Recent writings: We put out the d.scribe newsletter once a month (you should sign up). Sometimes the articles are a little long for email, so we've collected them all here for your reading convenience.

March d.scribe feature article:

How social media for business is evolving

Your company has a Facebook page. And someone is tweeting pretty regularly. You have a number of followers, some of whom occasionally make comments on what you post. If you're lucky you've even got some dedicated readers who leave comments on your company blog and help other users work out their problems. Your management has even stopped making that funny face when social media efforts come up in meetings. (View a great infographic on social media attitudes among CMO's). Congratulations, you've come a long way! Guess what? Things are still evolving.

Stop thinking Social Media for Business and start thinking Social Business.
The idea of Social Business is hard to pin down and every blogger and website seems to have their own definition, because every business needs to find the definition that best fits them. What they all seem to agree on is that the time has come when businesses need to think of their social efforts as more than a just a part of their marketing efforts. The principles of engaging with customers in the ways they want to be engaged needs to permeate the entire company culture.

  • • Can the new ability for your fans on Facebook to send your company private
       messages be used to provide faster, more individualized customer service?
  • • Can your HR department use a Pinterest board to find qualified candidates
       who are a better fit for your company culture?

Aligning your business goals with your social strategies will give you the greatest impact.

And what about the sales department? This is the area that may require the greatest shift in internal thought. Social media can of course be used to push your message of how great your widget is but will this translate into customers? Maybe. Probably not. At it's best and most effective, social media content is customer focused. Coupons and contests are effective in the short term but once the special is over, why will your customers continue to interact? Are you providing customer centric content intended to start conversations and form the basis of longer-term relationships? It is these kinds of interactions that are at the heart of social business. Focus your content on what your customers need, not on what you want to say. Make that content engaging and shareable. Tell a story, and get your customers to tell their stories.

With all that is new in the world, some things hold true.
The best principles of direct marketing are maybe more applicable to your social media marketing efforts than ever before.

  • • Know who your audience is (target).
  • • Figure out where to find them (segment).
  • • Give them reasons to interact with you (incentive).

After all, these are the people who already need or want what you have to sell them. So now all you have to do is get them to realize that your version of what they need is the one they should buy. How? By making sure that your company is one they want to interact with and will be proud to feel a part of. How do you do that? The great thing, the best thing about integrating social media into your business is that you can let them tell each other. Give them a reason to have a stake in your success and they will support you.

The irony here is that with all the flashy new technology available to get your message across, what your customers really want is for your company to be more human. If you build that sense of community, that sense of being a part of your company, rather than a sales target, they will find you in whatever social space becomes the next big thing.

Social media has been a great source of free exposure for companies who were willing to devote the needed resources to promoting themselves in these channels. But, as you already know, social media belongs to the consumers, they call the shots, from the kinds of interactions they want to have with companies to the places where they want those interactions to take place. You may have noticed that a lot of the changes that Facebook has been making to advertising and business pages seem to be pushing companies to act more like people. They're basically telling you flat out "less promotion, more conversation." And what do people like to talk about most? Themselves.

Further reading
Looking for more information on how business uses for social media are evolving? These articles formed the basis of this write-up:
KLM: A company that gets social media.
The definition of social business?
Evolving social media marketing to social business.
Facebook and the transformation of corporate content.


April d.scribe feature article:

Affluent consumers - winning the uncommitted

As we look ahead for the remainder of 2012 and 2013, brands that cater to the affluent customer will need to continue refining their value propositions as well as where and how they are presented. According to findings from a study by Unity Marketing, affluent consumer confidence has fallen to levels last seen in the depths of the 2008 and 2009 recession.

Although the year in total saw an overall increase in 2011 for luxury retailing – luxury retailers Saks Fifth Avenue and Nordstrom saw 7.8 and 12.7 YOY increases, respectively – this may not continue. The study noted:

  • • A 15% decrease in the average amount spent on luxury items during the fourth quarter of 2011

    • According to Unity Marketing's Pam Danziger, the percentage of luxury consumers expressing a definite willingness to spend more on luxury was down at the start of 2012.*

Unity suggests that this doesn't mean that luxury consumer will not buy - rather, they are not committed to buying. To jump-start the purchasing process and win over the uncommitted consumer, luxury brands will need to step-up their marketing efforts and channels. They will likely revamp or increase multi-channel, experiential, value-based shopping opportunities for their customers.

