Pardon my French, but I feel like a total and utter s**t.  At least I’ll be punished by having to walk on the other side of the street every time I want to go to the drug store.

Allow me to explain.

I believe in supporting small businesses.  My grandfather, a pharmacist, had his own drug store.  My mom feels very strongly about frequenting privately-owned stores whenever she can – drug stores, book stores, you name it – and I try to do the same.  I still feel the “You’ve Got Mail” horror whenever some big box something or other gobbles up yet another street, pushing out all the small business owners just trying to get by.

Flash forward to the polar vortex of 2014.  I need snow boots and I need ‘em bad.  I’ve checked all the usual suspects – Lord & Taylor, Macy’s, Zappos… nothing but Uggs left in my size (ugh).  The shortage is so real that it’s made the newsmore than once.  There is a small shoe store near my apartment, and I saw some boots I liked in the window.  I went in and discovered that they were $245.  Not happening.  But there was a pair that – all in, including tax – was $130, which felt a lot better than $245.  The trained shoe salesman actually acted like, well, a trained shoe salesman:  he knelt before me, unlaced my old boots, put my new ones on, laced them up, then followed me around to hear whether they fit. He delivered a real service experience.  I left the store with $130 boots feeling sort of ok.  But once the $245 phantom price wore off, and I was home with boots for which I’d paid a lot more than I’d planned, I started to get… itchy.

That’s when I went online.

Armed with new information – the manufacturer’s name and model number – I was able to sidestep all the branded retailers who’d burrowed into my brain via their PR coverage and ad spends (I mean, Zappos? Really?  I don’t even like Zappos) and leverage the Internet’s long tail by just typing the specific shoe information into Google.  This allowed me to browse a number of retailers I’d never heard of, including one that was selling the same pair for $83 all in (including shipping, no tax).  That’s a huge difference.  I returned the first pair of boots to the neighborhood shoe store the next day.

Now, I feel awful about this.  I support small, private stores… I do!  But at what price?  At how much of a premium? A 56% premium? That’s a lot of money. I am now officially playing both sides of the argument: SHOP SMALL (“these big conglomerates are killing the little guy!“) vs. I WORK HARD FOR MY PAYCHECK AND WILL SHOP WHEREVER I GET THE BEST PRICE (“all these bleeding hearts who whine about little stores disappearing should put their money where their mouths are… but they don’t“).

The brick and mortar stores that survive will, for the most part, have to provide something that is (a) truly irreplaceable, or (b) at least worth a modest premium.  I’m talking out of my hat here, but take electronics:  people don’t buy the service warranties because they are expensive and don’t get used.  But maybe buying a TV at a physical Best Buy should gets you the 3-year warranty for free – an offer not available online.  Maybe stores that don’t have loyalty programs will have to start them – programs that provide REAL value – like $100 off your next purchase of any pair of shoes over $200 (I’m making this up, but you get the picture).

I know it’s not my job in life to crack the conundrum of showrooming, but I still feel guilty.  That’s why I figure that once I start wearing the boots I bought on the Web – the same lovely boots that Neil the real shoe salesman so caringly sold me in person – I’ll have to avoid walking by the store, lest he see my feet and discover that I was seduced away by a significantly smaller price tag.

If you’re not careful, you may get your wish.

Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and like to share their work now and then. On my second blog, it’s David Jones‘ Adland. Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Marketoonist.

Given that today is Monday but it’s still somehow Black Friday, and it was Black Friday last Wednesday already, and it appears to still be Thanksgiving and yet Christmas… this panel seems awfully timely.

Enjoy.

Dear Fellow Marketer,

Feeling a little, you know, special these days? Who could blame you?


I mean, look what’s happening: we CMOs appear to be able to keep our jobs for 4 whole years. Folks can say things like “CMO to CEO” without giggling. Everyone needs all this help with content marketing, and consumer journeys, and digital, and CRM, etc. etc. Everyone’s all over us!


Yes, it can sometimes feel like marketing is coming up in the world.


