Friday, December 4, 2009

is your brand kicking your customer's seat?

the guy behind me is kicking my seat. not hard enough to make me turn and give him the death-stare (which is most effective on little kids but also works on some adults), but hard enough to be mildly annoying. I’m now having to sit up ramrod-straight, which my mother would have appreciated but which still is a minor inconvenience on this short 40-minute flight.

it makes me wonder if there’s a brand analogy for this – when a company or product inconveniences you enough to be irritated, but not enough to do anything about it (at the moment, at least). is this the insurance company that forces you to endure phone-tree-system hell, the cable company that responds to your reports of intermittent outages but doesn’t ever really fix the problem completely – yeah, that’s you, Time Warner – or even the crazy potato peeler that does a pretty good job until you accidentally shift your grip just an iota and –youch! – where’s that box of Band-Aids?

we know from experience that customers will actually put up with a truckload of crap from poor brands, products, services, and companies because doing anything different is just too hard. in industry parlance, this is called “switching costs” and in my view applies to both the economic and emotional hurdles that one has to vault in order to deal with something new.

switching barriers are thought to be most significant in situations where complex processes are in place – imagine, say, a conveyor line in a manufacturing facility, where replacing something typically has huge time/money implications – but I’d argue that consumers confront them in virtually every situation where satisfaction is lacking.  because at some point, the nature and/or amount of perceived benefit that can be gained from the switch exceeds the pain (both financial and emotional) that has to be endured to receive that benefit.

“perceived” is an important idea here. lots of brands have managed to get companies to switch just based on spin. this has been the case since the beginning of time in the wireless industry, where the level of marketplace churn – people moving between service providers in search of a decent-quality phone, with a simple, affordable plan, and coverage that actually enables you to use them both – is unparalleled.

remember what happened when they introduced number portability? I got in line immediately, if not sooner, to move from my then-current crappy carrier to its competitor, which was also crappy but it was at least a type of crap I hadn’t yet experienced. I then learned that the new crap was in fact worse than the old crap and switched back. Didn’t you?

my point…and I do have one …is that your customers may be closer to making the switch than you’d think. are you doing everything you can to ensure their complete surprise, delight and satisfaction with your company, brand, product, and services? Or are you kicking their seat just a little bit because it’s easier than figuring out how not to kick it and you’re pretty sure they’re ok with your crap and wouldn’t be motivated to check out somebody else’s?

and now, please excuse me while I move across the aisle -- where the seat behind me is unoccupied.

photo credit: the

Sunday, November 8, 2009

sneers & jeers for tiers

I know a PR dinosaur who insists the world of media relations should be regarded as some kind of medieval caste system in which there exists a “top tier” and a “second tier.” This is, of course, completely ridiculous, but in the interest of fairness to the prehistoric world, let us examine why the dinosaur believes this to be true.

In ancient times –- say, 1980-something, before widespread acceptance and use of the Internet and www -- it used to be that media outlet reach was the holy grail for pr professionals. Large newspapers like the NY Times and the Wall St. Journal, key news magazines like Time, NewsWeek and USN&WR, the wire services and the 3 broadcast outlets -- yes, this was pre-FOX and CNN,too -- delivered the largest audiences available.

Back then, if you worked in a pr agency, there was no better path to a continuing client retainer than favorable coverage of that client in one or more of those outlets. Since the metrics at the time were equally antiquated (see my post regarding clip counting and calculating value based on ad rates here), many pr folks made the argument that focusing on these “top tier” outlets made the most sense because coverage by those outlets would deliver the greatest value. And therefore, any publication or media outlet which had a smaller audience was defacto a “second tier” organization irrespective of the content it provided, the nature of its readers/viewers, or its ability to shape or drive perceptions.

Fortunately, some of us have been able to grow 2 additional toes on our hands and feet, lose the giant teeth and simultaneously expand our understanding of modern media relations. IMO, this view includes the following:

PR value is driven by an outlet’s ability to persuade the target. To be sure, it’s still a great thing if you can score a highly positive story in the NYT or the WSJ… but the problem is, how do we know your lovely bit on page B12 below the fold in the 4th column was even seen by a fraction of the publication’s readers, let alone what they thought of it? On the other hand, we know exactly how many people viewed a Youtube vid and what at least some of them thought based on the comments they left.  Plus, and it's a big duh, i know, content is king.  As REO Speedwagon said (in roughly the time of the afore-mentioned dinosaurs), "talk is cheap if the story is good."  We all know viral is here to stay, so it makes sense to get over the fact that people actually believe things they read and hear from sources other than the media moguls.

The most influential people don’t necessarily work for the largest outlets. In fact, there’s been much ado over the fact that those “top tier” folks are increasingly looking to the blogosphere, specialized content providers and other independent voices for story fodder and perspective. If you’re in, say, “green” arena, it’s good to have the ear of folks like Tom Friedman at the NYT … but you ignore Joel Makower, who writes for Green Biz, at your peril. I routinely see Joel’s ideas and stories surface in mainstream outlets, and he’s heavily quoted as an expert in the field. You don’t often see journalists quoted, except on stories about journalism. (Friedman is an exception to this, but then again I’d argue he’s not your average journalist-bear).

Immediacy trumps reach. I’m no psychologist, but I’d bet heavily there’s some scientific data indicating that a person’s ultimate perception of an issue is heavily influenced by the first information he/she gets about the topic. One may change one’s mind, of course, as more information becomes available from various sources … but it’s tough to undo the impact of the initial salvo. So the weapons of choice for savvy pr practioners have to include Twitter, Facebook, Youtube and other real-time digital communications. As I said in "citizen reporting," breaking news has moved from the province of broadcast media alone to become something any human with a cellphone can create, without the benefit of editors, lawyers, or corporate communications policies. So instead of thinking, “I have to build a relationship with CNN” … think “what’re the folks at CNN looking at right now?” and participate there. This is the equivalent of skating not to where the puck is, but rather to where it's headed.

Priorities are useful -- I'm not saying that one shouldn't perhaps have a list of folks who are "must-go-tos" vs. "if-i-have-time-fors" on any particular topic ... I'm just trying to make the point that those priorities should be carefully framed based upon whom you're targeting, what you want to convince them of, and what types of results you're trying to achieve, not simply how many people may (or may not) be listening.