Here are a few of the related trends we've noticed.

d.trio's recent blog highlights the increased focus on value and price by affluent consumers, driven by the recessionary economy.

Luxury brands are expected to see various channels (including social media and television) amplify the talk before and during the Academy Awards. Jewelry brand Cartier starred in CW's television series Gossip Girl, significantly increasing its product placement in front of many viable aspirational and affluent consumers. Other brands such as Michael Kors launched international, multi-channel campaigns (#FallingInLoveWith for Valentine's Day).

The majority of affluent customers with smartphones are using them to shop. A recent study by the Luxury Institute reported that over two-thirds (67%) of affluent Smartphone owners have shopped for products and services. However, the study suggests that purchasing preferences for luxury products is still in-store. Mobile applications are the most common channel for engagement with affluent. "Consumers are becoming so much more mobile and we need to figure out how to translate that mobility into a humanistic experience," according to Milton Pedraza, CEO of the Luxury Institute. "Apps are becoming ubiquitous, so it's what we do with them that make the experience more extraordinary that will make the difference."

The respondents to the Luxury Institute survey reported an average net worth of $2.8 million. Wealthy consumers spent an average of $628 per mobile purchase. Event tickets, gift cards, food and technology/personal Electronics are the most-common type of mobile purchase. Preference to the in-store experience is the most-cited reason for not making a mobile purchase.
Source: www.luxurydaily.com67pc-affluent-smartphone-owners-use-mcommerce-study/

Across all the trends, case studies and articles we've viewed about luxury brands and their affluent customers, we can see clearly the importance of CRM (Customer Relationship Management). A dedicated and dynamic CRM program is the truly the infrastructure for in winning and sustaining customers in these uncertain times. Our definition of CRM is being broadened by every day by opportunities like MCommerce. Stay tuned as we continue to study the opportunities and challenges of marketing to affluents.

*The latest Luxury Tracking survey was conducted January 7 – 18, among 1,333 affluent luxury consumers with an average income of $286,300.


April d.scribe MANAGEMENT PERSPECTIVE article:

Direct Mail is Dead. Long Live Direct Mail!

With a nod to Mark Twain, recent reports of direct mail's death by popular blogs, have been greatly exaggerated. In fact, as the economy begins to get back on its feet direct mail is experiencing resurgence. This is backed-up both by recent experience with our clients, as well as results from several marketing research studies.

As marketers look to benefit from the improving economy, many are getting back to utilizing direct mail's long-proven benefits to engage with new and existing customers. As always, ROI is king and direct mail still delivers.

  • • According to 2012 Target Marketing's Annual Media Usage Survey, direct mail provides the best ROI for both B2C customer acquisition and retention.
  • • A recent Exact Target Channel Preference Survey points out that 65% of respondents have made a purchase as a result of a direct mail piece.

Direct mail is a highly effective channel for the receipt of marketing messages from brands too. Epsilon Targeting's 2011 Channel Preference Study, The Formula For Success: Preference and Trust reveals direct is…

  • • "…the top choice of U.S. and Canadian consumers for the receipt of brand communications in almost every category, ranging from health to household products, to household services, insurance and financial services, including credit card offers."

With the proliferation and growth of digital channels, direct mail continues to be used as an essential building block of successful integrated campaigns. Epsilon's Warren Storey sums it up well in a statement regarding the above study; "Consumers use and trust certain communications channels more than others…marketers need to understand which channels resonate most at various points in the consumer purchase cycle and incorporate a cross-channel strategy that leverages data and technology...Our study suggests that brands should use a variety of mediums [sic] to build relationships, starting with trusted channels like direct mail, then layering the message to re-enforce it through other channels."

