Steve Kaplan's Blog

July 17, 2012

Watching Secret Millionaire

Filed under: Steve Kaplan — stevekaplan @ 8:24 am

My episode of Secret Millionaire aired on ABC a couple of weeks ago.  I teamed up with the 3 organization featured on the show to host a charity viewing party in Chicago.  The attendance was overwhelming and somewhere around 500 people joined us for a magical night, which raised some serious money for the organizations.

Watching the program  was pretty surreal for me.  I think that while the show missed a big part of my life in terms of the family and friends I am so lucky to have in my life, the show absolutely did capture the essence of my character, and I feel that I and my experience were represented accurately on film; something I wasn’t necessarily expecting to happen.  I had no problem relating to others, and I enjoyed my time with everyone I encountered even those that verbally abused me for being in their neighborhood and voiced their displeasure for me in no uncertain terms.  I also had no trouble living on the welfare wages for 1 week.  Fruit Loops, Mac N Cheese and SpaghettiOs are just fine with me. Or sleeping in a house that was even more dirty and gross than the tent I recently slept in during my climb of Mount Kilimanjaro.  The difficulty is in doing that long-term.  I did however have a big problem telling people that I was a millionaire.  I never use that as a descriptor and in fact, I go to great lengths to hide the fact that I am lucky enough to be financially well-off, but that was part of the deal that I signed up for, so I just took a breath and went with it.

During the week following the episode, we received over 200,000 website hits and thousands of emails, phone calls, letters and other correspondences from around the world.  Many people wrote in that they were inspired, which certainly was nice to hear, but what really moved me were the thousands of comments from people sharing their stories of how they were making a difference in the world.  I feel that my Secret Millionaire experience gained me entrance into a wonderful community filled with giving people, which reinforces my belief in humanity and confirms for me that there is real true goodness out there.

Since this show taped (about a year ago), I have been back to Kids Off the Block many times to work with Ms. Diane and some of the kids on producing an album, which is going to be distributed by Universal Music Group, and working to providing job training activities.  I also meet regularly with Judson at Bin Donated, who shares office space with me in Chicago, and teamed up with Bruce from H.O.M.E.  for some additional fundraising activities.  It might sound like I am continuing these relationships to be a good guy and to benefit them, but in actuality it’s a selfish act, because every time I leave them I feel reinvigorated.  This was another takeaway I wasn’t expecting.  Before this experience my charitable existence consisted of donating money to several organizations.  I felt good about that and I figured that I was meeting some type of obligation.  But what I didn’t anticipate was the genuine feeling of pride and happiness from seeing first hand the lives I was impacting through giving my time and skills.

The three organizations where I was volunteering couldn’t have been more different from one another.  But there was a common thread they all had in common. All of them were — DOING THE LITTLE THINGS.  So I urge every person out there to jump in a do something – anything no matter how big or small the effort and do it TODAY!  Make a difference in someone’s life, and believe me you will get more out of it than you give.

I’m excited to see where this journey will take me as I continue to push myself to make a bigger difference in the world – I urge all of you to join me. You can watch the episode here. For more information about each charity featured on the show, visit the links below.

Bin Donated

Housing Opportunities and Maintenance for the Elderly (H.O.M.E.)

Kids Off the Block


December 13, 2011

Farmers’ Markets Embracing Technology

Filed under: News — stevekaplan @ 10:57 am

When most of us think of farmers’ markets, we don’t think of “high tech” let alone technology at all.  However, over the past years, farmers ‘markets- like the rest of us- have adopted digital technologies to reach an increasingly connected consumer. And who could blame them?

It all started with email marketing campaigns, and I think a lot of us can relate to this.  Several farmers’ markets used these emails as a way to communicate with their customers what was in stock and share other important information.

Today’s farmers’ markets are utilizing digital more and more, way beyond email. Below are the three main ways farmers’ markets are utilizing digital tools to connect to their customers.