If you’ve got the bad luck of working for a dinosaur, or having one work for you … just try to sit tight and muddle through as best you can. We all know what happens to them, eventually.

photo credit: fugsgirl

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Are people drawing their shades on your brand?

ok, this is a long set up but hang in with me...

as willy & hoover would tell you (if they could speak English), i'm in close contention for the dubious honor of world's worst cook. despite this, they continue to beg for food at the table, with varying degrees of success related, more often than not, to the level of puppy-eyes that they manage to deliver.

today, their efforts paid off with a hunk of something called "amish friendship bread."

the recipe for this bread apparently has been around for decades. it essentially involves a yeast-based starter, to which you add flour, milk, and sugar, and then you divide the mix into 4 portions. you keep one of the portions for yourself, and give the remaining 3 to your friends (hence the "friendship" in the name).

i got a starter portion from my neighbor, and, not wanting to disappoint her or develop any bad amish karma, followed the directions that left me searching for friends who i thought might actually do this as opposed to laughing hysterically and throwing the stuff away (which is what i would have done, had i received it from one of them).

a note from one came back with a comment that i thought was particularly compelling. it said, among other funny things, the following:

We have had this starter twice before, and I am always smitten with it. I vow every time that I won't let it die . . . ever. But then you end up with a freezer full of bread, 10 new lbs. and a bunch of friends who draw the shades when they see you coming with the dough.

yes, a long set up indeed, but hence the title of this post.

are your customers' friends drawing the shades when they see that dough -- your brand -- coming their way? i've mentioned before my point of view that turning customers into advocates is really the only true, sustainable way of building the virtuous cycle that delivers a strong brand. but what happens when your advocates run into challenges that keep that word-of-mouth, pass-the-bread-starter mojo from taking hold? minimally, a few things:

1) your advocates start to qualify their advocacy (as if "qualified advocacy" weren't already an oxymoron, of sorts.) if so many of their friends could have a bad experience with your brand, it must be that their positive one was a fluke. so as they go around, they'll say things like, "you know, i got a great product/service from brand x, but i heard others didn't."

2) your advocates start to lapse into neutrality. nobody wants to deliver positive word-of-mouth on a (potentially) bad brand, so often they won't say anything at all about it. if pushed, they'll go with something like, "yeah, i looked around at a bunch of different options, and this is what i ended up with. it's ok."

3) your advocates start to reverse polarity. it's hard to believe this can happen, but it does. when confronted with lots of bad examples from their community on whatever the brand in question is, the former advocate will begin looking for things that aren't yet wrong with the product/service ... but maybe all of a sudden it's not quite as good as he/she thought it would be. and when asked (and sometimes, even when not prompted), the person will say something like, "you know, i got this thing and i really regret my decision."

these conversations between friends matter more than any other element of the marketing mix. don't believe me? read andy sernovitz. read chris brogan and julien smith's "trust agents." think about times (and be honest) when your mind about something got changed, not because of something that actually happened to you but because of something somebody else said about what happened to them.

net net: don't set your advocates up to fail by delivering great experiences to a select few while you treat the rest of your target poorly. otherwise, when the advocates come calling, they'll find the shades drawn, and nobody home.

photo credit: wikipedia

Friday, September 11, 2009

acronym soup and other pointless marketing distinctions

B2C. B2B. CPG. FMCG. ABC123UNME. i have seen the google serps on this topic, and i am more than a little disappointed. oh, marketers of the 21st century (or at least the last 5 years), apostles of david meerman scott and seth godin and andy sernovitz, where are you with your salient comments on how these distinctions no longer apply (or at the very least, need to be re-addressed in light of web 2.0, social media, democratization of technology, and the like?)

those who believe that there are important differences between B2B and B2C generally make the following arguments:

1. B2B sales are more complex, influenced by more people, have longer lead times, and higher dollar values than B2C sales.

2. therefore, B2B buyers are more "rational" vs. emotional, purchase generally based on cost, quality or other measurable factors, and require marketing materials packed with data and devoid of personality.

3. if you use B2C tactics on B2B audiences, or vice versa, you'll fail miserably, put on weight, and die an early but well-deserved death, which will be a fitting punishment for your failure to follow these archaic rules that were cobbled together when dinosaurs roamed and most people, including bill gates, thought that 64K would be quite enough RAM for anyone, thank you.

here's the deal. the factors affecting the success of marketing -- and i do mean ALL marketing -- as the necessary juice in the great fat delicious orange of commerce have been changing rapidly and remarkably on virtually a moment-to-moment basis due to technological innovation and the ability of people to quickly and easily communicate with each other. Companies, irrespective of their products, services or offerings all have been thrown into a giant information vortex that is propelled by the Web ... and by what i like to think of as a virtuous cycle of understanding and influencing human behavior in a way that puts money in the coffers of those organizations that are generally (tho not always) most deserving.

Monica's Virtuous Cycle of Understanding and Influencing Human Behavior (or "Marketing," if you must).

in my world, this is the way all customers -- those who are buying furiously expensive stuff for data centers AND those who're thinking it might be time for a new car that doesn't smell like dirty dogs AND those who're just wanting some chewing gum -- are properly "marketed" to.

identification. whether you're selling machine tools or mister potato head, you need to correctly identify your targets (see dm scott's world wide rave for an excellent take on "buyer personas"). what links those folks together in a compelling manner? (clue -- it's how they think and why they think that way, not how old they are or where they live.).

attraction. if you really understand your bps, you can figure out the best ways to attract them. where do they hang out, and with whom? is it some industry association or business roundtable or charitable event, or a neighborhood bar or the privacy of their own home with the dvr going while they surf the web? again -- whether the buyer is purchasing for business or personal reasons matters not. what matters is that you have something that will solve his/her problems and, if you've done a good job in correctly understanding his/her needs, he/she will usually be willing to listen.

engagement. and if only "listening" and "engagement" were the same thing. they're related, but listening is more just the front-end. engagement is the back-end ... the hard, hard work of making promises to your customers (as a brand, as a company, as a sales or customer service person, whatever) and keeping them. it's the business of delivering surprise and delight, whether it's in how easily the server software installed or how cool the gps map thing is or how the gum comes in a package that keeps the stuff from turning into melty mush in the summer heat.