Direct mail is also particularly effective at getting in the door and capturing the attention of the time-starved, affluent luxury customers. According to Ron Kurtz of the American Affluence Research Center (AARC), "Contrary to conventional wisdom, direct mail is probably the most cost-efficient method for reaching the truly affluent." It's less interruptive, and typically the quality of the product imagery is far superior in print than online, driving shoppers to websites or to the store to purchase.

The bottom line is that direct mail sells. While many social/digital channels have proven their worth for customer service, retention, PR, offers and brand building, direct mail remains a go-to channel for customer acquisition. The time-tested strengths of direct mail – impact, novelty, response, tangibility, targeting and measurability – are as relevant as ever to marketers, as the new landscape of marketing continues to evolve.

May d.scribe feature article:

Boomers Embrace Grandparenting

The birth of the helicopter grandparent? It could happen (and probably has). As the baby boomer generation reluctantly ages, they are taking grandparenting to a new place – much like they did with business, parenting and the idea of what adulthood should be. I mean they want to be involved with their grandchildren. Many younger boomers are caregivers to their grandchildren, and the older ones have money to finance bigger life needs.

This means businesses from children’s retailers to universities to financial services companies have an opportunity to carve out a niche for the “new” grandparents – doing it boomer-style.

Many of the generation that didn’t trust anyone over 30 have turned 60, yet just because the years progress doesn’t mean the boomers will give in to aging the way previous generations did.

  • • They are not likely to stop spending their money anytime soon

  • • They understand that staying current with technology and other things not only keeps them relevant, it also facilitates relationships with their children and grandchildren – no matter how far apart they might be geographically.

And, many of them have the wherewithal to make their grandchildren’s lives better by funding education or other big-ticket items. According to the MetLife Report on American Grandparents baby boomers are affluent and spending their money:

  • • Households that are headed by someone 45 to 64 years old command almost half (46%) of the nation’s total household income.

  • • Grandparent spending on child-specific items has increased dramatically between 1999 and 2009. In 2009, households ages 55 or older spent $7.6 billion on infant food, equipment and clothing, toys, games, and tricycles, a 71% increase since 1999. They also spent $2.43 billion on primary and secondary school tuition and supplies, almost three times more than was spent in 1999.

Grandparents are also playing a greater role due to the economic downturn, as they have tended to fare better economically than their children, so there are more multigenerational families than ever. So as companies make plans for new products and services or decide which segments are right for their marketing programs they should pay attention to this generation and how boomers-as-grandparents’ spending habits can affect their bottom lines.

For more information about the baby boomers attitudes, download the report link above and also see

June d.scribe feature article:

Factors that Affect U.S. Card Usage

We’ve seen an interesting ebb and flow of consumer card usage in the U.S. in the recent past. From credit to debit to prepaid, consumers have shifted their “spending share” depending on individual needs, economic pressures, and product evolution. Below are several factors that have influenced card usage by U.S. consumers:

  • • Economic Conditions: During the economic recession, consumers have reached for their debit card or allocated money to a prepaid card instead of taking on additional debt. In April, it was reported that consumers cut back on credit card debt as levels of employer hiring declined. From 2007 to 2008, consumers indicating that they used a debit card in the past month increased from 57% in 2007 to 66% in 2008. The pressure to live within one’s means can fuel increases in debit and prepaid card usage.

  • • Advancing Technology: Technological improvements in banking such as mobile platforms, Square card-readers, and RFID-enabled cards have made it increasingly easier for consumers to use their cards anytime, anywhere and track spending. Prepaid card marketers attempt to lure the underbanked and youth markets by offering tracking systems and spending management tools. Advancements in technology have also enabled consumers, the millennial generation in particular, to avoid the traditional bank system and opt into a third party, prepaid payment model.

  • • Evolving Banking Regulations: With banking institutions under the squeeze of new government regulation such as the Dodd-Frank Act, the consequences have been felt directly by the consumer. Late last year, Bank of America caused a stir by announcing a $5 fee on select debit card customers and then retracted soon after. Many viewed the increased fees as a way for banks to battle the reduced interchange fee that Dodd-Frank imposed. Many small retailers (whose debit fees actually rose) are now requiring a minimum purchase amount to use cards in their stores. New regulations have also affected the marketing of credit cards with new requirements on clearer disclosures of fees, rates etc. And Congress is looking into the fees imposed by prepaid card issuers to determine if additional regulation is needed in that arena.