Social Media

This is probably a familiar progression to your business’ story. As a way to get the word out, facebook and other social media channels were a natural progression from your newsletters and email campaigns. That’s exactly what happened to farmers’ markets. They discovered they had a huge audience through facebook.

Winter Caplanson of Coventry Regional Farmers’ Market says: “We had a steady following before using social media, roughly 750 customers per market day. Social media allowed us to spread the word, and for our customers to pass it along, about the really exceptional market we were offering.” Then, by the end of 2006, the market was attracting over one thousand people a day.  “Social media has helped us tell our story, build a tribe and do it for free,” says Caplanson.


Farmers’ markets are also turning to mobile marketing, including QR codes and smartphone apps.  Through QR Codes, users are sent to the farmers markets’ mobile sites. QR Codes are also used on booth signage at vendors’ booths and on products’ packaging.  Many smartphone apps are launching too. “We see that consumers and food producers share a common desire to understand one another better,” says Foodtree founder Derek Shanahan. “The farmers’ market is one of the few remaining spots for people to meet the person responsible for what they’re eating; a powerful relationship for both parties.”

Online Farmers’ Markets

Because not all people can access farmers’ markets, some farmers’ markets have went online so they are accessible to all. Although many consumers value the actual experience of walking through a farmers’ market, I’m confident that saavy farmers’ markets will find a way to create a similar experience online.

As you can see, farmers’ markets have stayed relevant and evolved with the times. Although what is sold at the markets may not evoke an image of high-tech, the people behind these have remained current to keep up with their customers. Are you doing the same?

December 6, 2011

Starbucks Continues to Addict Customers

Filed under: News — stevekaplan @ 2:35 pm

I really like Starbucks.  Not just because of their lattes, but because of their business model, branding, customer-understanding, and ability to remain innovated and ahead of the game.

As if Starbucks didn’t addict consumers enough with their beverages and in-store experience, their not-even-a-year-old app that allows mobile payments have been downloaded by millions of consumers, leads me to believe that this institution clearly knows its consumer. And how to addict its customer.

According to Mashable, in less than a year, this app has “hosted 26 million such transactions on iOS, BlackBerry and Android, according to the chain. One in four Starbucks card transactions is now executed via a Starbucks card and a portion of those are done through mobile.”

One in four transactions are done by a Starbucks card. That stat alone is staggering. Think about it. How many cards do you get offered and kindly reject? Is it the loyalty perks that drives people to buy cards? No, I don’t think so. Their loyalty program doesn’t offer such robust rewards. Yet- still- one in four transactions are done by a card.

This company knows its consumer, what it wants, and how to sell to it.

After nine weeks of its release, the app received 3 million transactions. Now, in the past nine weeks, there have been 6 million. According to the SVP and General Manager of Starbucks, Adam Brotman, New York, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and San Jose, California, are the top cities by volume for mobile purchases.  Also, 91% of those who downloaded the app actually use it.

Apparently,  $110 million has been reloaded to customers’ Starbucks cards via mobile. $2.4 billion was loaded onto Starbucks cards overall in 2011.

“It’s a faster, easier way to pay,” Bortman said about mobile payments. “We not only developed the feature, but we also rolled out scanners in our locations.”

Starbucks knows their customers, how to convenience their customers, and how to conveniently profit from it all. Big time.

How are you making it easier for your customers to pay you?

November 28, 2011

Black Friday, Cyber Monday, Smart Shoppers, and Smarter Companies

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 1:41 pm

Today- on what the retail industry calls “Cyber Monday”- I came across this article from Forbes. Due to Black Friday success, many retailers lifted retail stocks today to “extend the promotional environment to direct-to-consumer sales online.” For many companies- especially big, smart companies- this has become a tradition. And a tactical one. Just because most of the world goes back to work on Monday and can’t spend their mornings in line fighting over merchandise, it doesn’t mean people can’t spend big money- on big deals- online.  So the online space needs to cater to that with calculated discounts and robust campaigns to let their consumers know about them. And this year it worked really well.

