Is Santa the best marketer ever?

Think about it:

Long-term reputation management: No Tiger Woods problems here. Ever.  Do you think that Coca-Cola worries that it might go to sleep one night and wake up to find a sex tape of Santa on the Web? Have you ever noticed that the whole “Mommy kissing Santa Claus” business never seems to go past a certain point (paging Charlie Sheen…)?  Nope, not gonna happen.  Santa is one reliable dude.

Brand promise and channel integration: No matter where you go, you receive the same disciplined message.  Movies, television, email, radio, social media, Web, snail mail, music, retail… You get the same message everywhere and each channel builds upon and reinforces the others.  He’s big, he’s fat, he wears a red suit and he gives you what you ask for on Christmas Eve. Not December 23. Not December 25. It’s December 24. Every year. The end.

Never any hidden charges:  There are no Congressional committees convening to discuss whether Santa is taking advantage of consumers.  There is no small print.  You are not likely to be subscribed “accidentally” to a magazine simply by unwrapping a gift beneath the tree.  Santa’s pricing appears to be entirely above board. And somehow, shipping is always free.

mom-reading-santa-stephanie-fierman.jpgBrand advocacy: Think of all the parents who read stories about Santa, take their children to see Santa, tuck said children into bed on Christmas Eve with the promise that Santa will soon arrive with presents… Santa has a virtual army of adults carrying his message each and every year, in the exact way that will have the greatest positive impact on each individual child.  Wow!

Long-term view of the customer relationship: Santa is committed to NPV, and everyone’s NPV is BIG.  If you’re a  kid, he wants you to tell other kids what he gave you.  He wants you to talk to your parents and grandparents about what you want.  He wants you to bring your friends to meet him.  And when you grow up, he encourages you to invite him into your home and buy extravagant gifts in his name.  Santa: the ultimate “cycle of life” promoter.

Customer targeting and personalization: If you ask Santa for a bicycle, you’re going to get a bicycle.  You might also get socks, but if a bike is your preferred method of transportation, you won’t get a wagon by mistake. Further, Santa is very likely to build the bike in the exact color you specify. 

A message of “giving back” that’s attainable and not too sanctimonious:  Be nice, get your gift.  Be naughty, and you’re on your own.  No chest-beating, no lectures, no threatening.  Everyone knows the rules, and the rules don’t change.believe-in-santa-stephanie-fierman.jpg
 
Attributes powerful enough to overcome controversy: Santa has a problem that I don’t think any other brand has ever experienced – that is, some people don’t even believe he exists! You may not like a brand like Reebok, or Microsoft, or Hanes, or whatever, but you wouldn’t think of denying their very existence on the planet. And yet, the core attributes represented by Santa transcend even this existential challenge. Even those who ”know” he doesn’t exist still enjoy the gestalt of the brand.  Name me a pizza chain or a department store or TV manufacturer who can say the same.

I could go on (ultimate loyalty program, no channel conflict, efficient manufacturing, distribution and customer service support…), but you get the idea.

Though another Christmas has past, perhaps we should all look to Santa for guidance in 2010.  After all, his operation is well-loved, profitable, always in growth mode and he never loses customers.  I’d be happy with that.

For more marketing thoughts and ideas, check out my second blog at Marketing Observations Grown Daily.

So I walked around all last week, turning the Tiger Woods debacle over in my head, wondering if I had anything to add.  Hadn’t everyone already piled on?  Probably.  And even the thoughts I want to share with you aren’t particularly new, but that doesn’t mean they’re not worth saying.  Again. And again.tiger-woods-stephanie-fierman.jpg

Thought #1: what should be public is now private, and what should be private has been made public.  This is an expression borrowed from Ellen Hume, currently an Annenberg Fellow and a world-renowned journalist, teacher and television commentator, among other things. 

Ellen was also the founder of PBS‘s Democracy Project, which focused on citizen involvement in public affairs and was, in part, an effort to more fully leverage all the channels beyond television (that were available even in the late 90′s) in ways that tapped in to those channels’ special capabilities.  The Web is great for providing more in-depth detail than one can deliver on television, for example.

