the popcorn button

Nearly every microwave you see has a “popcorn button”.

Nearly every package of microwave popcorn has a warning, “DO NOT USE THE POPCORN BUTTON”.

It’s an impasse.

popcorn buttonThe microwave has a sensor that monitors the moisture and other factors inside the microwave to tell it to shutdown when it senses that the popcorn is done. Meanwhile, the popcorn manufacturers don’t want you to rely on that automation and want you to use your own ears to monitor when the popping slows.

It seems both parties are trying to give you a decent serving of popcorn. (Actually if you want good popcorn, you use something like this.)

I’m sure both parties think they’re serving their customer. In reality, they are each looking out for their own interests and seeing the process from their own worldview. In the process, they’re confusing the real end user of both products.

Seth Godin had a great insight in Purple Cow about an innovation in paint cans from Dutch Boy … “People don’t buy paint, they buy painted walls.

And in this case, people don’t buy popcorn bags and microwaves. They buy corn that has been popped.

Are you looking at your business from your own perspective? Are you battling with an external force that has influence on the final marketing outcome? Instead of an impasse that the end user finds confusing or ridiculous, why not change something? Stalemates get stale.

best of 2012

Another year has come and gone. As I do every year … [2005] [2006] [2007] [2008] [2009] [2010] [2011] … I present what were the biggest hits of 2012 on the blog for you to revisit if you’re a regular or discover if you are a new reader:

  • For raw numbers of traffic / visitors, it seems appropriate that AAA Marketing ranked first.
  • My recent diatribe on evolving holiday traditions also did well according to the reliable folks at Google Analytics.
  • One of my favorite posts from the past year dealt with the one essential rule for planning a great event.
  • I hate strongly dislike JC Penney. They continue to fail further since I wrote that post in June.
  • Kotex and social media are like peas and carrots.
  • Probably one of the best things I’ve ever written deals with brand leadership. Great brands are built by people.

I’ve been meaning to write a short post about this, but here’s a good a place as any… For the past seven years, I have tried to maintain a laser focus on this blog. I tried to just write about marketing topics with very little tangent material. Frankly, I’ve beat most of the traditional marketing stuff to death and the world doesn’t need more blog posts on how to do social media. In the past few months, there’s been a slight shift in the focus of this blog. That shift will continue and may grow in the future. There will still be the old media, marketing, branding, etc posts, but there will also be some other stuff too.

As always, thanks for reading this stuff, no matter what I output. I truly thank you for being a reader of the Shotgun Marketing Blog my blog. I hope to continue to provide you with useful and entertaining content in 2013. Don’t miss any of upcoming posts by either subscribing to the RSS feed (through a reader or by email) or following me on Twitter or on Facebook.

shutdown

I can tell there’s been a new training program shift for B2B cold call telemarketers. They’re now all asking the same self-deflating question to me.

TYPICAL CALL

ME: Hello.

TM: Are you the person in the business responsible for buying snow blowers?! I’m selling snow blowers  Your business needs one now! (plus 30-45 seconds more of non-paused script which, frankly, I don’t have the energy to re-create here in this fictional exchange.)

ME: We’re not interested, thanks.

TM: Can I ask why not?

ME: It doesn’t snow here.

TM: Oh.

The sales seminar down at the airport Marriott would advise you to ask questions to overcome objections which I assume is where this question is coming from.

But the reality is that, in sales, you should never allow the opportunity to paint yourself into a corner. The same advice applies if you are an actual floor painter.

(Full disclosure: It actually does snow here.)

tainted

I’m seeing it happen more and more.

As the cashier hands me a receipt, she draws a circle on it and says, “Please visit this link and take the online survey about your experience. Please make sure to give me all 5s.”

I was staying in a hotel in Cincinnati the other night (in the “quiet zone”). On the desk in the room, there was a high quality printed piece that had instructions on how to complete the e-mail survey I would receive from the corporate parent of the hotel. The manager had written on these instructions to “give the hotel all 10s or your response won’t count”.

And I could go on with real-life examples as I’m sure you could as well.

This is either dumb or crooked or both.

Why even conduct the customer response if you or your employees are tainting the results? Customer surveys are shaky enough without meddling interference.