retention. some people think that if they simply do engagement right, retention is a given. but sadly, that's not true in any kind of human relationships -- marriages included. customers, irrespective of what kinds of things they buy, the cycle they buy them on, or any of that other old-style marketing drivel, MUST feel that you care about them if you want them to buy from you again. whether you do this through rebates or coupons or email offers or dinners at trade shows, it's vitally important. i know a terrific pr guy who ends every meeting with the question: "how else can i help you?" just this simple act yields repeat business on a regular basis.

advocacy. i wish that this happened automatically, sort of a reward for our dutiful following of the cycle, and sometimes it does -- but more often, advocates have to be cultivated. think about the number of times you've made a recommendation to someone on a product or service APART from them asking you a prompting question. this is the difference between getting a good net promoter score -- not an unimportant thing, by the way -- and leads, revenue and margin increases that begin with your customers making an effort to help their colleagues, friends and family get the same great experience from you that they themselves have received. twitter and facebook, in my view, have completely upended how we've thought of advocacy in the past, as people can quickly and easily pass along recommendations, special offers, and their personal word-of-mouth mojo on behalf of brands and companies they trust. of course, advocacy also makes your job in identification and attraction much easier, since customers will now enter the cycle with the kind of positive mindset that makes the rest of wheel much easier to traverse.

what do you think? are there really key differences between these audiences that take precedence over the simple fact that people are people, given how much easier it now is for them to get information and form opinions? do we take off our human hat when we sit down at our company desk, somehow mysteriously clearing our subconsious of preconceived notions of brands?

photo credit: if you're going to copy my "virtuous cycle," please credit me and this post.

Saturday, August 29, 2009

short attention span theater

a while back, i blogged about my obsession with dave carroll and united breaks guitars. to date, the original video has racked up more than 5 million views inside of a month. it's really pretty amazing. even dave didn't expect nearly that much attention, having set a goal of a million views over the course of the year. the more interesting thing is that this vid drew nearly 2 million views in about 5 days, no doubt propelled by mainstream media coverage on CNN and other broadcast and print outlets.

in the accompanying story on his site, dave talks about how he promised united he was going to make a series of 3 videos about this incident. i thought that was the wrong approach when i read about it, and now that i've seen "song 2," (check out the second window in the right hand column) i'm even more convinced.

as rajesh setty points out in his excellent post on what makes viral videos take off, "second acts are not easy....if the followup isn't 10x better than the original, it won't fly."

he's right, of course. but that's not why dave's second vid isn't pulling eyeballs (so far, only about 250,000 views in its first week). the song 2 vid is, in a certain way, better. it's got more action, more people, an equally hooky tune. what it doesn't have, though -- and rajesh leaves this element out of his list -- is what i'd call "audience care-about." all those people who hate united for its poor service (disclosure: i'm in that group) spent their care-about capital on the first vid, so now there's really nothing left for the follow-up.

this was not true, say, for "where the hell is matt #2," the viral sensation that actually pulled more viewers than the first video which showed matt dancing all by himself. our care-about capital in the first instance is invested in the idea that this crazy soul has traveled all over the world and danced in some pretty interesting places; in the follow-up, we're even more taken with the idea that he can, and does, get everyone from aboriginal people to young children to nursing home residents to join him in the dance.

(there's something about dancing, as well, that grabs peoples' attention. you have to look no further than the assortment of reality shows on network tv to see proof of that. perhaps it's because most of us can't do it? even the vids of people dancing in train stations, etc. are highly viewed, i think, because they're about dancing, not about interrupting public life).

seth godin's comments on the nature of viral are also pretty interesting, but even they don't really address this idea of "short attention span theater," which i think characterizes how most people deal with most things. we have long, sustained attention for the few things we love that hold us relentlessly in their grasp -- our kids, our pets, our gardens, our favorite tom clancy novel. oh, and sometimes our spouses, especially when they're pissed off about something.

but for pretty much everything else, we have only small, fragmented bits of attention, and most of these are divested on the things that wish they had (and claim to deserve) our long, sustained attention -- say, our bosses, our colleagues, our friends and family whom we say we'll call but rarely do, our gardens, our cars, the laundry that's been piled up for weeks now.

so how're we to make time for viral video or ideas? i think to succeed, such material has to be a combination of what rajesh and seth posit -- compelling and interesting, easy to send and worthwhile to share, etc. -- plus something else: the ability to sneak in the short attention span theatre by being something we truly care about and are willing to entertain.

what's your favorite viral vid, and why? how many people did you pass it along to? when people send you links to viral vids, what determines whether or not you watch them and pass them along?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

remember me?

ok... am i the only one who has this problem?

you know what i'm talking about. you go to a website -- pick one, any one -- that you've been to about a thousand times, and every time where it's supposed to say, "welcome,(your name)," it says:

Remember me.

I've come to hate the stupid little check box. it's like there's some vast conspiracy out there that is purposely not remembering me. which wouldn't be so bad, if they hadn't led me to believe that they WOULD remember me, if i checked the little box.

from my perspective, this is one part IT ineptitude, one part poor web manners, and one part ineffective user interface all rolled into one giant nightmare of bad online brand experience.

it's made all the more annoying because, when i in fact can't remember my username or which of the 25 email addresses i might have used, let alone the same number of passwords, i take advantage of their kind offer to email me that info. and they do....and so then i KNOW they DO know who i am. i guess it's comforting, in a way, that they're not going to let me log in if they're not sure i'm me, but couldn't they do this in a way that's somehow more user-friendly?

reason i'm asking if i'm the only one with the problem is that a google
search on "remember me" turns up plenty of serps, but none related to this topic. there are the movies, the song lyrics, even the jewelry, but you gotta go to halfway down page 2 before you find this utility from cappware. but the thing is, the look and feel of this page doesn't give me that snuggly secure feeling about what they're offering. i don't like the idea of storing my passwords all in one place no matter how safe they tell me it is. and the fact that they're asking for donations makes me wonder whether or not this stuff is actually any good at all.

a couple of entries later, i see something about , the open source content management provider, that's interesting because they're apparently offering the ability for sites to tailor the length of sessions stored on their servers. so i'm now wondering if the reason i'm not being remembered is that i simply didn't visit the sites in question frequently enough... although i have a hard time believing that, perhaps it's so. i don't think of myself as an i'net noob (proven here by my use of the term "noob") but i just didn't realize that mr. checkbox's promise of remembering me would last only so long.

perhaps we're all meant to simply go along with the flow, being ok with not being remembered, all in the interest of protecting our online identity and security of our personal info. i guess that's what i've been doing (all the while being annoyed, but not annoyed enough to actually do anything about it), and i guess most others have been doing the same thing. it's a tradeoff, like so many others -- except here the websites are making the trade on our behalf without telling us.

what do you think? are you annoyed at not being remembered? should sites tell you how long they plan to remember you? or should i just go on to blathering about other, more important stuff?