But before you start feeling too important, allow me to perform a public service of sorts by reminding you what marketing is truly about.


Below is a real email (semi-masked to protect the embarrassed and embarrassing):


***** Message *****


From: SENDER
To: ME
Subject: Vector file of logo


Hi,


I am reaching you to request a vector logo file of your logo.


The logo will live on collateral materials for [Company Name's] first Annual Agency Hot Dog Eating Contest. Your agency will be participating.


It is important that the file be a vector file (EPS or AI), not to be confused with an image file (JPEG, GIF, PNG, TIFF).


Can you please help me with this?


If you do not have access to the logo in the requested format, perhaps you can forward this email to someone within your design or PR department. — It’s important.


Thank you.


***** End *****


So the next time you’re at some fancy strategy offsite, just remember to get the damn vector logo out in time for the hot dog eating contest (NOT an image file, which would be ridiculous!!).


Because — as has been pointed out — “it’s important.”


From a chair in the marketing department, it’s too easy to look only at the world that, well, you can actually see.  The problem is that – while your optics on other parts of the company may be zero – those other zones may be your greatest weakness.  And they’re operating in the webosphere 24/7.

You know, for example, that your company has plants in the Far East or does business with farms, but – unless you’re on this or that executive committee – your true knowledge of the goings on out in the field is extremely low.

Low, that is, until a video hits YouTube and becomes a sensation. That great campaign your team has been lovingly preparing for six months? Forget about it. No one would believe it, and everyone’s in crisis mode, anyway.

Not having a broad handle on your organization’s practices in the farthest reaches of the value chain might have been acceptable 10 years ago, but –  in the age of social media – companies have to be more aware of their soft spots: the activities that are vulnerable to miscommunication, misinterpretation or true mishandling.

How your company handles farmed salmon or trucker hours or car seat testing isn’t in the CMO’s purview, but you better believe that it sits on every marketer’s desk, every day, like a ticking time bomb.

Tick, tick, tick.

There are also plenty of examples where marketers have voluntarily entered the social media jungle, unprepared for the attacks that even a child could have told them might come.

It is smart marketing  – not “negativity” – to have an unblinkingly honest view of your brand and to protect its vulnerabilities. Every brand in the world has ‘em. McDonald’s in the US and Waitrose in the UK (hashtags #McDStories and #waitrosereasons, respectively) are both recent examples of powerful brands putting a toddler in front of a Twitter truck and expecting her not to get run over. Maybe she won’t, but do you really want to find out?

Of course, most of the challenges that brands face in social media aren’t new. People have always groused about poor service or “hated” this brand or another. The difference is that now every consumer is one tweet away from telling the universe about it.

Take the case of Progressive Insurance. When New Yorker Matt Fisher’s sister died in a car crash, Fisher wrote a scathing blog post. In one week, Marketwatch claims the company lost 1,000 customers, with another 1,600 saying that they would never do business with the insurer. Plus the news coverage was unbelievable.

Now, was Progressive wrong in this case? I have no idea. Do any of my friends have any personal knowledge of this particular situation? Nope.  But that didn’t stop them from tweeting and retweeting while the story was hot.

NBC News said it best: “the “lessons from [the] Progressive screw up” are that “when it’s Twitter vs. lawyers, take Twitter.”

The insurer settled the Fisher family’s lawsuit within three or four days.

In essence, social media simply amplifies your strengths and weaknesses. It creates a level of transparency that forces advertisers to live by what they say.  Or else.

And by the way, could a consumer just be “out to get” your company and stage some awful stunt that gets picked up worldwide? Yes, and that’s happened. In the meantime, you endure a week of hell, claiming your legitimate innocence, while the brand gets shredded.

So – what to do? Brands need to prepare for and anticipate the downside. A food company may want to think about how its ingredients are selected. A QSR might want to do the same. A shoe or computer company will want to think about its manufacturing policies and whether there are any parties that would relish revealing a damaging factoid.

