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.

barbers don’t cut their own hair

A quick follow up thought to my post last week about a PR firm’s debacle

  • Barbers don’t cut their own hair.
  • The cobbler’s children have no shoes.
  • A lawyer who represents himself has a fool for a client.
  • And marketers do a poor job of marketing themselves. In fact, they stink at it.

Your ad, PR, or marketing firm should develop a reciprocal agreement with another similar sized shop that is not a local competitor.

The immediate gain could be a mutual sounding board and critic of current client outreach programs. Each PR firm, ad agency, or marketing shop could even create self-promotional content for the other one. This content would be fresh and exciting even for employees since they wouldn’t have gotten tired of it when they created it. It’s like having someone else make a sandwich for you. It’s better.

But the real reason you should create this reciprocal agreement today is for your impending disaster.

A smart marketer would never suggest that a client handle their own crisis communication. But marketers are more than willing to dig deeper holes for themselves.

Set up an agreement and plan that lets the other agency take over your corporate communications when you hit the panic button. Maybe even hold a social media fire drill.

Your crisis partner will have an objective view because when the crisis hits you won’t be able to see the forest for the trees.

insurgents in your organization

Late last week, Alex Bogusky was elevated from CD of Crispin Porter + Bogusky to “Chief Creative Insurgent” of the ad agency’s parent company MDC Partners.

Hmmm.

Since, by definition, an insurgent is a rebel who revolts against authority or acts contrary to the policies of their organization, Bogusky has his work cut out for him. He’s fighting against “The Man” while simultaneously being “The Man“. That’s tough work.

While I typically despise jargon-ish job titles that have no meaning, the big idea behind this insurgent idea is right on target.

Every organization should have an “insurgent” that provides a contrarian point-of-view for the group. There needs to be someone to stand up and challenge the “that’s the way we’ve always done it” mantra.

The trouble is that most businesses quickly get rid of…or chase off their insurgents. There’s less chaos in the organization when everyone colors inside the lines. There’s also less opportunity for new growth and the ability to react / evolve to a world and market that’s changing faster everyday.

And insurgents have a rough life. They’re usually hated by fellow members and leaders of the group.

Maybe this CP+B move is smart. Maybe having “The Man” be the insurgent is the answer. If anyone can pull it off, Bogusky can.

your company’s looming social media disaster

Think about if you’ve met any of these cutting edge people…

  • Remember when the Macarena came out? You probably danced it at some public gathering for the few weeks it was popular. Then it went away. And then a few months later, you were at a gathering and a person played the song and thought they were on the hip cutting edge.
  • Someone in your organization just discovered the concept of viral video.
  • Has someone in the last year or so asked you if you were gettin’ jiggy with it?
  • You get chain emails from them that were debunked on snopes.com years ago.

You’ve met these people, right?
These people are currently signing up for Facebook and Twitter accounts.

We’re over the adoption curve hump of Facebook and we’re steadily climbing it for Twitter which means people who aren’t necessarily online competent are now using online tools.

I’m sure you have at least one friend (probably more) on Facebook that you’re embarrassed FOR them because they post inappropriate things, spam you with requests, don’t realize that their friends can see their conversations/posts, etc. They’re new to the space, and still learning the ropes until they find out the proper etiquette.

For as much as the online world is an open-source / free-wheeling / anything-goes community, we all know there are rules…many of them unwritten ones. The community generally supports, instructs, or ignores individual newcomers when these “rules” are broken. (ALL CAPS, spam, chain emails, etc)

But that only goes for individuals. When a company / organization steps out into the water, it’s expected that they know how to swim. And that same supporting community for individuals becomes a lynch mob for corporate entities who make even minor mistakes. You’ve seen it happen.

And just as there are individuals who are laggards to the social media party, there are now companies who see the train passing by and figure they better get on — even if they don’t know what they are doing.

I am not saying that there is a “right way” to do social media. As I once tweeted

how to spot a true “social media expert” — google their name and the phrase “NO, YOU’RE DOING IT WRONG!!!

But if your employees are venturing out onto social networks and are carrying the mantle of your organization, they need to at least understand the basics of social media and somewhat be cognizant of the “online rules”. Anything else is just asking for a disaster.

Many companies don’t see this looming disaster because they just see small numbers of customers engaging in social media with the organization and don’t understand the deep implications of making a mistake there. Remember this: Your email list, facebook fans, twitter followers, etc are some of your most important customers. These are the people who have stood up and said I WANT to engage with your company. They are the 20% of the 80/20 rule.

Why are you leaving this important group with the interns or inexperienced employees who have no idea how to talk to them?

muscle shoals has got the swampers

Back in my radio career, in addition to managing operations for the stations in the group, I also held down several airshifts as a “radio personality”.

DJs get sick of songs way before you do. On the CHR formatted station, I played the same 9 current pop hits every 2 hours and 15 minutes until my ears bled. And while the burnout on songs on the classic rock, oldies, etc stations wasn’t as immediate, I got tired of them over the long term.

I played the same stuff so much that years later I can still remember that Sweet Home Alabama by Lynyrd Skynyrd was on GoldDisc 536 – cut 5. Werewolves of London by Warren Zevon was toward the bottom of the rack on the left on the “digital heart of rock” collection. I don’t remember the CD, but it was cut 17.

Needless to say, you can see I have played these songs numerous times. (and listened to them in other settings even more.) But until Kid Rock came out with All Summer Long this year, I had never noticed that Werewolves and Alabama had the same chord progression and sound the same in several spots.

I deal with a lot of people daily who have been doing the same thing for years. I speak to groups who are entrenched in the way things have always been. I consult with a lot of “experts” who know everything about something because they deal with it everyday.