Sunday, August 16, 2009

community: a slingshot for little brands

a few days ago, the lead story on Yahoo was about some big brands like Starbucks, Apple and BP and how they've changed their logos to increase their appeal to their audiences, or change audience perceptions. i've spent a fair portion of my career working on corporate identity issues, and so i was interested to read the opinions of some of the experts quoted in the story. in particular, one guy, asked about the IBM logo-- you know, the 3 blue letters with all the lines going through them -- said "because of its simplicity and originality, 'you have a hard time desiring to mess with it.'"

seriously? i've been wanting to mess with that thing since it came out in 1972. of course, i was a child at the time, so they didn't take me up on it. (note to IBM: i'm sometimes an adult now. call me, we'll talk.)

i raise this story on big brands to get to the point of this post, which is how little brands with logos that are perhaps recognized by those companies' employees and few others, can use community as a lever to propel their brands. community is, of course, much discussed in the social media universe as a way of creating engagement between brands and their customers, and while i've appreciated that intellectually as a marketer i didn't really appreciate it fully as a target until i saw this.

that's right, it's the "cutest dog competition," sponsored by All-American Pet Brands, which is a company i've never heard of, and, which is a website i've never been to. yet, when a colleague (thanks, D) sent a link to the competition website, it took only one click to hook me. here's why:

1) it's emotional. they are talking about the "cutest dog." show me a dog-mama who doesn't think her dogs are the cutest, and i'll show you a woman with no soul. even the mothers of ugly dogs are mistakenly under the impression that their dogs are cute.

2) it has scale. with nearly 75 million owned dogs in the US, that's a helluva community. more than 32,000 people have posted photos of their dogs on the site ... and with some dogs getting thousands of votes from site visitors who are not the owners, i'm guessing that site traffic is pretty extraordinary. and with a one-vote-per-day max, they've automatically ensured return traffic from at least some of those motivated-to-vote visitors.

3) it's easy. whoever thought this up deserves kudos for complying with KISS (keep it simple, stupid) criteria. click on "upload your photo," enter a few pieces of basic info, and get people to vote for your dog(s). there's a million bucks in it for the winner, with smaller prizes for the runner-ups.

4) it's not overly hard-sell. let's not kid ourselves -- this is about community, yes, but it's also ultimately about selling some chow. the market for pet food and supplies in north america is about $25 billion annually, and All American is clearly interested in taking some share from better-known brands. but they're not forcing the brand on site visitors. it really is mostly about the competition, with some corollary, relatively unobtrusive graphics and messaging about All American's products. i like and respect them more for this, and that feeling will manifest itself positively, i think, the next time i'm in the pet store looking for food and treats.

this is really just another david-and-goliath story, where a small brand takes on big brands, armed only with a slingshot and the idea that size is not necessarily a precursor for success. in skillfully targeting the community of dog owners and lovers, and making it fun and easy for them to engage, All-American is showing us a great example we'd do well to emulate.

p.s. willy and hoover, in a shameless ploy for votes, are insisting that i publish their respective photo urls, along with a request to please vote for them early and often.

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

willy, hoover and michael vick

hey everyone! willy & hoover here with a new post. we made mom let us do this one since we sort of have, shall we say, a bone to pick on what's to become of michael vick. you might guess us to be among those who think that vick should never be allowed to play football (or any other sport) again, anywhere, anytime. but that would be wrong.

in fact, we think he should be immediately re-instated and we really think he ought to play in as many games during the season as possible. why? because we think he should get every penny of his prior contract ($9M base, $6.5M bonus, $45M remainder, $3M pro-bowl bonus). contingent upon an arrangement, that is, where 51% of that money, along with the same percentage of his future earnings from all sources for the next decade, is given to the Humane Society and the ASPCA.

Vick reportedly is to do some work with the Humane Society, putting his "boots on the ground" in cities around the country, helping convince teens in urban areas that dogfighting isn't cool. that's nice, but he could do so much more. ASPCA CEO Ed Sayres was gracious in his statement acknowledging Vick's return to football. and that was nice, but he could ASK for so much more ... like, $33M for just the rest of the current contract.

we're not that good at math, so not sure these numbers are entirely correct, but follow our wagging tails on this one...

at an average $2/lb (probably less if you got it in bulk from costco), $33M buys, uh ... 16.5 million lbs of dog food. now, the 2 of us are hungry boys, and we admit we eat our share, which is about 1/4 lb per day. so that means the dog-devoted share of vick's fortune would feed about 60 million dogs for a year. we're not sure how many dogs are in shelters across the country but we hope it's not that many. anyway, that's some chow.

at an average $50/dog per vaccine, and again, it's probably less if you're buying it large quantities and not from our vet -- $33M buys 6 million rabies and bordatella shots, and other vital preventatives like heartworm medicine.

so many shelters run in the red, or close to it. at a grant of $100,000 each, $33M means 330 of these places could add badly need space, medical services, food and personnel.

and that's just thru 2013; no doubt there would be additional money "going to the dogs" for a number of years afterwards.

so we think you probably get the idea. michael vick is worth alot more to us dogs if he's playing and cutting us in on his earnings than if he's not. and it's not like we're wanting it all -- meaning that he ought to be pretty grateful to have done what he did and still end up making $5M a year.

we think pet lovers around the country (and we know a few) will be pretty angry about vick's return, and may even boycott games and encourage others to do so ... if there's no reason for them to be happy about it. but if they knew that effectively half of whatever portion of his pay their ticket price delivers is going to help dogs around the country ... maybe they'd be a little less upset.

when you're a dog, you have the benefit of not overthinking things too much. you see the squirrel, you chase him, he runs up a tree, you move on. well, ok -- sometimes you spend 5 minutes barking at him until your dad tells you to shut up. but then you pretty much let it go and move onto the next thing. that's how we feel about michael vick. we probably won't ever like him -- but we like the idea that, having hurt a few of us, he's now in a really good position to help a whole lot of us. and that's a squirrel we can live with.