This is not paranoia and, as I said, it’s not negativism. In my opinion, it’s actually the greatest thing you can do to protect what you care about. Everything’s easy when everything’s good. If the organic material hits the fan, how will you protect your assets and the consumers who believe in you and who need to understand what happened? What message do you want to communicate, and how, when and who will do it?

Don’t wait to figure this out. Sit down in private with your agencies and your leadership and create a plan for what you’ll do when a true or not-true-but-fast-moving event occurs. Know what you’ll do in the short term, and determine whether there would be any possible adjustments to the marketing message or the business overall in the long term.

The truth is that most brands aren’t doing heinous things, but there is a wide gulf between that truth and what actually might happen to you on the Web. Every week, I see a brand looking like a deer in headlights after some goof-up on a social network. When will we get it?

Prepare for what you should assume will be the inevitable. It doesn’t mean it’ll happen, but – if it does and you’re ready – the payoff is the preservation of brand value, your company’s reputation, your employees’ commitment and much more.

The bottom line is that living in a castle and thinking your brand is just fabulous is a mistake. Everyone’s got vulnerabilities. That’s business.

A version of this post was first published HERE by M&M Global.

Don’t Let Social Make You Stupid

September 30th, 2012

I’ve written a lot of posts on social media (like HERE and HERE and HERE). Piles of marketers, consultants and others opine on a daily basis about the thrilling, exciting, shiny new world of social media.

But here’s the thing: social doesn’t change any of the fundamental principles of communications and consumer engagement.

If you wouldn’t telemarket or mail an offer that doesn’t seem particularly relevant for the recipient, why put common sense in reverse, for example, when it comes to mobile?

There’s no switch in the consumer brain that makes an offer attractive, relevant and helpful simply because it’s delivered on a new device, or in some other sparkly new way.  There IS one big difference in social: now consumers can instantly tell millions of others how bad your marketing is – how “clueless” you seem to be.  And that should make us more (not less) careful about inaccurate targeting or just out-and-out NO targeting.

I chose the title of this post because of a Ron White quote I borrowed for my Ten Tips for Marketers: How to Avoid (or Deflect) a Social Blunder write-up back in February, and that’s this: “you can’t fix stupid.”

Don’t let social cloud your (or your agency’s) judgment, wise friends.  I say this because I care: social doesn’t fix stupid.

P.S.  Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and like to share their work now and then.  On my second blog,  it’s David Jones‘ Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp. Enjoy.

Readers know that I’m partial to a couple cartoonists and like to share their work now and then.  On my second blog,  it’s David Jones‘ Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

This entry pays homage to Fishburne’s hero, Maurice Sendak, who passed away in early May 2012.

Enjoy.

How is it that company after company trips itself up in the social media space?  GoDaddyAflacChryslerNestleKenneth ColeQantas.

On and on, over and over. And it’s not just about how to avoid a problem in the first place, but also how to handle an issue once it arises (which in and of itself can generate scorn or admiration from consumers).

There’s lots of advice on the Web for marketers hoping to protect their brands from a social media bruising, and I’ll offer my two cents here with 10 tips for avoiding social media’s banana peel.

BEFORE…

1. Be honest about your brand’s vulnerabilities when deciding to use social media and its tools.  It is smart marketing – not “negativity” – to have an unblinkingly honest view of your brand and to protect its soft spots.  Paging McDonald’s, come in McDonald’s…

2. Have a contingency plan ready.  It’s not a question of how brilliant you are.  Things just… happen. Especially in social media.  You simply cannot anticipate every person’s reaction and what s/he might do or say.  See:  Chapstick. Or Gap.

3. Marketers strive to make their messaging relevant and timely.  I have often thought about how I might make a brand’s message relevant at holiday time (interesting Christmas themed surveys, etc.).  Some topics, however, are too serious to be co-opted by a marketer.  Natural disasters?  No thank you. Deaths?  ‘Don’t think so.  I don’t care what the rationale is. This. Is. A. Bad. Idea.  Poster child: Kenneth Cole.