When Hume made this public/private statement, she was making the point that we seem to prefer using 24-hour channels, like the Web, to dredge up every salacious, personal detail about everything and everyone, no matter how ultimately truthful or additive to the story such details may be. By the time we beat said details to death, who even knows what was true or not but, man, what a ride.  Think Tiger here: private details that are now gruesomely public, like a neighbor claiming the golfer was snoring on the lawn and the 911 call heard ’round the world.

Contrast all this with TARP.  Could you explain what TARP is in 25 words or less? How many beneficiaries can you name? How many of them have paid back the money? What is the name of the popular American economist and Nobel Prize winner who has been particularly outspoken and critical of the program? Do you know approximately how much the U.S. government has handed out to date?

I could not answer all of these questions, but I do know that Tiger Woods’ wife used a wedge to smash in his car windows.

After you include Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, the U.S. government has doled out over $1 TRILLION in our money. The state of the financial markets has an impact on this country, and an impact on you.  Tiger’s mistresses? Not so much. But dang it all if some knucklehead isn’t updating this story every 20 seconds. 

What is public is private and what should be private is public.  Conduct yourself accordingly.

Related Thought #2: The math doesn’t work anymore. Once something is brewing you can hope for the best, but act, please, assuming the worst.

Just this past week, a smart person I know looked at a situation in which it was possible that Company X might encounter negative press if information having nothing to do with the company was misinterpreted in the media. So this smart person did what smart people are trained to do: s/he attempted to thoughtfully quantify Company X’s exposure – for example, how many individuals might actually be impacted by the event. Everyone comfortably concluded that the answer was not very many.

That used to be a good answer. Not anymore. Now it only takes one person with a high-speed Internet connection and a beef to let millions of people know what he knows or what he thinks he knows. Dell poo-pooed Jeff Jarvis.  United ignored Dave Carroll. Comcast disregarded Mona Shaw.  One blogger with an agenda attempted to trash a model’s reputation.   An anonymous jerk on JuicyCampus.com started a vicious tirade about female Yale Law School students.  Are you next?

devil.jpgIt takes one person to start a fire you will not be able to control.  And some form of this content will remain on the Web forever. For-e-ver.

Forget about intelligent, rational assessments of how big something might become.  By the time it’s big, it’s too late.  It could be one anonymous email, or an angry spouse or a dissatisfied customer.  Move quickly when a crisis arises, or else.

So what I hope Tiger, you and I now have in common is an understanding of the gigantic reputational risks that now exist, given the Web and a 24 hour news cycle.  My advice to normal people is to build a positive reputation online before something happens, so it’s there as a counterbalance to any threat that might arise.  I never thought I needed to recommend that one should also attempt to avoid totally avoidable, stupid acts that could unravel everything a person has built, but hey – a fresh reminder never hurt anyone.

Recently, I have noticed a trend: I often write about things that help people cheat.

OK not cheat, exactly – it’s more like I often share information on services that allow you to address some sticky or uncomfortable situation that needs fixing but for which there is no obvious solution.  So, really, I like to think that I’m just making a small, humble contribution to the concepts of justice and fairness in this cold world.

Yes, marketers can talk themselves into anything.

goggle-stephanie-fierman.jpgAnyway, it really does look like I have a propensity for this kind of thing. First, I wrote about Google’s Goggle feature. Once activated, Goggle (here at the Gmail Lab) forces you to solve a series of math problems before it allows you to send email. The default settings turn the feature on only on weekend nights – the most likely times, I guess, for drunk emailing – but you can adjust the settings if you find yourself sending imprudent notes to your ex on Wednesday nights.

And there was Slydial – possibly the most brilliant invention since voicemail was created.  So you know all those people you’re supposed to call, but you’d rather stick a hot poker in your eye? Yeah – those. Or maybe you just need to make some calls so you can check them off your list… if only you didn’t actually have to speak to anyone. Enter Slydial (www.slydial.com). Instead of calling the actual person in question, you dial 267-SlyDial and enter the subject’s cell phone number. Slydial then connects you directly to the person’s voicemail so you can leave a message without ever having to speak to the person you’re “calling” (“Oh hey! It’s Stephanie. SO sorry to have missed you…“).