vick photo credit: steve helber, getty images

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

playing hooky, part 2

so now i see that for once, i appear to have blogged about something before my heroes at mashable, who have now reported that dave carroll's united breaks guitars you tube video has racked up more than 3 million views in 10 days.

in my post, i talked about the fact that one of the reasons i think dave's video has gone viral is that it's a hooky little tune, and, in a nice double entendre, that united played hooky for a year on the topic.

but, dear readers, it's now come to my attention that there are yet other parties who are also playing hooky (to my great astonishment, actually): american airlines, delta airlines and southwest airlines, to name a few -- all of whom, i think, could take great advantage of this situation by doing something to differentiate themselves on a subject that appears to be of some great interest to the travelling public.

let's see what they're doing:
at american, (which is pretty much still my favorite airline even though i don't get to fly them a lot anymore), a search on "guitars" from their home page reveals a ton of text and tables on various baggage-related topics, including this regarding guitars:
Small musical instruments may be carried onboard the aircraft providing they meet existing carry-on size requirements and fit in the overhead bin or under the seat in front of you. Case dimensions may not exceed 45 dimensional inches (width + length + height), except for guitars which may be brought on board only if they can be safely stowed in an overhead bin or approved stowage location in the cabin. The instrument is considered the passenger's one allowed carry-on bag. A personal item is allowed in addition to the instrument. See Carry-On Allowance for more information.If an instrument is too large to fit in the carry-on baggage space, an additional seat may be purchased. In this case, an instrument must travel in a window, bulkhead seat, with the customer in the adjoining seat. Due to their size Bass Fiddles are not accepted in the coach cabin and are only accepted on certain aircraft types, please contact an American Airlines representative at 1-800-433-7300.Instruments may also be transported as checked baggage, however, due to their fragile nature AA does not accept liability for damages and has limited liability for loss. AA is also not liable for any damage to checked musical instruments not presented in a hard-sided case. If the outside of the hard-sided case does not have visible damage, AA is not liable for any damage to the musical instrument inside the case.
wow. not great. i think this is pretty much identical to united's language on the topic. but it makes me wonder whether or not in dave's case there was damage to the outside of the hard-sided case. if the bottom of the guitar was crushed in, i'd imagine that there would have to be damage to the case as well, and therefore, had dave been flying on american instead of united, it seems like he would have had a leg to stand on here
a search on "guitars" at the website of my friends at delta/northwest reveals an entire page devoted to the topic of musical instruments, which at least includes a statement indicating they "get" the importance of these items to their customers:
We know that your musical instrument is important to you and depending on the size, we accept musical instruments or equipment as checked baggage, carry-on baggage, or cabin-seat baggage. Please help us to keep your instrument safe by bringing it in a hard-shell case.
they then go on to tell you that you can pay for a regular seat to sit next to your guitar, etc. great. but even worse, they go on (on the page dealing with "delayed or damaged baggage" to let you know that they're no worse than anyone else:

Like most major airlines, we don't accept liability for damage to checked luggage such as:
Broken wheels or feet
Lost pull straps
Minor cuts and scratches
Damage resulting from over packing
Damage to retractable luggage handles
Fragile or perishable items damaged during transport
Items unsuitably packed or unsuitable for transportation
Damage resulting from Transportation Security Administration (TSA) inspections

southwest airlines doesn't have a search box on its home page, and after hunting around for a while i finally resorted to the site map to see if i could find out anything about guitars. they do have, it turns out, a small section on musical instruments which says:

If your musical instrument does not meet the sizing requirements for carryon items (10”x16”x24”), it will be handled as checked baggage provided you do not wish to purchase a seat for the instrument. In the event you are traveling with a musical instrument that is larger than our sizing requirements for carryon luggage and is fragile in nature, you may purchase a seat for the instrument and carry it in the cabin under the following conditions:
The instrument must fit in the seat without blocking aircraft signage and be secured with a seatbelt.
The instrument must be placed in the first row and in a seat closer to the window than any other Customer in that row.
Reservations must be made and a ticket must be purchased at a charge no greater than the Child’s Fare. Musical instruments cannot be transported in place of a free companion under any fare promotion.
Instruments that are transported in a soft-sided case or other packaging that is not strong enough to protect the instrument under normal baggage handling conditions will be conditionally accepted, which means that Southwest assumes no liability for any damage sustained to the item during transport.

that's not really the warm, friendly southwest airlines we've come to love, is it? though they do have a cool viral video of their own which has gotten quite a bit of traffic in the last year.

c'mon, you airline marketers... where are you??? run a giant homepage banner saying something as simple as WE DON'T BREAK GUITARS (OR WE'LL PAY YOU WITHOUT HASSLE IF WE DO). i would bet you could expect significant pickup in the blogosphere, not to mention mainstream media who love nothing better than follow-on stories.
of course, this means that you should probably have a reasonably well-coordinated effort with your baggage-handling and customer service folks to ensure that you don't break any guitars -- or damage other luggage, either -- while you're promoting this capability (and afterwards, too, since the internet is forever and the aforementioned mainstream media, as well as the blogosphere and whatever else we have by that time, will make quite a stink about you if you fall into the poor baggage-treatment abyss. however, in that case you truly will be just like everyone else.

Friday, July 10, 2009

playing hooky

a few of my followers know that years ago, i managed a rock n' roll band, thinking that it'd be a good way of combining fun and profit. after too much of the former and not nearly enough of the latter, i came to my senses and decided to pursue slightly more lucrative, if somewhat less melodius, work -- work which, it turned out, involved a fair amount of air travel and being subject to the poor customer service of the airlines. i think perhaps the soft spot i still have in my heart for musicians, coupled with my glee that finally an airline is being taken to task over its bad treatment of customers, are combining to keep me absolutely glued to the amazing social media frenzy that is the story of dave carroll and united breaks guitars.

