'You Can Observe A Lot Just By Watchin''

Yogi Berra said it best! Observation is the best way to learn, and now that there are only three days until Christmas I thought I would give you a little homework assignment. By now, I'd expect that most of you've finished your holiday shopping and are getting ready to travel to visit your loved ones.

While you get ready to pack up your laptop and play the part of the road warrior, let's put together a list of things to keep an eye out for while traveling around the country.

Traveling is one of the best times for people watching, and being a casual observer of people is one of the best ways to find valuable insights into consumer behavior that will improve your ability to pull together effective marketing efforts.

The first observation to look out for... How are people utilizing their cell phones? Cell phones are everywhere and there is no questioning that they are one of the most important technological advances of the last 20 years. The young and the old carry them wherever they go.

Watch how people use them in the street while walking around New York. Watch how they immediately power on when the plane touches down on the tarmac. Watch how they use the text messaging features to reduce the amount of time they have to actually speak.

In this context, think of how these consumers will react to the types of mobile marketing campaigns that you're planning. Think of the types of campaigns that might be effective. For example, for the road warrior who travels around, why not have CitySearch, in conjunction with Weather.com, text these users a message that shows the current temperature and forecast for the area in which they just landed and follow that up with a list of the "10 Best Things To Do" in the city where you've just arrived. This is useful and probably an acceptable use of the intrusion that a consumer may otherwise not find acceptable.

The second observation to look out for... What are the other primary "tech-toys" that these people have handy? From my observations so far this holiday season I've seen that the iPod is obviously No. 1, followed a distant second by a combination of personal DVD players, Smartphones (Treo, HP, and Samsung) and digital cameras.

These probably represent no true surprises, but what is surprising are the reactions, or lack of reactions, from the people around them. For example, my Treo used to garner interested looks and inquisitive eyes, even some questions, from the people around me who were curious as to the "toy" itself. iPods used to create a similar reaction, but now these are both commonplace items and ones that every consumer knows about, whether they currently have one or not.

When items such as these become part of the mass mind and the mainstream audience, they signal a change in the evolution of the consumer. With this becoming commonplace, it's safe to say that the everyday consumer is becoming more tech savvy. As the audience gets savvier, the opportunity to present them with something that carries a strong "wow-factor" becomes more difficult. The "wow-factor" is that intangible measure of buzz that drives the growth and adoption of truly innovative products.

This second observation brings me to my third observation to look out for... the generation gap between young and old is deteriorating before our very eyes. There was an article in The New York Times Magazine about two weeks ago that dealt with the state of children this holiday season and how they are no longer asking for toys from Santa, they are asking for iPods and game consoles.

The "toys" they are asking for are the same "toys" that their parents or their older cousins are playing with. It is not unusual for a 10-year-old to be carrying a cell phone. It is certainly not unusual for them to be carrying a game console or listening to an iPod rather than carrying a box of G.I. Joes or a Barbie.

Technology adoption among the younger demographic is high, and the technology they want is the technology that the older audience already has. Does this signal the contraction of a child's "toy-years"? Possibly. It's possible that the window of opportunity for traditional toys is decreasing, but what's interesting to me is not that toys are becoming harder to sell, but that if the younger audience is becoming savvier at an early age, what level of marketing will truly speak to them? Does a target audience of 18 to 24 need to be expanded for certain types of products to include the 13 to 17 audience that is emulating their views and technology adoption?

These are only three things to keep an eye out for, and I am sure there are many, many more. The point is that the marketer's day never truly ends. Be a student while you are out and about and learn what you can in order to apply something new to your every day.

Have a great holiday everyone.