffe Umbria
{Image and packaging design by Tether}
We love the juxtaposition of the background pattern, changing color with each blend, and the bold type throughout the range. Most intriguing is the logo placement – which allows for vertical or horizontal merchandising at retail.

growing relationships

weed dating

The agriculture community has taken matchmaking to the fields with Weed Dating, a new spin on the speed-dating concept.

We love how Weed Dating encourages young single farmers to meet a large number of like-minded potential partners in a social situation that embraces the values and time constraints of the industry. We don't see why activists, gardeners, and outdoor enthusiasts don't jump at the opportunity to connect with farmers of similar interests. We can see the hashtag now: #DateAFarmer.

According to Springwise, the trend "has been spotted in Maine, Idaho, and Vermont – among other locales – and it offers new hope for rural agriculturalists suffering from a lack of companionship". Check out the video below.

{source: Springwise}