(see video, right)

unless you've been under the same rock you might have been under during the susan boyle craze, you've probably heard about this. dave carroll, a musician travelling between halifax and nebraska, saw united airlines baggage handlers at o'hare tossing around his guitar and other equipment. he says his $3600 taylor guitar was broken as a result, and that united gave him the runaround for a year on his claim for damages. he finally had the guitar repaired for $1200 at his own expense, and decided he'd tell the world his story via a series of songs & videos.

his goal was to get 1 million youtube views in a year. this first video in the series was posted 4 days ago and he's already got nearly 1.5 million views and 15,000 comments, the vast majority of which are along the lines of "you go, dave!"

it should be noted that dave's is not nearly the first video to dis united. there are, in fact, several videos about the airlines treatment of musical instruments, which collectively have a few hundred views, and another regarding a bad travel day for a decidedly offbeat individual who goes by the name of nutcheese that's racked up nearly 50,000 views. so why all this mania now?

one of the things you learn when you're a band manager is that people would rather hear a hooky little tune a thousand times than some other songs even once. and dave's song is as hooky as they get, which is why after you've heard it once you can't get it out of your head until you hear something else equally hooky, say, like the pants song.

also, unlike nutcheese, dave is not a nut case. he is, however, quite possibly a test case. the social media bloggers have been all over this one, with a variety of points of view. my favorite conversation so far, i think, has got to be the one on seth simond's blog, where seth basically makes the assertion that dave could be fibbing, didn't follow united's established rules for reporting the damage, and suggests that it's not right that an individual can hijack social media to take a company to task in this way. he had a few folks agree with him (i wasn't one of them), suggesting that the situation points up the need for pr and communications folks to plan in advance how to handle these occurrences. many seemed to think (again, i'm not one of them) that united should have responded with a funny video of its own vs. caving to the pressure.

why my opposite point of view? because in my mind, united was playing hooky, too, but in a different way. they were nowhere on this subject -- that is, anywhere but engaging with their unhappy customer -- for a year. and when they did finally engage, they chose to avoid all responsibility. perhaps, as i pointed out in my comments to seth, if they had done something ... ANYTHING ... to help dave with the problem, he wouldn't have been so motivated to create the song. dave says as much in his write-up about the debacle.

now united says they're wanting to use this as an internal training vehicle. i can't help but wonder if that means they'll be training their agents to ask things like "are you a musician?" "can you sing?" "do you plan to use social media to fry us if we don't help you?" vs. really empowering people to do the right thing and put the customer first ... or at least, not leave him alone on the hook.

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

measurement, metrics and morons

early last century, when mark twain popularized benjamin disraeli's famous "lies, damned lies, and statistics," i doubt he had any idea about just how frequently that phrase would come to be referenced by marketers the world over. today it seems that every conference, every webinar, every agency pitch has a bevy of charts and graphs included, seemingly with the intent of making it clear that they've found the holy roi grail and claimed it in the name of all that is right, good and worth paying more for.

those of us of more mature standing certainly remember a time when pr firms counted and physically measured news clippings, and then performed column-inch calculations to quantify the value of "free" news coverage in terms of the cost of advertising space in those publications. as one who was, as a junior account person in a large agency in those halcyon days, tasked to spend hours with ruler and calculator, i recall thinking, among other things:

"this is $*%&W$* stupid."

even to me, a pr neophyte at the time, the idea we would be trying to make an roi argument based on the expense of another medium vs. the true outcomes of our work simply didn't make sense. sadly, though, this kind of moronic thinking is still with us, as we see what i think is undue focus put on the level of activity measures -- everything from HUT levels to impressions to CTRs and even web "stickiness" minutes -- and not nearly enough on quantifying the relative impact that each of those engagement types has, and even more importantly, how they collectively meld to affect the target's perception.

this is important because (and it's amazing how many marketers miss this simple-but-not-easy-idea) customers do not buy based upon what you do. customers buy based upon how they think and feel as a result of what you -- and your competitors -- do (and sometimes, what you/they don't do).

if you believe, as i do, that people will act based upon their perceptions, then the most important thing to figure out is why they think the way they do, and what actions you can take that will have the highest likelihood of either reinforcing their positive assessments of your brand, or changing their minds if they have a neutral or negative mindset.

that's why ongoing tracking research is key. sometimes changing the customer's or prospect's mind is the most difficult thing in marketing (as it is in all relationships). it takes careful planning, concerted effort, and sometimes a fair amount of money because people don't often change their minds without clear rationale, personal experience, their boss's pointy finger, or some other compelling reason. and it almost never happens overnight.

what should you track? that depends upon your customers, your category, your brand, and a host of other factors. but i would say there are minimally 3 questions to which you should know the answers at all times:

1) what's important, and how do you do on what's important, relative to your competitors?
2) what must change for you to be perceived as different and better?
3) how can those changes be made in a clear, credible, compelling way?

note the inclusion of "perceived" in #2. you may in fact actually already be different and better, you're just not perceived that way. this is why activity without an understanding of relative impact on perception is useless. if you just keep doing the same stuff -- or even different stuff -- without tracking its impact on how people think, you're wasting your (and your customer's) time.

it won't necessarily be easy to figure out how each of your marketing efforts is changing perceptions -- this is, in fact, the holy grail as far as i'm concerned -- because they often act in concert and it's extremely difficult to control for the impact of one versus the others. but i think it's worth trying. it's only with this kind of insight that marketers can get beyond the old "column-inch" thinking and onto the things that really make a difference in attracting and retaining customers.

Friday, June 26, 2009

citizen reporting

i wish i could take credit for the term "citizen reporting," but i actually saw it in this youtube blog post. a pretty interesting thing, this bit about apple's 3g iphone intro causing youtube mobile vid posts to increase so dramatically literally overnight.

there've been numerous examples of cr, mostly i think having to do with twitter and the tweets that people sent following the bombings in mumbai, the usair landing in the hudson and of course the
recent tweets on the unrest following elections in iran. the implications for crisis communications, i think, are unbelievably important.

what does "citizen reporting" mean for communications professionals?

1) your job is 24/7. i know, a big "duh." this was always the case, but now even moreso because "news" is going to be transmitted from the initial moments of an event, quite possibly even before your comms people in the location know what's happening. is it possible for twitter to send an actual alarm bell to your blackberry to wake you up in the middle of the night when something happens to your company in europe or asia? (tell all your developer friends there's srlsy big $ in an app for this).