  • • Changes to Reward Offerings: Another recent outcome the debit card regulation is a reduction in usage rewards. With debit cards failing to provide the cash-back and reward points that it once had, credit cards ramped up communications on rewards benefits hoping to draw consumers back. For the emerging underbanked market, prepaid cards offer the benefit of managing spending limits and keeping budgets on a clear track.

Implication for Marketers:
One cannot assume that consumers absolutely require a traditional banking relationship. Marketers must consider overarching trends in consumer attitudes and financial behaviors when targeting card-based offers. Segmentation must be more refined as it’s no longer just who has the best rewards platform, but rather who understands consumers’ needs within an evolving and fragmented marketplace.

Source: Javelin, “Credit Card Spending Declines” study, March 2009

June d.scribe feature article:

Visual Trends in Card Design

This article could have been written using just one word. Blue. There, that’s it. Blue. Now for more detail.

The sample
We reviewed the current card offerings of five major card issuers: Chase, Citi, Capital One, American Express, and Bank of America

What we looked at

This review isn’t interested in features or interest rates. We’re talking purely design and aesthetics here so we took a look at color use, graphic elements and style as well as primary and secondary branding elements.

Color: As already stated, blue is the dominant color in card design right now. This likely has to do with the fact that blue is at least a dominant accent color, if not a signature color in the palettes of each of the issuers we looked at. With all of the image hits the banking industry has taken throughout the recession it’s become even more important to emphasize brand and reinforce image. Hence, a plethora of featured cards that are heavily branded and, yep, blue. There is still an undercurrent of black cards out there but they no longer seem to dominate as they have for the past couple of years when you may have found yourself with 2 or 3 black cards in your wallet.

Graphic style: No real surprises here either. The web has had a tremendous influence on the visual landscape leading to a rampant use of reflections, beams of light and wave patterns. Cards have pretty clearly felt this influence as well. Two basic styles seem to dominate: metal reflections and sci-fi light waves.

Branding Elements: Primary (issuer logos) and secondary (card name logos) have always been an important feature of card design and this hasn’t changed that much, though prominant use of the issuer logo is now the norm. Again, this trend is likely an attempt to establish presence and elevate image post-recession.

August d.scribe feature article:

Art and Tech

In this final Creative Summer newsletter, d.trio takes a look at the way technology has changed different artistic industries in our world:

  • • Music
  • • Art
  • • Graphic Design

As we’ve moved from a paper based, bricks and mortar, face-to-face world we have gained and lost tangible and intangible things.

Technology has made music, art and graphic design more accessible. It has created additional online tools to streamline production and distribution. It has given individuals and businesses access to audiences that they would not have had the opportunity to reach. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that it’s harder to weed through the options to find quality work and harder to make a living because anyone can buy the software and start or create something of their own.


The music industry has gone through a monumental shift with the advent of file sharing and other technologies. Musicians can more easily create, master and share their music. Technology can even fill in for lack of talent, making voices and play sound better. And, music lovers now have personal music libraries with 20,000 songs or more – something unheard of 20 years ago.

From a marketing perspective, for smaller companies like d.trio, the access to inexpensive, well-produced music has been a boon. We are able to produce interesting video content with vibrant music that is relevant to the content and it doesn’t break the client’s budget. Professional musicians are also eager to produce custom content for commercial purposes.

We spoke with some professional musicians who work at the Institute of Production Recording (IPR) in Minneapolis and they agreed that it’s both easier to create music and harder to make a living at it than it was. File sharing has made music more of a commodity and in many instances, free of charge. Most professional musicians today have several jobs such as teaching, owning production facilities, or having a day job etc., in addition to playing music. Unless they can tour the country or world and fill large venues, the options for making money are limited. This may eventually limit the range of music available from truly talented musicians and push music further into highly mastered techno and pop.

But because access to music is better than ever, businesses do benefit and a local band can have fans across the world. With iTunes, everyone has immediate access to their favorite music whenever and wherever they want it. It’s a good time to be a fan.