SlyDial is just beautiful. The ultimate antidote for those painful, anti-social moments.

office-kid-stephanie-fierman.jpgThen I wrote about The Office Kid (www.TheOfficeKid.com), a new product for the childfree among us. Anyone who doesn’t have a kid has found herself picking up the slack for a parent who leaves early for a soccer game/recital/school play/whatever tiny people do. So unfair! The Office Kid kit includes fake kid art for your office and your very own kid photo so you too can say that the school called and you must fetch your barfing kid immediately.  The Office Kid: $20. Midday shopping at Saks: priceless.

Today’s addition to this directory of shortcuts, gentle readers, is Expense-A-Steak from the New York steakhouse Maloney & Porcelli. This one is a little different from the others (“different” in that it’s the one most likely to get its creator sued for fraud), so I’m not going to recommend it or go into any detail.  From strictly an advertising point of view, however, this little baby currently produces 1.1 million instances in Google (including an editorial by AdAge‘s Bob Garfield and an entire article in The Wall Street Journal) - and that’s a lot of steaks that may have been served up at M&P.  [See my P.S on this one below]

So there you have it: my ongoing ode to tools and tactics that help you, uh, smooth the rough edges of life. Why do I love them? I think I just have a huge amount of respect for their creators – such ingenuity! My brain just does not work like that.  Good thing I’m smart enough to appreciate the fruits of their labors.

P.S. While wandering the Web for this post, I stumbled on a new Google feature, “Got the Wrong Bob?” Have you ever sent an email, only to receive a reply from a stranger saying that you’ve contacted the wrong person? “Got the Wrong Bob?” scans your Gmail files and tries to identify when you’ve accidentally addressed an email to the wrong person… before it’s too late.

I really seem to have a knack for this stuff.  You can thank (or Slydial) me later.

P.S. To the kids watching at home: when creating a tool like Expense A Steak that could conceivably be misused and abused by some goober -thereby exposing YOU to legal risk – it’s best to add a simple statement like “For Entertainment Use Only.” Your checkbook – and conscience – will thank you.

gucci-sunglasses-stephanie-fierman.jpgA recent article made me think back to a post I wrote last summer titled “Stephanie Fierman Likes Plastic Gucci Sunglasses – And Is OK With It.” The post says that experts who say that not-rich consumers are essentially duped into buying luxury goods are missing a large swath of buyers who know exactly what they’re doing: that is, buying fun, knowing full well that they could buy functionality at a far lower price. Hence, Gucci vs. $10 plastic sunglasses I can buy on the street. Plastic is plastic. But that dopey logo represents an indulgence a reward – for which I am sometimes willing to pay full freight.street-vendor-stephanie-fierman.jpg

BusinessWeek outlines the efforts of Dan Ariely, a behavioral economist and author of the book Predictably Irrational, who has spent the past year trying to figure out the forces that drive people to cheat (paging Bernie Madoff…)

Ariely’s very very boiled down conclusion is that individuals who are not directly faced with evidence or reminders that what they are doing is wrong are more likely to plow ahead and conversely, those who are reminded are less likely to do so. He describes a couple of experiments he used to try to measure “deception’s slippery slope.”
* Subjects who knowingly wore faux designer sunglasses later cheated twice as often on an unrelated task than those wearing authentic goods – take the first step and it’s that much easier to take the second.
* Get an auto insurance applicant to sign his name on the top of the application rather than the bottom, and he will be more honest about his driving habits – put the consequences right in someone’s face and you’re likely to get “better” behavior.

Here’s a TED video of Ariely talking about why people think it’s ok to cheat:

This has extreme ramifications and potential opportunities for luxury goods manufacturers like LVMH who spend a lot of money and time drawing attention to the costs of counterfeit goods.

