living by the sword

A little over two years ago, Morton’s steakhouse pulled off a promotional stunt that generated tons of publicity by meeting a rabid Morton’s fan (who is also a social media celebrity) at the airport with a steak dinner after he tweeted he was hungry. It was talked about on social media for weeks and the story got picked up by national traditional media outlets.

This past weekend, the Morton’s in Nashville threw a cancer patient out of the restaurant for wearing a cap to cover his hair loss from chemotherapy. They are getting destroyed across all social media platforms and are in major crisis management control mode.

If you live by the sword, you’ll die by the sword.

I’ve said several times that the underlying key to social media success is simple. Invest less in the social media message and invest more in your people who are on the ground providing customer service. Customers will post both the good and the bad experiences they have. (TIP: You want the good to outnumber the bad.)

department of common sense

You would think SOMEONE at the Hungry Jack organization would have spoken up and said,
“If Step #2 of the directions say to let the product sit for 12 minutes, is it really a good idea to promote the 5 minute wording on the front of the package? I realize that legal has covered our butts with the use of the word grill on the front, but don’t you think our reputation and long term relationship with customers is worth something? If we trick them once, will they buy again?”12 minutes is not 5 minutes

15 advertising tips from David Ogilvy

David Ogilvy was brilliant and is probably spinning in his grave from the current state of advertising. Everyone in marketing or advertising should be required to read Ogilvy on Advertising. Here are 15 great quotes from him put together by the folks at Hubspot. I have nothing to add here.

Here’s the link if you can’t see the Slideshare embed above.

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.

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.

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.

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.

business connections

I don’t care for professional networkers … the glad handlers … the schmoozers.

However, I do enjoy meeting new people who have similar professional interests. And I absolutely love meeting people who are interesting.

But if our meeting feels like you’re trying to sell me something, you’re not making a connection. You’re just checking me off a list. It takes time and conversation to develop a professional relationship.

I think (most) people have gotten to the point that they can spot these people in the digital realm. You’ve been followed and then unfollowed by someone with 50,000 folllowers who is following 50,000 and has nothing but garbage tweets. You’ve been asked to connect by someone you don’t know who has 500+ LinkedIn connections.

But maybe easy digital connections have desensitized the process in real life. The professional networkers have always trolled their nets in business meetings. Watch to make sure they really want to connect or are just trying to collect business cards to hide in their secret cubby.