2) your involvement is critical. maybe another big "duh" ... but i wonder how many comms folks have yet to incorporate social media into their formerly-well-designed crisis plans? if not you, someone needs to be designated to tweet into the stream with credible info. a situation where individuals are writing "there are hundreds of dead bodies here!" when in fact casualties may not yet have been confirmed can be incredibly damaging and work at cross-purposes to your crisis comms efforts. you need a private channel and a public channel, and need to ensure that you transfer the right info from one to the other as the situation unfolds.

3) your brand is on the line. companies' reputations -- and often their stock prices -- can sink dramatically with poor handling of a crisis. pre-social media, it was easier to manage the coverage, either by making phone calls to reporters in advance of bad news, or avoiding their calls when they checked to confirm. that's no longer an option. there are likely to be numerous sources, all of whom have an up-close-and-personal view of the situation, who may speak as experts simply because they're there and will write what they see. but as we all know, proximity is not the only (nor necessarily the most important) factor in determining the truth. a person who's unconscious may appear to be a fatality to someone who's not a medical professional...yet, i think the tweeter still is unlikely to rephrase as "there are hundreds of unconscious people here!"

some pr folks are looking down their noses at twitter, saying "it's a fad, it won't last, i don't need to worry about it"... but i wish they'd think again. if we could learn how to use this technology to get a step ahead of crisis situations and other similar events, it could be a real boon to our companies, and the public, both of whom deserve the best info and our best efforts to get it to them quickly.

Monday, June 15, 2009

sustainability marketing for sustainable business

so last week was pretty hectic, as i spent the last 3 days in chicago at the Business Marketing Association's (BMA) national conference. drawing a sold-out crowd of about 400 people, the conference included presentations by a number of renowned speakers, including ralph oliva, david meerman scott, al and laura ries, google's sam sebastian, andy sernovitz, .... and yes, yours truly.

i was there to speak about sustainability marketing, a subject on which i've become a bit conversant, having spent 4 years digging into it at johnson controls, and earlier experience in the energy distribution and control business at square d (now groupe schneider). with the obama administration's focus on climate change and the need for an enlightened clean energy policy that advances the u.s. out of the dark ages (pun intended), it's clear that companies are going to have to take action in this space and that, at some point, they're going to be called upon to talk about what they're doing (or not doing) and why.

many are already taking advantage of the opportunities -- GE and IBM, particularly -- by focusing on smart grid, energy-efficient equipment, and energy-saving solutions for companies and communities. IBM's Matt Preschern delivered an excellent presentation describing the company's work -- it's an agenda, not a campaign -- designed to draw cities, corporations, ngos, academia and other stakeholder groups into the mix of figuring out how to solve large and complex challenges. the agenda isn't about selling stuff, but rather about thought leadership and establishing the company as a go-to resource for problem-solving assistance, no matter what the problems are. and oh, by the way, when they solve your problems they'll be doing it with IBM products and services. it's altruistic capitalism at its finest.

my presentation provided some info on the regulatory landscape, which will change dramatically with the passage in whatever form of the ACES (american clean energy and security act) bill, as well as some brief case studies of what some companies are doing to market their sustainability-related efforts. you can get the presentation here, and the audio narrative (soon to come) here.

the other thing about the BMA conference that was great was the enormous amount of content on social media, and its importance and impact. i personally wouldn't be comfortable betting on the life expectancy of facebook or twitter, per se, but i do believe that the utility -- the immediate info, connectedness, linkages -- these applications provide is not going away. now that we have it, we're not gonna want to be without it -- even though it is a giant time-suck. personally, i think the company that figures out how we get all that utility in just 10 minutes a day will be a giant winner. (if that's you working on it, pls let me know so i can invest now).

in my view, sustainability marketing and social media will coalesce, somehow, into a giant fireball of activity. though this is not a straight demographic thing, we do know that younger people, in general, are more attuned to sustainability, and also more attuned to social media. they're skeptical of traditional marketing and more willing to find the facts for themselves. they're interested in sharing their opinions and their stories, their muses and their values. so i think the company that figures out how to get that right will also be a giant winner (again, if that's you, call now for $).

one thing i learned from the fest is that blog comments matter. i have not been particularly concerned about the fact that my readers aren't commenting much on this blog, believing that either you're simply in agreement with everything i've been saying, or that you think i'm an idiot but don't want to embarrass me publicly. even if that's true, i encourage you now to cease lurking and become engaged in some type of dialogue -- with me, or with each other -- or ideally, both!

Sunday, June 7, 2009

these pants are made for standing

These boots are made for walking
and that's just what they'll do
one of these days these boots
are gonna walk all over you.
- Nancy Sinatra

i have not been able to get that stupid song out of my head for the last couple of days. here's why.

it all started when i purchased a pair of Issey Miyake pleated pants. i was planning a trip that involved a 3-hour plane ride from austin to new jersey, and the pants (if not the wearer) had to look good at the end of the ride. i figured they'd be comfortable, too.

now, i didn't know that issey miyake was into apparel. call me fashion-backward ... i guess somehow i'd missed that issue of instyle. but i've worn the cologne for years and love it, so i was willing to give the guy some brand largesse in an adjacent category. plus, they were on sale, which was good 'coz they're typically not ... shall we say... value-priced.

the pants are pleated in hundreds (i'm guessing) of tiny, 1/16" pleats, which is what gives them their unique look. pleats reportedly have been with us since the time of the egyptians, who apparently had enough free time on their hands to do this sort of thing when they weren't trying to get the philistines to look the other way. but i wasn't really thinking about this when i bought them. i needed a good-looking, good quality, comfortable, well-wearing pair of pants, and that's what i thought i was getting.

so i wore them on the trip, and it was all good. the pants held up fabulously well, even when my return flight was cancelled and forced me to go through cleveland to get to milwaukee. i have nothing in particular against cleveland, but suffice it to say that 5pm on a day that started at 4am, i was more interested in my pants coming off and being replaced by pajamas as quickly as possible.

it was only later, when i was assembling clothing for a trip to the dry cleaner, that i actually got a look at the pants' labels. ordinarily, i check the care instructions when i buy a garment, just to see whether or not i'll be putting my dry cleaners' kids through post-doc studies (their undergraduate work has already been well covered). but i was in a hurry at purchase time and didn't see this -- because i guarantee you, if i had, the pants would still be on a hanger in the store and i would be in the hospital recovering from whatever injury you get when you can't stop laughing hysterically.