Part of the problem is the arguments these companies use. Does the average woman – out with her friends to have a little fun on a Saturday afternoon without a lot of money – have any sympathy when the luxury companies are described as the chief victims of counterfeit buying? I don’t think so.

But what if these manufactures took a different tack, promoting the fact that buying faux fuels organized crime and following it through with stories of what these same criminals did with the $30 I paid for a fake Chloe bag? It certainly wouldn’t be possible in all venues, but could some of these firms visit places like Canal Street in New York and engage directly with potential buyers about the consequences of buying fakes? I don’t think I’ve ever seen this happen. I’ve seen local TV and newspaper stories about how a luxury company has done a raid with local law enforcement… but never a company interacting directly with consumers at the street-level point of purchase.

If was looking at a table full of fake Tiffany merchandise and given proof of the spot that my money goes to fund terrorist groups, what would I do? Would I stand there and think of the two friends I lost on American Airlines Flight 11? I believe I would – and I think I’d walk away from the table, and tell my friends about the experience.

The Guccis and Tod’s and Burberrys of the world need to find a way to debunk the idea that buying fakes is a victimless crime, and they need to do it as close to the moment of impact – the moment I’m about to buy that fake Cartier watch as possible.

Pity the poor retailer.

stephanie-fierman-grocery-shopping.jpgVandalism.  Gobs of costly employees. Shoplifting. Huge shipping costs. Rent, utilities and facilities expenses. Oh yes, and sales stink.

So the last thing the modern proprietor needs is to be compared to a storeeee innnn spaceeee… But Brandweek did just that when it published  “Why Can’t Shopping Be More Like Online Shopping?” (or “Why Retailers Should Be Acting More Webby” online*) a full-page editorial lamenting why oh why “regular” stores can’t be more like online ones.  Why bricks and mortar establishments aren’t taking “advantage” of all the stuff that “online competitors have been perfecting” for years.

Hmm.  Stores are far from perfect (my grocery store was renovated recently, and now I can’t find a darn thing) but come on.

Let’s take the points raised in this article one by one and give a quick, incomplete-but-adequate response regarding the practicality/reasonableness of each:

* Product reviews.  Where would a retailer put product reviews in a store where everyone would see them?  Who would be responsible for keeping them current? Who would be responsible for mending/replacing them if they were damaged or defaced? How could a chain retailer ensure 100% compliance across its network?

* Bestsellers. Pretty much “ditto” to the above.stephanie-fierman-online-shopping.jpg

* Search.  This one’s just mean. Stores have been experimenting with kiosks for years with mixed results.  Brands that want to experiment with shelf displays typically need to send their own people in to do it (expensive, time-consuming). The writer refers to a test that Campbell’s tried years ago. It alphabetized its soups in-store.  Result? They sold less soup.  And store maps? Who can read one of those and where the heck is it?

* Affinity. Since 10 out of 10 shoppers who walk through the door are looking for different items and would be lost if some products where re-grouped with others just because someone thought it should be that way. And if we’re talking about posting suggestions near products, see above for Reviews and Bestsellers.

* Brevity. The writer wishes there was a “convenience aisle” for check-out.  There is (15 items or less please). But when a store’s busy, you’re going to wait behind a bunch of people.  When was the last time you had to wait behind a bunch of people while checking out online?

And with this last point, I tip my hand: the presence and need for multiple (indeed, masses of) human shoppers and workers to make a store location on dry land work is the reason that my local grocer will never be like FreshDirect.  It’s not just money and profits that keep live retailers from taking on characteristics of Web shopping, as the article hypothesizes.  Some things, for all intents and purposes, are simply not able to be done well in the real world.

But if we ask why online shopping isn’t more like regular shopping, the good reason is also human interaction: a person that helps you figure out whether that sweater is black or navy. A greeter at the door who says “Hello” and thanks you for coming. A saleswoman who knows just by looking at you what size will work, and will give you an opinion on an outfit if you ask. A butcher who will tell you which cut of meat to buy when two choices look exactly alike.  A person who will give you a smile (or more) on a crummy day.  Oh, and I can go out and be home in less than an hour with the stuff I need.