For more on how technology has changed music, check out this link:


Whether studying art history, visiting a gallery or buying a work of art, the Internet has made art – in all media - more accessible than ever before. Dialogue is vibrant and current via blogs, social networks, video streams and website content. Museums and galleries can promote their collections and programs to the virtual visitor – unbound by geography and capacity challenges (i.e., Artcom Museum Tours).

Perhaps the largest impact on artists and art lovers has been the upsurge in online galleries, showrooms and auctions:

  • • Online Art sales in the U.S. showed an average annual growth rate of 3.4% between 2006 – 2011
  • • Revenues were $287.5 in 2011
  • • The U.S. is leading the list of countries who buy the most art online
  • • Online sales of art increased while pure brick-and-mortar dealers have experienced declined in the past five years.

Growth is expected to continue through 2016 based on consumer spending forecasts and increased access via broadband connections. Mobile apps are anticipated to provide further innovation over the next four years, if the success of Christie’s iPad app in late 2010 is any indication.

Regardless of the economy, and geography, more consumers than ever before are seeking art and trusted sources to buy art online., the Emeryville, CA online seller of art and décor items has generated more than $100 million annually over the last five years. The company began in 1998 and has served 10 million customers in 120 countries.’s mission is accessibility, according to CEO Geoffroy Martin: “The biggest opportunity is to break the barrier in people’s mind and make them realize that there is a destination online for everything about art – that there is a significant selection online that doesn’t existing offline.”’s price points are on-point – affordable. is not a competitor in the high-end market.

At the opposite end of the industry, portals such as Blacklosts, Artnet Auctions, Christies and Artprice Auctions have led the market through the reputation and influence of their backers. These online entities have been successful in attracting a non-traditional buyer, albeit via traditional techniques. According to ArtnetAG CEO Hans Neuendorf, online art buyers are often unfamiliar to galleries or auction houses, or without easy access to them. He cites Artnet’s dedication to customer service via phone specialists and other ongoing communication, as the key to their success: “This is not a hand free Internet business but is built on trust based on personal relationships with repeat customers and expertise.”

The demand for art by high-end consumers, especially non-U.S. consumers, at auction houses like Sotheby’s and Christies is projected to continue, as demand for art and luxury goods tends to remain constant, even during recessions.

Clearly, technology has turned art into an everyday experience for a new generation of art lovers.

1 IBIS World:  Online Art Sales in the U.S:  Market Research Report, Dec. 2011
2 Wall Street Journal Blogs:  Venture Capital Dispatch, , Feb. 16, 2010
3 The Future of Online Art Sales:  Q 7 A with Artnet CEO Hans Neuendorf , April 13, 2012,


How has technology changed graphic design? Skipping over the massive shift in the way the job is done that occurred in the 1980’s and 90’s brings us face to face with the reality of a world moving at the speed of light. Clients expect things faster, more people have access to the tools we use to create layouts, illustrations and interactions. Everyone can be a designer now (whether or not they know what questions to ask or things to think about in order to get the best solution for a given assignment). This proliferation of the home use of graphic manipulation software and freely available design tool knockoffs has taken some of the ‘magic’ out of what we do on a daily basis. But it has also made the basic principles of information organization and audience recognition even more important.

There are more tools than ever available to designers and more media to execute in. The designer of today must be comfortable working in and with multiple platforms and formats. All of this can be exciting and inspiring and gives designers the opportunity to do really good work, actually putting the ‘magic’ back in to what we do. We must also be ready to take more criticism than ever before from more sources. As non-designers become more comfortable with some of the tools we use and more visually sophisticated we must become educators as well as artists. It is no longer enough to hide behind the ‘artist’ label as a justification for designs we believe in. Do that and we run the risk of having every piece we do re’designed’ by committee, which is the death knell of every great idea. It is more important than ever to base our work not only in creativity but in the strategy behind what we are asked to execute and to be able to clearly articulate that strategy in defense of our solutions.