When I get an inquiry for either a speaking engagement or a consulting gig, one of the first questions from the meeting planner or client usually is: Do you have any experience with our industry? Often, I answer that I don’t have experience with their industry, but I do know marketing and I can bring a fresh perspective. Sometimes that excites the person and sometimes the person is scared of going forward. Some of my best feedback has been from groups that I had never heard of before I spoke to them. I brought up things that they had never thought of.

Sometimes when you deal with the same thing everyday, you don’t notice the nuances and the opportunities. Things that should stand out clearly become wallpaper that blends in. I encourage you to start at square one with your marketing, your business, or anything. See if there’s a new way you can look at it. Or better yet, ask someone who has no clue about what you do if there’s something they can notice that you’ve missed for years.

double half caff

Earlier this week, Advertising Age quoted me in an article on some comments I made about Starbucks shutting down over 7,000 locations one night in late February for a barista boot camp.
It’s now old news, but let me clarify and expand upon my original comment — and provide some updates.

First off, it’s obvious that the shutdown was not “training”. It was nothing but a PR/media stunt. It garnered LOTS of free coverage from the press who seemed not to realize they were being used.

I had said in my original comments that I would be interested when baristas started spilling the beans (ha!) about what went on during the 3 hour period. Just as I predicted, customer service was discussed during the training as well as how to make a machine produce three dollar foam. But some baristas are ticked off about the training and point to poor working conditions and wages as a reason for sub-par customer service and not-so-perfect drinks.

But here’s your big problem, SBUX. Customers aren’t finding any big difference. And that is a huge problem. After pulling a stunt that showcases how you’re going to improve, people expect…improvement. When it doesn’t show up, you’ve ultimately hurt the brand.

charity case

Two conflicting thoughts in my head about this story.

1) Wow. What a great business.
We should all strive to create products that customers crave. Products that customers are willing to become involved in (emotionally and financially). We should be developing a customer community that people are willing to fight for. Toscanini’s apparently has done this and has a fan base that is willing to band together to try to save Toscanini’s.

2) Wow. What a horrible business.
Making ice cream is fun, but you first have to keep the lights on and pay Uncle Sam. If you don’t do the basics to stay in business, you won’t be in business. And it’s an insult to your customers. As one commenter on their blog said —

“Honestly, I think it’s a slap in the face to everyone who has been a loyal customer to take their money for taxes, ‘lose’ this money and then ask for donations to get them out of a mess they caused themselves with bad management.”

This is not a rare occurrence. It’s happened right in my own backyard to a place that I have eaten lunch at and blogged about.

In addition, there’s a business in my hometown that apparently couldn’t make it with just charging membership dues. So they had other businesses become sponsors to “help the kids”. Oddly, the kids still pay for gymnastics and cheerleading lessons.

If your business needs a benefit charity drive or sponsors to keep the doors open, then maybe it’s a sign that the doors should close.

pigskin branding

The Miami Dolphins have had one of the worst seasons ever. They finished with only 1 win and 15 losses which ties the NFL record for most losses in a season. Obviously, most Dolphins fans and citizens of South Florida are not happy.

So, in addition to a football operations problem, the Dolphins now have a branding problem. The Dolphins’ brand is now equated with being losers.

I’ve often said that a brand is developed by the consumer, not the marketer. Sure, you need a brand strategy and need to try and influence your brand as much as possible. But in the end, it’s the consumer who has that brand image floating in their head.

For most teams, a bad season can be forgotten by next fall. But a record tying horrible season is another matter. It takes drastic measures.

Last week, the new head of operations for the Dolphins, Bill Parcells, cleaned house by firing the general manager Randy Mueller and head coach Cam Cameron along with most of the other staff.

Cleaning out the Dolphins’ leadership will be seen as change by their brand constituency. But what will really change the Dolphins’ brand is several wins in a row…over several seasons.

It’s a good lesson for any marketer. Once you scar your brand, it will take drastic measures and a long time to heal.

on the front lines

Interesting article in this month’s issue of Fast Company.

Alex Frankel is the author of the soon to be released book — “Punching In: The Unauthorized Adventures of a Front-Line Employee“. His two years of research for the book involved him taking a series of entry-level jobs and exploring the way that front end employees and the company’s relationship with them impacts the organization.

It’s the same reason that I used to get frostbite on my fingers when I had to “front” the merchandise in the frozen food section at Winn-Dixie. Or the joy that I experienced cleaning out the grease sludge collector on the grill when I was a short-order cook. — I was just researching a future book. — Anyway…

Frankle actually applied and worked at various retail outlets such as Container Store, Gap, an Apple store, and others. He discovered what people with common sense already know: Good people on the floor sell products and management has to find and cultivate good people.

But, as you may have discovered, there is a lack of common sense in the business world today.

Even in small companies, management tends to forget how the employees in the trenches work. Or even worse, they DO remember what it was like when they were in the trenches. Today, if management is making decisions based on their entry-level experiences, they’re making bad decisions. The world, the market, and customers are vastly different in 2007 than in 1997, 1987, or whenever management was paying their entry-level dues. As Frankel says, “There’s no doubt about it: You get a different view from the ground floor than from the corner office.”

It’s a part of marketing that so many companies forget but is so essential. No matter how slick the marketing plan, true marketing success lies in the few moments of interaction between the customer and whoever (or whatever) you’ve placed on the front lines to deal with them.

Management needs to learn how to put that part in place before any of the other parts.

Hopefully, the right people will read Frankel’s book and take his lessons to heart. It looks to be an interesting read.