Are there cranky and/or incompetent salespeople in stores?  You bet.  And websites malfunction, are often inscrutable and crash once in awhile.  Nobody’s perfect (not even technology).

So there you have it:  in real life, it takes a village to sell merchandise that one or two people can sell online - and that’s always going to be messy/ier.  Life’s not always pretty.  Cut your favorite store some slack.  Use channels and experiences for what each is good for and don’t bother wondering why reading online (or on a Kindle) can’t be more like holding a real book or vice versa.  There’s room in the universe for both.

* Dear Brandweek: You gave the article I tore out of my subscription copy an entirely different title on your website, thereby making it easier for me to find in the physical world than the online one.  Go figure.

Mojo readers know that I truly enjoy the work of two wonderful marketing/business cartoonists and like to share it now and then.  On my second blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David JonesAdland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp. 

I have to say that  ever since I found out that tweets carry a number of legal risks  I’ve been waiting for someone to deliver this painfully true characterization of what a meeting between Marketing and Legal just might be like… Enjoy!

stephanie-fierman-tom-fishburne-twitter-legal.jpg

Yesterday’s New York Times book review of Ellen Ruppel Shell‘s Cheap: The High Cost of Discount Culture was, I thought, wonderful and terrifying at the same time. [If you cannot see a video about the book below, click HERE.]

The author’s well-researched hypothesis is that we are either ignorant of or – in many cases – simply choose to ignore the profoundly negative, corrosive effects of needing to have everything cheap, cheap, cheap.  The article’s primary example from the book is shrimp, which went from an expensive treat to something you can get at any cheesy seafood chain restaurant nearly any night of the week on the “all you can eat” menu: a phenom fueled by so much greed and artificial chemicals that what they should serve at our tables is the resulting ”pollution and toxic waste,” with a side of the “ruinous debt, environmental degradation, horrifying human rights abuses and violence that left millions destitute” in Thailand and other countries.

Yummm.  Pass the garlic bread.

But do Americans care?  Lower food prices at Wal-Mart are impressive because, even if you never set foot in one of its stores, its mere presence drives down food prices in the surrounding area.  Hurray!  Forget about the fact Wal-Mart’s brand-name food items aren’t all that much cheaper, in fact, and how do you know that that chicken isn’t cheaper because it’s of lower quality?  What we do know is, well, all the things we know about how Wal-Mart has historically kept its prices down. 

These practices are why I do not shop at Wal-Mart.  But I’m in the minority.

And has this obsession American’s have with inexpensive goods damaged us in macro ways that are now coming home to roost?  When prices are too low, innovation is nearly impossible, reports a Harvard economist. 

Paging General Motors. Oh, and this moribund company is already “out of bankruptcy?!” Paging the U.S. government…

The only true major American innovation outside of Apple that’s gotten any real attention… has occurred on Wall Street.  And we all know how well that’s going for millions of people.

So I’m worried.  There are a lot of executives who have generated a lot of shareholder value by sticking the low-price needle into our arms… and consumers like it.  Now we’re in a recession, which is likely to compound the effect: many now have no alternative but to shop for the least expensive goods – and others use it as a sadly understandable reason to reverse course and cut back.  People are worried, and conserving:  I’ve seen several studies where people say they’re cutting back on “values” purchases, such as “green” and organic goods for example.

Where does it end?  What do we care about the most?  The U.S. is consistently on the wrong side of global lists of developed countries ranked for homelessnessobesity, high school graduation, health care quality… and we’re the biggest polluter in the world.   

There’s a lot of chest-beating on television about the national debt.  “We’re saddling our grandchildren with crippling debt! Gahhh!”  What about what we’re doing right now - what we care about today? 