Unsurprising, according to comScore, Apple was the 5th most-visited online retail store on Black Friday, behind Amazon, Walmart, Best Buy and Target.

One reason Apple probably succeeded so much this year is because this Black Friday was particularly aggressive when it comes to online shopping. According to a report from comScore, Black Friday saw $816 million in online sales, a 26-percent increase over last year. IBM’s data suggests a similar surge, with Black Friday online sales rising 24.3% compared to last year.

In today’s world where most companies already offer online shopping with strong email campaigns to let consumers know about promotions and deals, it only makes sense that the online component will boom on the days of the year that are already branded as the biggest “Deal-Days” of the year.  As a consumer and a business owner, it’s really about using these days as smartly as possible.

What do you think of Black Friday and Cyber Monday?

November 16, 2011

What’s in a Name?

Filed under: Steve Insight — stevekaplan @ 3:22 pm

A lot.

We’re all familiar with company name changes. No matter the size, the industry… this happens often. In 2007, publishing giant Warner Nooks changed its name to Grand Central Publishing. In 1991, Kentucky Fried Chicken changed its name to KFC in an attempt to divert attention away from the “fried.” Who could forget about when AT&T got rid of Cingular? A lot of people. That name-change transitioned gracefully.

The fact of the matter is, there is always a reason why company changes its name, and it always has to do with branding. However- it is a gamble. Sometimes it works and sometimes it doesn’t.

Often times, consumers are attached to the original name, and can’t seem to let it go.

This month, after a short-lived rebranding to “,” announced that it would once again be known as

The company’s experiment started in July, and quickly ended this month.  “We have been listening to our customers and have learned that they we’ve moved too quickly in the transition,” Jonathan Johnson, Overstock’s president, tells Mashable. One of the reasons?

Customers continued to call the company “” even after the transition.  They were already attached to the brand name the company had already created.

Overstock isn’t the only company who saw that consumers got attached to their devoted names. When Netflix renamed their DVD service to Owikster, it quickly changed the name back after a mere few weeks due to the consumers’ response. Pizza Hut and Radio Shack tried to rebrand their names into abbreviated “The Hut” and “The Shack.” They too learned an important lesson about branding when their consumers’ reactions caused them to change back to their original names.

But it’s not just the attachment to the name that made this re-branding flop. Although the company aired an aggressive run of TV commercials that explained, “ is now,” consumers were confused.

And while attachment is a huge problem with rebranding a company name, consumer confusion is just as troubling.

An abundance of customers went to “” instead of  This rebranding a.k.a confusion contributed to a major decline in revenues. “We were going too fast and people were confused, which told us we didn’t do a good job,” Overstock president Jonathan Johnson told Ad Age. will still use the one letter domain so consumers to use the shortened name as a short cut to reach its website.

What do you think of this name change mistake?



November 1, 2011

Marketing to Millenials

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 12:40 pm

Attention small business owners:

I came across this article today, and I think it raises some great points. Check it out.

A few takeaways to get you thinking:

  • “Technology hasn’t just changed how Millennials access information, it’s actually changed the way they think. ‘Technology has altered cognitive functioning for everybody, but nobody more so than youth,” said Kit Yarrow, a business professor and chair of the psychology department at Golden Gate University and author of Gen BuY(Jossey-Bass, 2009). “Our brains are forming when we’re young, and because they’re so immersed in technology, their brains are literally different than other people’s.'”
  • “Millenials have shorter attention spans, are better at multitasking, and get bored more easily.”
  • “Constantly keeping in touch with each other via text messages, Twitter, and Facebook has made Millennials feel more powerful, Yarrow added. ‘They know they can get people to support a brand they love, and they know they can really damage a retailer they hate,’ Yarrow said. ‘All this is relevant to marketers.'”
  • “‘More than 85 percent of Millennials link commitment to a cause to their purchasing decisions and their willingness to recommend a company’s brand to others,” Winograd said.
  • “Millennials are likely to switch brands of equal price and quality if one is tied to a good cause.”
  • “Yarrow said Millennials have been more thoroughly doted upon by their parents than any generation in history. So perhaps it’s no coincidence that Matthews describes them as uncompromisingly demanding when it comes to products and services. ‘They have very high expectations, possibly unrealistic expectations,’ he said.”
  • “‘They’re turning marketing efforts upside down because they’ve created two-way marketing,’ Wells said. “It’s no longer just companies putting out a message.”