here is what the tag says (and i could not make this up if i tried):

minimum machine wash
do not bleach
do not iron
do not dry clean
do not tumble dry

so i'm thinking ... well, ok, i have some hand-washing ahead of me. not the worst thing in the world. but wait, there's more!

in order to preserve the shape, please observe the following. pleats are easily marred by heat and pressure. avoid sitting and applying other types of pressure for long periods of time.

avoid sitting? they're pants! i can't tell you how much my sensibilities as a marketer are offended by this type of total disregard for product-in-use. it reminds me of when motorola in its early days made a cell phone where you had to press the "on" button to turn the phone off, or the kind of phone voicemail systems that are supposed to get you to a relevant contact more easily but have exactly the opposite effect. it's just plain silly... and annoying.

good product design, in my view, starts with ethnographic research so you can actually understand in a very specific way how your customer behaves and how the product is, or is not, likely to meet his/her needs and expectations. in an ideal world, you uncover some bit of something that enables you to create a product that offers surprise and delight, or at least one that doesn't work to offend your target.

i still can't get the tune out of my head, except now it goes:

These pants are made for standing
and that's just what they'll do
one of these days these pants
are gonna go to Goodwill, too.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

When did "sales" become "business development?"

when did "sales" become "business development?"

this was the question i asked a buddy recently (while i was clearly engrossed with other tasks besides working on this blog), and he had an interesting perspective, which is that these things are in fact not the same.

in his view, "business development" is a function which is responsible for garnering truly new, never-before-dealt-with, contacts for the organization. these contacts could be in an existing account, but they have never had anything to do with your company. they may not even know who your company is or what you do. but they may be excellent targets that could give you an order, if only they knew how great you are. "business development," therefore, is characterized by a significantly proactive approach, involving lots of research, networking, and potentially even cold-calling these prospects.

"sales," on the other hand, from his perspective is the function that deals with existing customers and being responsive to their needs. there can certainly be a proactive element to this work, as the very best salespeople know that the way to their customers' hearts is through helping them solve their problems, especially those problems that have nothing to do with buying the salesperson's product.

i follow the rationale, but i'm not sure i agree with it.

to me, it seems "business development" was a term invented by salespeople who somehow felt that there was no longer any honor -- or perhaps compensation -- in being a salesperson. i can't say i remember any "business development" managers in the first several companies i worked for in the 1980s. they were sales managers, account representatives, and the like (funny, i can't think of any title that actually had the word "customer" in it, although later i do think these folks started to put their customers' companies names in their titles, e.g., "Ford Account Representative," or "IBM Relationship Manager). and that, to me, made a great deal of sense ... or more sense, anyway, than does "business development."

why? because the emphasis in the former is on the customer ... when i carry my customer's name on my card, it's pretty clear where my focus is, or should be. but when my title suggests that i'm just about building my own business with my customer's money, everything else that my brand does, or tries to do, will have to overcome this hurdle.

i'm sure there are excellent BDMs who are such good relationship builders and preservers that the title doesn't get in the way, but i also believe there are plenty of good ol' salespeople who have managed to build their account revenues by reaching out to others whom they hadn't previously served.

anyway ... the important thing is that, whether you're a business development manager or a sales person, if you'd like to have a strong brand you need to be 110% focused on your customers...and generally, the rest will take care of itself. this should be obvious, but if you've ever been on the wrong end of a bad transaction, you know that it's one of the things that's simple, but not necessarily easy.

Monday, May 18, 2009

plain language

so i've been thinking lately, amid all the grousing about obama's notre dame speech in which he didn't really say he was a pro-choice advocate, and people's lack of understanding of the word "pandemic," and a cool thing that i just saw today on rohit's blog .... it was time for a monica-style rant on the value of plain language.

it's true. a few posts ago, i was the one arguing for more attention to product naming, and now i'm the one arguing for less attention to language, especially if that means you're going to go out of your way to try to sanitize, spiff-ify (that's prounounced "spiff-if-eye," not "spiff-iffy") or otherwise take a perfectly good, simple, clear message and muck it up with words or phrases that sound like they were written by your pr department -- or worse, your lawyer.

look at the simple difference between a paragraph from GE and a paragraph from Apple talking about their technology innovations:

GE: Advanced technology – Model ES44C4 delivers sophisticated traction control technology with its patented Dynamic Weight Management System that continuously monitors traction at the axles and automatically adapts to maximize performance on heavy trains. This system – similar to traction control on an automobile – limits wheel slip at start up, on inclines and in adverse weather conditions, ensuring optimum performance and less wasted energy. In addition, this latest Evolution locomotive has a higher top speed than traditional DC-powered locomotives.

ok, well... i used to have to write about this kind of stuff and actually, this is not bad as far as B2B news releases are concerned. an analogy to traction controls in cars, which we all know and understand. features and benefits, differentiation... it's all here. everything they taught you in pr101.

now, Apple's: The iTunes Store is the world’s most popular online music, TV and movie store with a catalog of over 10 million songs, over 40,000 TV episodes, and over 5,000 movies including over 1,200 in stunning high definition video for rent. With Apple’s legendary ease of use, pioneering features such as iTunes Movie Rentals, integrated podcasting support, the ability to turn previously purchased tracks into complete albums at a reduced price, and seamless integration with iPod and iPhone, the iTunes Store is the best way for Mac and PC users to legally discover, purchase and download music and video online.

what's the difference? the same things are true as in GEs; there are features, advantages and benefits ... but additionally, apple's words give me a very clear sense of scale because there aren't just words -- there are numbers, too. GE's "maximizing performance" perhaps should have been made more specific to deliver this kind of scale -- e.g,., "22% more efficient," or instead of "optimum" and "less wasted energy," they could have really made me understand the magnitude of their offering by putting some quantitative detail behind it. plus "maximizing performance" just makes you think of various ED products, doesn't it?

the B2B people are screaming at the computer now, saying things that all start with "yabbit" ('yeah, but').

"yabbit, apple has a cool consumer product and GE's talking about a train."

"yabbit, GE's audience understands what they're saying and that's all that's important."

"yabbit, it's just a news release. GE talks differently on its website." (and they do, by the way.)

ok, i do fault apple for the use of the tech-speak "seamless integration," mostly because it's overly techy and also because i was among the first people to use that phrase commercially, and it pisses me off that i didn't do something more to ensure i got a royalty everytime someone else used it.

"yabbit".... indeed.