If you’re doing it to avoid hearing bad feedback, then grow a thicker skin before you run yourself out of business.

If your employees are scared of how you treat them because of surveys, try having them improve actual customer service instead of numbers on a spreadsheet.

By the way, these attempts to influence the election could backfire.

united loses daughters

Forget guitars. Dave Carroll should write a song called United loses 10-year-old girls. Apparently, United didn’t learn anything from the United Breaks Guitars fiasco.

While that story is deeply disturbing, Peter Shankman makes a good point. Your employees have to care to provide decent (or even minimally acceptable) customer service:

Customer service has to start at caring. No matter what employee of the company is approached first, that employee has to be trained to care. Because if the first person doesn’t care, the company doesn’t care.

How do you train someone to care? How do you instill empathy on the assembly line? I don’t think you can. It has to be central in the company culture and you have to beware of it in the hiring process. United and the other airlines will never have it.

the people at your event have to pee

I will be moderating a panel discussion later in the month about “creating great events” which has prompted me to think about what’s essential in creating and marketing an event.

Events have the ability to build awareness and create personal connections that other marketing tactics can’t match. But even with their power, you know there are lots of bad events to attend. And you’ve probably attended ones that didn’t pass marketing muster. In fact, many times most conferences and meetings are a complete waste of time/money/resources for both organizers and attendees.

I think for all that can be said about event planning, a great event comes down to one simple rule: Primal first, enlightenment second.

You have to make sure the basic needs of your attendees are catered to before the awe-inspiring stuff. It goes back to our old friend, Maslow’s hierarchy of needs that I based much of Brand Zeitgeist on.

You’d think the key to event planning would be to focus on the big bang sublime stuff. But those first three levels of basic 1) physiological, 2) safety, and 3) group needs are in line before the transcendent self-actualization growth occurs. It’s only in the two top levels of the hierarchy that people can learn and grow. You delight and awe in the basic stuff before you hit the other levels to wow the audience. The trouble is that most event planners see the bottom three levels as “just logistics and details” that have to be taken care of.

In simple terms what this means is, that on a fundamental level, your event attendees are more concerned about the rubbery chicken they’re eating and their need to pee …  than the $50,000 speaker you paid for them to listen to. Looking at event planning in that frame of mind could help you to focus on the mundane as a way to delight attendees.

signs 101

People and many businesses don’t know how to put a sign by the road.

This seems like a very basic skill to me. But now as more temporary event signage for summer events is put up and the political sign season beginning, I’m seeing many dumb placement of these signs. And it’s not just cheap banners and yard signs, there’s lots of permanent signage that is incorrectly oriented.

The basic problem is that some people feel the need to place the sign where they can see it from inside the business. This is a derivative of the major marketing sin many people commit which is “if I can’t see my marketing, then it doesn’t exist”. In signage, you need to appeal to the “traveling down the street” demographic, not the “inside the building” demographic.

These people place their signs parallel to the road so that someone travelling down the road would have to turn their head 90 degrees at the exact correct moment in order to read the sign.

The correct placement of most signage is perpendicular to the road so that people can read it for a longer time.

I have created an infographic below to help you see the error of your ways. Which placement is more readable?

how to put a sign by the road

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.

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.

AAA Marketing

Back in the day, small biz owners thought they were über-clever when they named their buisness something like ‘AA Plumbers’.

It was a telephone strategy so that they would appear first in the Yellow Pages or other directory listings.

Flash forward to today and see what the market thinks about Yellow Pages. They make YouTube videos mocking the wasted marketing dollars.

While it’s easy to tsk-tsk thousands of businesses whose names start with AAAAAAAAA, pause and make sure you’re not doing the same thing. Are you writing web copy solely for SEO and not people? Are you clamouring for Facebook likes? Are you spamming inboxes with irrelevant messages?

There’s a difference between marketing tactics, marketing strategy, and marketing philosophy. Don’t get them mixed up.

Things change. Your success today doesn’t necessarily mean you’ve built a long term brand. Remember these words from the movie ‘Patton‘,

A slave stood behind the conqueror, holding a golden crown, and whispering in his ear a warning: that all glory is fleeting.

Don’t make ‘core DNA’ business decisions based on today’s business fad. You’ll eventually regret it.