According to, here are 5 things that work for millenial marketing. I agree.

1. Use innovative technology in effective ways. Matthews points to a Nucleus campaign that used interactive videos to support the launch of a new luxury hotel in London. The technology, from Los Angeles-based ClikThrough, allows companies to tag videos so viewers can get more information by clicking or hovering over objects and places in the video.

“Using this ClikThrough video, we were able to not just show the location, but show what you could do within five minutes of the hotel on foot,” Matthews said. “Every restaurant, every shop is actually tagged within the video so you can hover over the video and get more information.”

2. Be interactive. That means more than letting users click on videos. It means listening to customers and involving them in everything from product design to marketing. It’s especially effective in building recommendation generators that turn consumers into marketers so companies don’t have to churn out one-way messages. Yarrow points to a Kleenex promotion that allowed consumers to go to a website and Facebook page to request a free sample of tissue to be delivered to someone else. “That’s brilliant,” she said.

3. Move fast and hit hard. Millennials want their information now and their products just as soon, and they want to be intensely entertained and engaged. One way to grab attention and create an impression of speed and urgency, Yarrow said, is to promote limited-time offers, such as discount coupons that must be redeemed that day.

4. Find and engage influencers. Even the smallest company can recruit Millennial ambassadors, Wells said. “If you’re a pizza place, figure out who’s important in the community and give them free coupons to bring in their friends,” she said. “It doesn’t have to be a huge, over-the-top campaign. And it’s never been easier or cheaper to do than now.”

5. Make cause-related marketing mean something. Millennials are unimpressed with superficial support of causes, Winograd said. They want commitment to the cause to permeate your entire company. One good example is TOMS Shoes, a 5-year-old Santa Monica, Calif., company that has sold more than a million pairs of shoes on the premise that for every pair a customer buys, it will donate a pair to a child in need.

October 12, 2011

The Most Recognizable CEO

Filed under: Steve Insight — stevekaplan @ 9:54 am

Regardless if you’re an Apple fan or not, no one can deny that Steve Jobs has majorly changed the world we live in today. I am blown away by his impact.  A visionary who refused to “go with the flow,” Jobs is associated with many things, including the iMac, iTunes, iPod, iPhone and the iPad.

However- while it is his products that make him so brilliant, it is his black turtleneck that makes him one of the world’s most identifiable CEO.

And just the other day, in a report from Gawker about Walter Issacson’s upcoming biography on Jobs, I learned the origin of what some say makes Jobs a fashion visionary as well:

“On a trip to Japan in the early 1980s, Jobs asked Sony’s chairman Akio Morita why everyone in the company’s factories wore uniforms. He told Jobs that after the war, no one had any clothes, and companies like Sony had to give their workers something to wear each day. Over the years, the uniforms developed their own signatures styles, especially at companies such as Sony, and it became a way of bonding workers to the company. “I decided that I wanted that type of bonding for Apple,” Jobs recalled.

Sony, with its appreciation for style, had gotten the famous designer Issey Miyake to create its uniform. It was a jacket made of rip-stop nylon with sleeves that could unzip to make it a vest. So Jobs called Issey Miyake and asked him to design a vest for Apple, Jobs recalled, “I came back with some samples and told everyone it would great if we would all wear these vests. Oh man, did I get booed off the stage. Everybody hated the idea.”

In the process, however, he became friends with Miyake and would visit him regularly. He also came to like the idea of having a uniform for himself, both because of its daily convenience (the rationale he claimed) and its ability to convey a signature style. “So I asked Issey to make me some of his black turtlenecks that I liked, and he made me like a hundred of them.” Jobs noticed my surprise when he told this story, so he showed them stacked up in the closet. “That’s what I wear,” he said. “I have enough to last for the rest of my life.”