Any yet, the very factors that threaten to dilute our profession to the point of irrelevance are also creating a new appreciation for good design. To stand out from the noise businesses have more need than ever to put their brand image in the hands of professional designers to maintain brand consistency, to move their visual vocabulary across media and to push the creativity of their campaigns beyond what might have been ‘good enough’ before.

sEPTEMBER d.scribe feature articleS:

It's Back to School. For Adults

Today, 57% of all post-secondary students are either part-time students or adult learners.1

The face of higher education in the U.S. has changed forever. Adults are enrolling in higher education institutions in record numbers. Adult learners, “non-traditional students,” are the new norm.

According to Peter Stokes of Eduventures, 58% of nontraditional students are past “traditional” college age, and 40% of them are opting for two-year associate degrees vs. traditional four-year degrees.

A nontraditional student must have at least one of seven characteristics beyond age (over 22), including attending class part time rather than full time, working 35 hours a week or more and being financially independent (as defined by financial aid criteria).

They are often single parents, and are likely a woman. Think “soccer mom” and you’ll imagine the “average” adult learner: a 35-year-old white, middle-class, married mother who’s active in her community. The National Center for Education Statistics predicts women will surpass men in all degree categories.

What’s driving this race for more education? There are multiple reasons, including:

  • • The increasing availability and quality of online learning programs that offer built-in flexibility and convenience for working adults.

  • • The economy – statistics demonstrate that during recessions total college enrollment increases about 3.7 times compared to non-recessionary periods.

  • • The high cost of higher education – Many students simply need more time to pay for college and must work full time, flipping the balance of school then work from work then school. On a related note, the traditional financially dependent student has shrunk to 16 percent of the student body.

Finally, the challenge of finding a job and keeping a job today makes a degree not just optional, but necessary. In 2004, only 28 percent of working adults held a bachelor’s degree or better. In the coming decade, 63 percent of the 18.9 million new jobs will require at least a bachelor’s degree.

Three sectors will account for the majority of this job growth, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS): Educational Services, Health Care and Social Assistance and Professional and Business Services.

Online universities have met these marketplace opportunities by carefully focusing their degree offerings. As a result, online learning has risen quickly and steeply in the last decade. Eduventures estimates that in Fall 2010, 2.78 million students were enrolled in a fully online program, which presented 14% of all higher education enrollments (Silber & Condra, 2011).

Enrollment in at least one online course represented 1.6 million students in 2002, vs. 6.1 million students enrolled in Fall 2010 (representing 31% of all students enrolled in higher education). (Allen & Seaman, 2011)

Today’s recent college graduate may not be entering the workforce for the first time – they are probably already there. It is logical that more degree-holders and skilled workers will be empowered in their earnings. They will also influence domestic employment on a positive basis. Private and public colleges and universities – both traditional and online – are changing, or will change, in order to thrive and survive.

ARTICLE SOURCES:; It’s Back to School for Adult Learners: New Traditions in Higher Education

Additional Resources:
National Center for Education Statistics
Bureau of Labor Statistics (
Online College Students 2012, A Joint Project of The Learning House, Inc. and Aslanian Market Research

Back-to-school by the Numbers

The back to school shopping season has a large impact on the American economy and is particularly important to the U.S retail industry. Back-to-school shopping is second only to the Christmas shopping season and produces a significant portion of annual sales for many major retail chains.

As a consumer and/or a marketer, here are some interesting statistics to help put this into perspective:

$83.8 billion – Total anticipated spending for the 2012-2013 back-to-school shopping season, including college students and their parents.

$688 – The average cost of back-to-school shopping for K-12
$907 – The average cost of back-to-school shopping for college students

$7.7 billion – The amount spent at family clothing stores.
$2.4 billion – The amount spent at bookstores.

12% - The expected increase in total spend over last year due to increased purchases in the online channel. The most popular online retailers for back-to-school shopping are Amazon, Wal-mart Stores Inc. and

79 million – The total number of children and adults enrolled in nursery school through college in 2010. That is 27% of our entire population age 3 and older.

U.S. Census Bureau News, U.S. Department of Commerce, July 2012
National Retail Federation Annual Back-to-School Consumer Survey, 2012