Mojo readers know that I’m hooked on a couple wonderful marketing/business cartoonists and like to share their work now and then.  On my second blog, Marketing Observations Grown Daily, it’s David Jones Adland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.  Enjoy!

stephanie-fierman-brand-camp-social-media.jpg

Now more than ever, consumers want to feel good about the things they do and buy.  I’ve written a couple posts about the phenomenon on aspirational purchasing and making something groovy out of pretty much nothing and, recently, I saw the most fascinating example of turning a cruddy experience into something swanky.

Witness:  Cash4Gold.  You have to be living under a rock to not have seen their commercials, but just to be sure… Here’s the company’s weird Super Bowl ad, in which Ed McMahon and MC Hammer talk while a disembodied hand holds money (“Call toll free now!”):

And here is one of Cash4Gold’s standard ads (“Turn your unwanted or broken jewelry into cold hard cash!“)

Do these ads make you feel like a sharp cookie, or like you’re about to lose your house and have already checked the couch for loose change?  Given McMahon’s humiliating mortage disaster and Hammer’s personal woes, Cash4Gold comes across as a last resort for the truly pitiful and desperate.  Hardly something I’d be sharing over dinner with my girlfriends.

Contrast this to OutofYourLife.com.  It’s the exact same concept, but take a look at the company’s television ad:

I can identify with the woman in the ad because, unlike Ed McMahon, she’s “like me” (or like the woman I’d like to be) - attractive, secure and, of course, smart for unloading jewels from her past relationships.  And fyi, all of these ex boyfriends and their golden effluvia don’t mean she’s a loser: it means she dumped them and now has the perfect man, whom she (you), of course, deserve(s). 

Study the ad’s details:  the way the script weaves in the personal “stories” related to each piece, the sexy voiceover, the website’s design - even the box you use to ship off your jewels.  Everything about the ad is intended to reinforce that you are a sexy, beautiful, enticing, clever woman and that this is what such a person does. 

So virtually the same product, but with a message that permits the customer to create a transformational, positive story out of the fact that she’s got to hock her own jewelry to pay the rent. 

This is an unusually overt example of advertising’s ability to shape not only a message, but an entire experience… even the kind of person you are for being a customer.  ‘Love it!

What other self-worth-threatening activities could be transformed in the same manner? How about selling your car, or buying a used car? Ditto for “gently-worn” clothing. Foreclosure auction advertising?

 

One of the major reasons I started this blog back in September 2007 was that, even then, you could see brands and individuals discovering the worlds of search and social media – and the result wasn’t pretty.

What happens when decisions are turned inside out, when employees blog and consumers/clients can say whatever they like to millions of people 24 hours a day?  How are you supposed to behave when a stranger says something personal and inaccurate about you, or buys the URL www.yourcompanyname goesheresucks.com?  Why are all these strangers talking about me and how can I make them stop??

Many a CEO, friend and neighbor had this reaction.  All of them had to find a way to deal.

As an private citizen and a business person, I found myself mucking around in this new environment with everyone else, and wrote a 4-part series on the topic in what now seems like eons ago (Internet Time).  Called “Promoting and Growstephanie-fierman-reputation-cookie.jpging Brands in the Digital Age,” the entries were featured on this blog from October 2007 to March 2008.

So since everyone knows to expect reruns over the summer… I thought I’d run the series again.  For most of  you, I suspect it’ll be the first time you’ve seen this.

Check it out; the advice about building your own personal brand online holds.

Part 1 – I introduce the idea that you are your own personal brand online.  How will you control it?  Can it be controlled? What should you do?

Part 2 – This entry is primarily focused on the announcement that I’d be partnering with DIGO Brands to provide “online brand self-defense” services to clients.

Part 3 – Ah, good one.  This entry focuses on the JuicyCampus debacle, where female Yale students were being harassed and endangered online.

Additionally, Part 3 includes my top ten tips for building your own personal brand online.

Part 4 – More can’t-say-I-didn’t-warn-you tips, plus the always-popular religious rumor(s) swirling around Obama’s candidacy.

Do not let this go.  Do no let anyone else create who you are or what you are online.  You have a lot of tools: use them smartly and persistently, please.