This excerpt jumped out at me, and I started thinking of the concept of a uniform- especially from a business standpoint. Plenty of employees wear uniforms, but not so commonly in a corporate setting.

What do you think uniforms could do for your business? For your brand? For you and your colleagues collectively?

September 16, 2011

Filed under: Assessment — stevekaplan @ 1:10 pm

Congratulations to Target for their countless Sales, Marketing and PR wins that were all a result of their made-for-Target line of the high-end fashion brand Missoni.

missoni for target

Courtesy of

A lot of good stuff happened at Target the past few weeks.

It all started when the TV commercials, print ads (the spread in Vogue stands out) and the company’s website heavily promoted the fact that the expensive brand would exclusively be available at Target. The message was loud and clear. Get it fast.

And the public understood the message. Two hours prior to Target stores’ opening, fashionistas and those excited by the opportunity to get a normally- $800 sweater for $49.99, were offered the chance to shop the collection at

And they all did. Bright and early.

By 11:00 am, shelves were empty, racks were bare, and was crashed with a message saying “Woof” and apologizing for the temporary crash. Online shoppers who lost their orders were angry, store shoppers who arrived at Target bright and early (7 A.M. openings), but left empty-handed were disappointed, users who tried to visit the site but could not were frustrated. To most retailers this would be a tremendous lose.

But not for Target. They won even more than they probably planned. But that’s debatable too. What occurred on Monday is almost too genius for it not to be planned.   And come on, an expert retailer like Target had to have anticipated such traffic and in-store excitement.

Target’s model of offering luxury brands for affordable prices works. It works really, really well. They’ve successfully sold high-end brands such as Shabby Chic and Tucker to the masses, and delighted and pleased their consumers… and the numbers show. But the Missoni campaign stands out.

First, as mentioned above, they generated buzz by offering a product with limited access and supply. Shoppers were frantically hitting the site, running to stores, and more importantly, talking about it. The site crashed, the shelves cleared, and as a result it was publicly visible that there

What did you learn from Target’s launch of Missoni?

August 2, 2011

What makes you so special?

Filed under: Tips — stevekaplan @ 10:31 am

Throughout my career, I’ve always strived to find out exactly why people purchased or rejected my products and services. I’ve learned a lot.  I recognize that sometimes I made a sale because the buyer felt there was little risk. At other times, it was because my product seemed innovative and different from those offered by our competitors. Sometimes it was because the buyer liked the salesperson. Whatever the reason, I always tried to have my sales force tailor its presentations to fit my understanding of what my potential customers were looking for.

Your task now is to help your customers come to this value conclusion by creating one or more unique selling Propositions (USPs).  Then, through branding, you can communicate the value to your customers in order to entice them to buy your product. USPs and branding give your sales force ways to objectify and quantify value. There are no better sales tools available.

What’s a USP?

The unique selling proposition is the quality that makes your product or service rise above the rest. It can be something tangible- higher-quality ingredients, lower pricing, overnight delivery- or an abstraction, like a promise to make your life more fulfilling or your face younger-looking.

The perception of your USP is your reality. That’s right- the way it’s perceived is the reality. What matters is that your USP motivates customers to put their hands in their wallets by appealing deeply, even unconsciously, to one or more of their needs.  It is likely that within your products or services you need in order to develop and communicate effective USPs.  What you have to do is uncover these hidden USPs, package them, and use branding to present them to the prospect. The more creatively you can do  this, the better your chances of making the sale and growing your business. USPs are all around you.

For example:

Nike’s USP is inner strength and motivation. How does Nike use their USP? “Just do it.” Burget King’s USP is customer choice, and it’s presented as “Have it your way.”

What company’s USP do you find impacttful?

Tune in for five reasons to create a USP.

June 27, 2011

Four Categories of Customer

Filed under: Steve Insight — stevekaplan @ 9:21 am

Once you know what your customers are buying and why, you can generalize by putting customers into the four basic categories of need.