4. Please be sure your left hand knows what your right hand is doing. Social media is not an activity unrelated to the rest of the company and its activities or circumstances.  My fave example: Qantas [A great tweet from @kiwi_kali:  “Somewhere at Qantas HQ a middle-aged manager is yelling at a Gen Y social media ‘expert’ to make it stop.”].

AND IF YOU FIND YOURSELF IN THE STEELY GRIP OF A SOCIAL MEDIA MESS…

5. Respond quickly.  You are “right” and others are in the wrong?  No one cares. Your brand is now being used and abused on the Web?  Don’t insult your customers in response.  End a social media crash-and-burn fast with an apology, if that’s appropriate, or some other move that will disarm the bomb.  See: Nestle v. American Red Cross by @hanelly.

6. Once the immediate crisis has passed, circle back with critics that really matter to you and your business – preferable offline. Take the conversation out of public channels to keep from fanning the flames and to give the critic the attention that s/he deserves.

7. Protect your brand assets.  I harken back to what I learned long ago at Citi Credit Cards – the name and the physical product are precious.  One never bends, breaks or otherwise violates the actual plastic in ads or anywhere else.  Just because the Web isn’t as tactile, per se, doesn’t mean the rules of brand stewardship do not apply.  The Netflix fumble over “Qwikster” was inexcusable, in my opinion.  The company threw away years of brand equity, picked a name, in particular, that didn’t have a fabulous past, AND failed to register the @Qwikster Twitter handle.  That was already registered to a dude whose avatar was Elmo the Muppet smoking pot. Can you say “fireable offense?” Totally rad, dude.

8. If one staff member or representative goes off a cliff, don’t beat yourself up too badly – it doesn’t mean that social is “bad.”  Tell your CEO that (to borrow a famous line from comedian Ron White) social media doesn’t fix stupid.  See:  Best Buy and Chrysler.

9. Do whatever you need to do to ensure that history does not repeat itself. One social media screw-up is plenty.

10.  If it’s humanly possible, make lemonade from lemons.  Domino’s (see #8 above) did a phenomenal job of transforming a stupid human trick into a positive corporate opportunity.  This isn’t always possible, but a little humanity and sincerity can go a long way. In Domino’s case, living through this episode was most certainly a mile marker on their road to using social to fundamentally change the company.

This is by no means an all-inclusive list, but it’s a start.  Now get out there and don’t let your CEO kill any animals on video!

_____________________________

A version of this post was originally published by the Marketing Executives Networking Group (MENG).

 

“Why can’t you be more like your big sister?”

Does this approach ever work? Not too often. What such a comparison can do is produce a sibling that spends years trying to be someone he’s not, losing ground, rather than trying to identify and build on his own strengths.

I have this same sensation when I read articles heralding the arrival of the latest new Web or mobile retail phenomenon, or a new daily deals site, or a site where you can subscribe to your own mix of coffee or underwear.  These are all wonderful, but must digital advancements mean a fast death knell for brick and mortar stores?

It certainly hasn’t in banking.  When I was at Chase in the mid-90’s, many believed that online banking would spell a painful death for branches.  Profitable customers wouldn’t have the time or inclination to actually go somewhere and all the “good” business would move online.  Branches would be left to old ladies with passbooks. The first was new and good; the latter, old and tired.

What happened was very different, and banks that neglected their branch networks – letting the locations get old and crummy – ultimately had to scramble to restore their luster or lose business.

It seems to me that the same thing is happening in retail:  many stores have decided that they are “less than,” that they’ll never again be any good and that they should focus on the hopeless task of trying to be more like the Web.

Now don’t get me wrong: there are advantages to making stores more “Web-like” – Pacific Sunwear gives salespeople iPads so they can create outfits for shoppers and order out-of-stock items fast, and Brookstone is using tablets to demonstrate robots that can be controlled by an app and (soon) to deliver remote checkout. Ron Boire, Brookstone’s CEO is moving quickly on these initiatives because he’s concerned that “improvements in e-commerce will accelerate consumers’ migrations to the Web.”

