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.