1. Quality Seekers

Quality Seekers buy only when the find what they consider the best product out there. Price is secondary.  They are savvy customers who comparison shop and research at length before they reach for their credit card. They want to know details about performance and materials- whatever makes your product or service the best.

Needs: The Quality Seeker wants to feel special- that she is getting the very best.

Buzzwords: performance, materials

What she’s thinking:

  • In a specialty store: What ingredients are used:
  • In an executive search firm: How do they screen applicants?
  • In a marketing company: What’s their bottom- line result?
  • With an online retailer: Which brand names are sold?

2. Service Seekers

Service Seekers need to feel you care about them, will do things for them, and won’t forget them after they buy. Warranties, guarantees, and service are the music to their ears. They want to know that any problem will be addressed right away.
Needs: The Service Seeker wants to be taken care of abd acknowedlged as significant.
Buzzwords: Convenience, customer service, warranties and returns
What he’s thinking:
  • In a specialty store: Can I find what I need and pay for it without standing in line? Do they deliver?
  • At an executive search firm: What’s my guarantee on candidates who are placed with us? What happens if they leave? Are they replaced?
  • In a marketing company:Who will manage my account? Will she be open to my requests?
  • At the dentist: Can I get a convenient appointment? Does the dentist run on schedule?
  • With an online retailer: Is buying easy and painless? Can I return things I don’t like? Is there online customer support?
3. Price Seekers
Price Seekers want to get the lowest price, even though they may be able to afford better quality and higher prices. The deal is what excites them. Businesses that guarantee to beat any competitor’s price warm their hearts.  For them, paying less than the next guy is a matter of pride.
Needs: The Price Seeker wants to feel she is a shrewd customer.
Buzzwords: Lowest price, sale, discount
What she’s thinking: 
  • In a specialty food store: If I buy two items, will I get the third for half off? Could I get the same item for less at a grocery store? Is there free gift-wrapping? Free delivery?
  • At an executive search firm: If I find my own candidate, will the firm lower its rates?
  • In a marketing company: Will the company reduce my rates if it fails to attract more customers?
  • At the dentist: How much will insurance pay? Are follow-up visits included int he price?
  • With an online retailer: Does it offer online promotions and discounts? Is buying online cheaper than buying offline? Will I get a coupon for answering an online survey?
4. Satisfaction Seekers
Satisfaction Seekers are motivated by status, security, and the approval of others. These cosnumers are influenced strongly by the following factors:
The cool factor. The customer buys a product, because it makes him feel part of the crowd. This is a powerful dynamic in the teen market, but adults fall prey to it as well- buying a particular brand of stroller for one’s child, using a specific landscaping company, choosing where to go on vacation, or even buying a certain brand of beer, because the right crowd drinks it.
The safety factor. The customer buys a product, because he believes it will protect him or someone he cares about. Think of the Michelin tire slogan: “There’s a lot of riding on your tires. The safety-conscious family consumer is this company’s target.
The job security factor. This factor emerges primarily when businesses buy products from other businesses. Corporate managers and executives tend to be wary of purchasing an unconventional product that may come back to haunt them. I often saw this fear in my marketing customers; potential clients accustomed to traditional programs like coupons were afraid they stood a greater chance of being penalized or even fired if my product didn’t work.
Needs: The Satisfaction Seeker wants to feel safe and enjoy a sense of belonging.
Buzzwords: Security, status, everyone has one
What he’s thinking:
  • In a specialty food store: If I walk around with bags from this store, will people think I buy only the best?
  • At an executive search firm: Should i use this firm even though my boss uses a different one?
  • In a marketing company: If I buy this new service, will I be putting myself at risk with my bosses if it doesn’t work out?
  • With an online retailer: Does the site make me feel i’m joining the pioneers in the online world by embracing the latest technology?
Once you understand how your customers perceive value, you’ve laid the foundation for developing the unique selling proposition and communicating it to the world.
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