what customers think of your marketing and social media strategy

I enjoy reading James Lileks daily for several reasons. Foremost, he’s clever. He has the knowledge and sensibility of looking back at the past while living in the present and embracing the future. (Sounds complicated, but read him and it makes sense.)

I am always impressed at the constant churn of content that he is able to produce daily. I couldn’t do it. (as evidenced by this blog) He does go off into some areas that I could care less about. His meticulous OCD shopping, eating, and household habits are disturbing at times. He refuses to use a real CMS and hand codes too much. But it’s his corner of cyberspace so go at it.

What I want to bring to your attention in today’s Bleat, he provides a somber reminder to all the marketing peons working hard to try engaging the consumer on a social blah, blah, blah…

But there’s the constant, omnipresent suggestion that I need to log on to a website and tell them how their bread was. I bought some bread today, and of course the seven-inch receipt had a CODE and an URL and a CONTEST and a begging plea to tell them how they did. Based on my recent Topper Scares remarks, you might think I relish every opportunity to tell them just what I think, but no: it’s rare. I bought a fargin’ baguette. That’s it. There’s nothing more to be said. The counter-help was helpful. The bread was bready. The coffee was okay. What can you do to make my next purchase of coffee and bread better? A Dixieland quartet that plays 12 bars of energetic jazz while I sign my name on the receipt, but only 12, because I tire of Dixieland quite easily.

What’s more, dear bread company: I will not like you on Facebook. It is a meaningless act, an empty gesture, and I could not care less if it means I miss out on upcoming deals and events – why, if I find myself in your store unable to get ten percent off a purchase of a dozen bagels during BagelFest ’12 I can live with the sorrow. I will not follow you on Twitter because you have nothing to say. I will not check in on Foursquare because no one cares if I am the deputy sub-commissioner for a place that wants everyone to experience Salad Summer with new sesame-chicken stripes and pita strips. Burger King does this as well, and I remember looking at receipts that told me I’d get a code for a free hamburger if I just filled out the got-damned survey, and even then I thought “no” because A) I would lose the code, B) it would be an exercise in futility, because my complaints would be things like “staff consists of the kind of people who treat customers with rote contempt but then get all oh-no-you-did-nt when they get the same attitude when they’re a customer, and C) really? I tell you that the food was like eating a wad of woodchips soaked in beef bouillon, and this is a surprise to you?

At least the clerk didn’t circle the code with a red marker, which is humiliating for everyone. Her, because she has to do it. Me, because I have to pretend that I might just call it up.

James Lileks

I say this quite a bit when I do consulting and speaking to non-profits, but it’s true for all businesses and organizations: Apathy is marketing’s biggest enemy.

Defeat it and you win. And contrary to what you might think, the way to defeat apathy is NOT always to bring everyone to your way of thinking. Sometimes the way to win the apathy battle is to make the realization that not everyone is interested in your wares. Stop bothering them.

UPDATE: Lileks broke down and took the survey. Useful to look at if you’re interested in how dumb your customer service surveys are designed. My assumption that it was a Panera was right.

jc penney failure

jc penney logoI’m typically not one to root for something to fail, but I will make exceptions.

Ever since the “rebranding” of JC Penney JCP back in February, I’ve boycotted the store and waited for the day that their marketing stupidity would result in marketing failure. That day was yesterday.

From the super annoying teaser spots back in January (Nooooooo!) to the vapid campaign that was heavy on style but lacking any substantive advertising strategy, the whole endeavor by JC Penney to abandon their heritage was sad.

The advertising campaign bothered me the most. Newspaper inserts were wasted empty brand building pieces sitting next to other stores’ inserts chock full of merchandise. JCP featured no products. The campaign delivered no message. JCP waded right into the culture wars with a spokesperson who many people find objectionable. The media placement and scheduling was infuriating to viewers. The creative was not original. It was like watching an advertising student recreate an ad from The GAP or Old Navy as a class project.

(Lack of substance is an issue with alot of advertising today. More ad people need to read this book.)

But advertising is temporal. If a campaign doesn’t work, you can shove it under the rug and start fresh with the next one. JC Penney’s bigger problem is they have irreparably damaged their two most valuable assets: their customer base and their brand.

They may not be sexy, but the 35-65 female demo buys most things in department stores. They have disposable income. They purchase clothes and other items for the kids and the rest of the family. This type of base customer was the loyal customer base of JC Penney. And JCP left them to chase after a younger woman.

The JC Penney brand was not broken, but did need an update and adjustment. Like so many companies instead of brand adjustments, they threw the baby out with the bathwater. Rebranding is rarely the answer. You only need to rebrand if the brand is damaged. (Phillip Morris, BP, etc)

Marketing execs need to learn that rebranding is like paying the mortgage on a house for 30 years then abandoning the house because you’re tired of the wallpaper and paint. The key to successfully moving the perception of a brand is to take the positive brand equity with you instead of abandoning it.

JC Penney faced an impossible task. You can’t change a 110-year-old brand in a few months. Maybe they began with good intentions. Moving away from constant sales, coupons, and promotions was a good idea, but they over reached by trying to reinvent language. People know what a “sale” is, but a normal person doesn’t understand what “month-long value” is. And who knew a “Best Price Friday” happens on Saturday and Sunday as well? In general, JCP should have been more delicate with the brand work.

So now what? JC Penney is caught between the dock and the boat. They’re going to have to decide whether to build on what they have or keep trying to reinvent. What would you do?

By the way, if any company is thinking of hiring someone to come in and destroy their brand in 9 months for $15 million, I’ll do it in 5 months for only $7 million!

(UPDATE: April 2013 – JCP has ousted the architect of failure and reinstalled the former head honcho. We’ll see if it’s too late to save the brand.)

(UPDATE: May 2013 – I’ve written a new post complete with the JC Penney mea culpa commercial.)

crowd sourcing is the new marketing by committee

One of my most popular blog posts is my riff on “marketing by committee” which I wrote just a few months after I started this blog in 2005. I revisited the concept in relation to social media about two years ago.

While marketing by committee is still a problem, its marketing treachery has been usurped by marketing by crowd sourcing.

Eric Felton writes an excellent article on the limitations of crowd sourcing in the Wall Street Journal where he compares efforts to “crowd curate” to a Mongolian barbecue where the diner who has less knowledge than a competent chef gets to put the meal together. (If you can’t get past the WSJ paywall, Tim Manners’ Reveries has a synopsis of the article.)

Today’s bandwagon dictates that consumers should be in charge of your marketing. No. You should be in charge of your marketing.

You should LISTEN to your consumers and have the two-way conversations so you know what they want and so they can express their concerns, thoughts, etc. But you should be driving the bus, not the passengers. They may take you someplace you don’t need to be that could be your ruin.

While everyone talks about the wisdom of crowds and the benefits of crowd sourcing, they conveniently tend to forget that the crowd can also be an unruly mob or the lemmings running off the cliff.