December 4th, 2015
I am a Birchbox subscriber. Twice, when the company’s sample boxes got me hooked on a product and I went to the website to purchase a full-sized version, the product was sold out, and I had to check back numerous times. The last time this happened was on Cyber Monday 2015, when Birchbox was pushing me emails shouting “25% off on everything!” Twice that day, I took a moment away from my work and clicked through from those emails only to find the product unavailable. Frustrating. As a result, I tweeted at Birchbox, asking them whether a sale could really be called a sale if the products loyal subscribers wanted (that they’d already promoted to us) weren’t available. I got a smiley robo-tweet in return, apologizing and suggesting I buy something else. When I tweeted a second time, suggesting that this sounded a little like a bait and switch, Birchbox tweeted back the identical robo-apology… minus the suggestion that I shop for something else. Non-thinking, unfeeling, impersonal and obnoxious.
If that sounds strong, it’s because I care. Seriously. Birchbox obviously frets quite a bit over how pretty their monthly boxes are, and what color the tissue paper is inside, and all I want to do is shake them and ask, “Do you understand what you sell?”
Like all brands, Birchbox’s product is not at the point of the most obvious transaction – in their case, the monthly boxes of samples. Their “product” is the entire experience into which a consumer is drawn when he/she decides to allow a brand into his or her busy life. And that’s what it is: I have choices, I don’t need you and – if I let you in – every single touch, every single interaction better be great. In Birchbox’s case, I love the samples, but may not renew my annual subscription because the surrounding experience they provide is lousy and I can’t count on getting a product I want even if I like the sample.
I am constantly shocked at how unconscious brands seem, how blind they are to the fact that experience IS the brand. As a marketer myself, it’s seriously terrifying how clueless brands are about what’s really important.
Oh, and – once a customer starts yelling online – it often kicks off additional complaints, like the woman on Twitter who responded to my experience with “I was basically charged twice for a December birchbox. I signed up last week and now I have ten bucks out of my account today.”
Oh, and (one more time…), of course Birchbox has completely ignored my question about sale rainchecks. Ignoring a customer? That’s the worst.
As Brian Solis says, “Ignorance is diss.”
All this is what Brian’s book is about, and why I loved it. If the above blah-blah makes me sound a little crazy, Brian says I’m normal. He explains that the digital world has upped the ante in terms of what customers expect, making us all “accidental narcissists” who expect more and expect it quickly. And by the way, these expectations that started online have bled into every part of our lives. The experience is everything everywhere now. I don’t care how amazing a refrigerator is; if I can’t get a service person on the phone, I will never buy you again. I don’t care how great your clothes are if your salespeople are rude and your return policy sucks. I don’t care how amazing you are if your ad tracking follows me all over the Web until I want to scream. I don’t care how fabulous your shoes are if your website’s a nightmare. No amount of product fabulousness – or boxes that are so pretty I save them – can overcome a crappy experience.
Brian is right. From the second a brand story catches a consumer’s eye, the clock starts ticking and the expectations start growing. That brand is on stage… and needs to learn how not to f* it up. I used to love Birchbox. Happy thoughts all around. That was then. Last night, I saw a holiday TV ad for the company, and my head was full of disappointment. That’s a self-inflicted wound that the company would need to work hard to close.
March 17th, 2015
Anyone who knows me well knows that helping people understand, grow and protect their personal brands online is something I’ve been committed to for some time. I’ve written numerous posts on the subject, including these two recent ones – Thinking it won’t happen to you? Dumb idea and Don’t let social make you stupid – along with a popular 4-part series called “Promoting and growing brands in the digital age” that I started writing way back in 2007 (Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4).
While nearly all of the advice I provided in these posts is still valuable (if I may say so myself), just as much or more has changed since then, particularly when it comes to who can now see, capture, process and act upon the information we’re all sharing every day. How hard would it be for someone with a mighty set of algorithms and a big server to answer these questions about you right now?
Where do you live?
Where do you shop?
What do you look like?
What do you drive?
How much did your home cost?
How much do you spend on clothes/groceries/electronics?
Where did you go to school/where do your kids go to school?
Where do you vacation and party? What’s your favorite drink?
How far are your favorite stores from your home and office?
Who are your friends?
What are your favorite restaurants? Where do you eat out most often?
The answer is that it wouldn’t be very hard at all for a capable person or company to harvest the answers to these and many more questions about you, and to mix and match them in an infinite number of ways in order to predict what you might do, where you might go and what you might want, watch or buy next.
Is this what we’ve signed up for, or do we just not think about it? Are we paying enough attention to the idea that everything we like, share, post and repost, pin or repin, tweet or retweet, Instagram or “re-gram” is being used to create profiles of each of us, and that the value of these profiles goes far beyond what Amazon might try to see us next?
Mark Cuban is thinking about it, and he believes that the biggest mistake we are making in social media is letting the content we create live forever [If you cannot see the video interview with Mark below, watch it HERE. It’s a must-see]. His point of view is that looking back at the days when privacy worries were focused on cookies is going to appear quaint when the 0s and 1s we throw off become the basis of psychological profiles that are used in pervasive and invasive ways that we cannot control.
You’ll go to a job interview, and the company will have a psychological profile of you based on your online activity. You’ll get sued, and the opposing lawyer will share where and what you’ve posted, along with an analysis saying that your activity looks that of a person who was convicted of xyz crime, and so there must be a link. You’ll get pulled over for speeding, and the officer will have reviewed an analysis that scored how likely you are to have committed various crimes, or be drunk, or to have seen a therapist or have a weapon in the car before he even walks up to your window.
We already know that these scenarios are not far-fetched. In the days when I first began writing about personal branding, one of the most important lessons I taught was the importance of creating your own content in order to create and present the narrative you want. Now that benefit must be balanced with what others can do with the intelligence you produce.
I have tweeted over 13,000 times since joining Twitter in 2008. How many do I remember? How many feature some tiny tidbit that could be used in a way I did not intend? How important is it that I keep everything I tweeted in February 2010? The answers are Not many, Probably several and Not at all. To that end, I’ve begun erasing old tweets and am beginning to scrub away a bunch of old stuff.
If you handle this intelligently, such social cleansing is not likely to negatively impact your positive search results, but it is likely to limit what is unknowingly shared with others. At least, that’s the hope: I for one would not bet someone’s life on the idea that anything on the Web can ever be fully erased, but you gotta start somewhere.
What if yesterday rewarded those with the biggest digital footprints possible, while tomorrow goes to those with the smallest?
P.S. Sure, Cuban is selling in this interview; Cuban sells like the rest of us breathe. That doesn’t mean he’s wrong.
February 20th, 2014
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 news – more 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.
December 2nd, 2013
If you’re not careful, you may get your wish.
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.
June 6th, 2013
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 *****
Subject: Vector file of logo
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.
***** 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.”
November 12th, 2012
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.
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.
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.
May 14th, 2012
February 14th, 2012
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.
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!
December 15th, 2011
“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.
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.