But at a more strategic level, merchants that singularly obsess about being more like their Web siblings will fail – while they simultaneously stop investing in labor and let stores go downhill.  Good luck with that.

No, if bricks & mortar is going to thrive (or at least exist for awhile) it’s got to get its own mojo back.  That’s right: stores need to go out there and kick some Internet a*!@&!.

I mean, come on: If rolling over and playing dead is not an option, let’s get excited.  Let’s roll around in it.  Who are your real customers? When was the last time you actually listened to any of them? What experiences can a physical location deliver that either cannot exist or are “less than” online?

Apple has certainly delivered a new-world version of retail magic.  Its stores command the highest revenue per square foot in retail, and it’s about to open its largest location in the world in New York.

While folks claim that no other retailer could do what Apple has done, Ron Johnson says it’s the basics of experience that made the biggest difference.  In Apple’s case, one of the key elements of this experience is that salespeople don’t work on commission, so they can honestly recommend the best solution for a consumer and build a relationship – not a one-off sale that may leave a shopper unhappy.  Johnson urges all bricks & mortar entities need to “start from scratch and figure out how to create fundamentally new types of value for customers.” He openly states that the specific ways he plans to do that at JCPenney may be different than Apple, but the principle of uniquely “enriching customers’ lives” will remain the same.  Here are some tiny examples of brick & mortar stores actively searching for Web-proof transcendental moments:

Best Buy is now standing at the center of a changed universe.  Shoppers come visit to check out gadgetry, then check prices and buy on their smartphones while standing in the aisles.  Individuals new to cameras or DVD players can learn all they need to know online before ever setting foot in a store (so long impulse buying).  Form factor itself is eliminating the need for “place”: music and movies stream where you are, rather than you having to go to them (RIP faves Blockbuster and Tower Records). The question is, what is the retailer going to do about it? How can the chain deliver a sense of intimacy and comfort that will always be missing online? Can it boost its angels-devils strategy to increase the likelihood of getting the “right” shoppers in the door? Are there benefits that might only exist in the stores, like a richer version of the buy back program? How about incentives to wander?

Also in a high-price, high-anxiety category, Foot Locker is applying an “intimacy” tactic at the door.  A shopper accosted by a “How may I help you?” may mumble something and end up standing in front of a display not knowing what to do.  Having associates ask “What kind of shoe are you looking for?” has been a subtle change, but one that the company’s CEO says “is more likely to start a conversation” and result in a sale and increased loyalty.

Old Navy’s target is moms in their thirties.  The chain made the aisles wider, which is nice, but its new stores have “quick change pods” (or changing rooms) in the center and spread out for easy try-ons.  That’s awesome.

Nordstrom groups merchandise together so shoppers can see and try on whole outfits (which they do). Try that online.

These are all small steps in the right direction.  The bottom line is that there is no single solution: finding key consumer moments of truth takes a commitment to truly observing the shopper’s life and transforming the resulting insights into powerful moments of delight. The Web’s a killer, but it is not an option to put your head down and surrender. Sometimes, nothing beats a personal touch: stores need to go back to their roots and reinvent this crucial advantage for contemporary times.

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A version of this post was originally published by the Marketing Executives Networking Group.

 

For the last 3 years or so, I have ordered holiday gifts online from Dancing Deer. My mom and I send a little something to the doctors, friends and associates who make our lives a whole lot better throughout the year.

I have also told a number of friends about the site and the (good) quality of Dancing Deer products.

Such loyalty produces frequent emails from the company, particularly around holiday time.  I take the time to look at them all.  Based on the particular promotion and the number of days ’til Christmas, the offers can differ: free shipping or 20% or 30% off your purchase, for example. From the numerous emails and codes available online, Dancing Deer has trained me to wait to for what I think will be its “best” offer.

From my previous experience, that looked like it’d be a 30% off promotion expiring on December 4. The website copy reads, “As one of our most valued customers, we invite you to participate in this exclusive private sale.” I kept track of this email in my inbox, conscious every day that it was there somewhere.  Being a natural procrastinator, I collected all of my mother’s requests on the last day of the promotion and sat at the computer for around 45 minutes selecting products and pecking in the delivery information and gift messages for eight recipients.

Just before I submitted the order, I thought I’d take a quick look at the Web to see if there were any juicier codes available.  Now, I love this game, and will sit for 30 minutes or more looking for codes for high-ticket items.  This was not that.  I spent maybe 5 minutes… and found a code good for 10% off plus free shipping which trumped the “valued customer” discount.

This, gentle readers, bummed me out (not like world hunger bums me out, but you know). I spend time with this brand throughout the year, I recommend it, I put important gifts in its hands, and for what? So they can waste my time by thanking me with a “special offer” that any consumer could easily beat with a publicly available code?

I loathed the idea of calling the company, thereby wiping out the convenience and solitude offered by the Web, but I did.  I explained my position to a representative, and asked her if, under the circumstances, she could do any better for me than a deal that was available to anyone with a pulse.  I’ve written entire posts about customer service  (so I won’t dwell on it here), but let’s just say that having a random person named Emily fail to look up my record and remark that 10% plus free shipping was “a pretty good offer” didn’t do a whole lot for how disappointed I felt.  I asked for a supervisor, who listened to my story, apologized and found me a better code (thank you, Matt A.).  The End.

In the business of marketing, a lot is written about identifying and taking care of your best customers.  I kinda hoped it would be obvious that this should include offering these shoppers actual benefits, but perhaps not.  A company that is inauthentic and careless with loyal customers is perhaps worse off than one that does nothing:  Dancing Deer raised my expectations, made me feel good for giving it my business and then kind of sucker-punched me.

That’s no way to treat gingerbread-addicted family.

 

Steve Jobs: A Model Failure

October 25th, 2011

As a marketer, as a consumer, as someone who appreciates genius and beautiful design – as a human being – I was tremendously saddened by the death of Steve Jobs.

Every homage to him, every video, every shrine feels right and well-deserved.  But there is another side of Steve Jobs that is important, as well.

Steve Jobs was a failure.   Not once but several times over.   How about the Apple III?  It was so poorly designed that Apple suggested owners pick it up and drop it a few inches when it stopped working.

Or Lisa?  Now that was a spectacular failure.  Though significant in many respects, the grossly overpriced machine survived for about 18 months before it  was discontinued.  Apple ultimately dumped 2,700 Lisas into a Utah landfill to capture a tax write-off on the unsold inventory.apple lisa.jpg

That was, of course, after Apple had spent $50 million on developing Lisa.

Oops.

But of course, the ultimate Jobs “failure” was getting unceremoniously shoved out of his own company in 1985 by a more politically-astute John Sculley – a big-company executive.

And after getting dumped by Apple, NeXT didn’t do so well, either.

On and on.  Over and over.

“We Americans have a terrible habit of distilling stories of our great men and women into simplified and boring sound bites of success while ignoring the long, crooked, difficult, brave roads they took to realize that success,” says Augie Ray, author of a wonderful blog post called The Failure of Steve Jobs and Walt Disney.  “We like to believe that success is what defines the American spirit, but the truth is the opposite:   failure is what defines the people who achieve greatness.”

I’ve been thinking about how many of us could or would have “come back” from the truly crushing (and very public) failures Jobs endured.  Thrown out of your own company?  A spectacular product failure?  His story is obviously unique, but size these disasters down to something that could happen to any of us and ask yourself what you would do.

How would you feel? Could you still be a leader, a seeker?

This is a dislocating time for many, and everything seems weird.  I would advise the average executive as follows:  be certain of what you care about, do something about it, and stay focused on what’s really important.  Know your story.  Believe in your story.  And just keep going.

When talking about getting booted out of Apple, Jobs once said, “Sometimes life hits you in the head with a brick.  Don’t lose faith.”

No one could have said it better or with more credibility.

———————————-

A version of this post was originally published on the Marketing Executive Networking Group‘s blog, MENGBlend.