The Experience Is The Thing

December 4th, 2015

And now a rant on customer experience triggered by Brian Solisnew book, X: The Experience When Business Meets Design (more on this later).

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.

Great book.

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.

I was in a client meeting when an earthquake shook New York City a couple weeks ago.  We all stared at each other for a few seconds and waited for the building to fall down. When it didn’t, we went back to business.

Back to the same agenda, for sure, but not before the New Yorkers in the room had conjured 9/11.  The few, quiet comments didn’t turn into a conversation – no one wanted that – but the sickening feeling was there, in the room with us, as fresh and raw as ever.  Interestingly, the morning actually started with someone remarking that the beautiful weather reminded her of that lovely clear day almost ten years ago.  In New York, good things remind us.  Bad things remind us.  It’s just here.   All the time.

I personally was not in New York on 9/11.  I was in San Francisco, and the flight freeze meant I couldn’t come home.

I felt awful.  I wasn’t there when my city got hurt.  I wasn’t there when friends died.

When I finally did make it back, I took the 6 Train down to the Financial District alone.  I think it was September 21.  When I climbed out of the subway, I discovered a planet I did not recognize.  Crowds were everywhere.  People were crying.  Others were clutching photos of loved ones for whom they were still searching.  The sidewalk was thick with people, milling around, shouting to get each other’s attention, taking pictures, and generally contributing to the chaos.  I took five or six steps and just froze.  When I stopped, I could finally see the gray particles floating in the air, landing on my shoulders and in my hair.  It took me a few seconds to realize what they were.

It was the end of the world, and all I could do was stand there under a big scaffold, staring in the direction of a smoking hole in the ground.

I don’t know how long I stayed immobile, with the flakes wafting down on my sweater.  It must have been a minute or two because, as in some slo-mo movie scene, a cop seemed to emerge from nowhere.  He walked over to me, put his hand on my arm and said, “Are you OK, miss?  Do you need help?”  And then he stood there, waiting, as if I was his only concern in the world.  He maintained eye contact and just – waited – with the kindest look on his face.

Snapped out of my daze, I immediately said I was fine, embarrassed that I’d taken this guy away from others who were clearly in greater disress.

I have never forgotten that moment and never will.  That cop had everything more important to do, but he saw me through a huge mass of people.  He took a couple of seconds to care.  He put a human face on the inhuman.  I think he saved me, in a fashion, right there on the sidewalk.

I’m not saying that I haven’t paid attention to reality in the last decade, but that experience changed my view of the New York City Police Department brand, just a little bit, forever.

I have written before about tiny moments of truth that can make a huge difference.  Small gestures of grace, seemingly disconnected from the main event, which land with such a force (because the consumer expects so much less) that they have a material if not permanent impact on a brand’s ability to truly connect.

Look for the individuals who can do this for your brand.  Take care of them. Because in a stressful moment, you are not there, your CEO is not there, your PR is not there, your advertising is not there.  But that lone person is.  And for a customer, he or she may be all that makes your brand human:  something it seems the entire world could use a little bit more of right now.

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A version of this post was originally published on the Marketing Executives Networking Group‘s blog, MENG Blend.

Sometimes great minds think alike, don’t you think?

As my clients can attest, I have become obsessed with the story of corporate-marketing-executive-turned entrepreneur Susan Nethero.

During her years working at Xerox, Time Inc. and other companies, Nethero grew tired of the fact that a product she absolutely needed – a product that manufacturers knew she needed and would pay (a lot) for – was never available with the characteristics and benefits she wanted.  That product was the bra, and Nethero eventually became dependent on European offerings because they came in more sizes.

But then she did the magic trick of turning observation into insight, realizing that millions of other women must be as frustrated as she was. Nethero’s chain of Intimacy stores opened in 1992 and, today, she has 15 stores and $36 million in annual revenue.  

Because many women walk around in the wrong size bra (like Nethero had), the key to the entire Intimacy experience
is the professional bra fitting required in all the stores. Why is it not optional? Because the right fit is the brand’s vital differentiator… allowing Nethero, among other things, to charge $90 when the typical department store bra is around $45.

If that sounds like a lot, it’s not.  Any woman will tell you that – compared to working out or plastic surgery – it’s a small price to pay to look younger and 10 pounds lighter. “There is no way that a brand can easily compete in the high-end market without something uniquely special,” says Marshal Cohen.   “With intimates, comfort and fit are way up high in the chart, and price is a lot less sensitive.  In other words, you want to remove price from the equation.” When Nethero went on Oprah – who promptly instructed her fans to get professional bra fittings in 2005 – Intimacy’s business exploded.

So what if a newbie tries to screw up that equation by turning down a fitting?  What happens, you ask?  What happened was that Nethero took the locks off the dressing room doors.

She took the locks off the doors!

This blew me away. Think about it.  Nethero overruled a customer’s express wish, because Nethero knew something that a prospect doesn’t know yet: that a fitter will make her look and feel fantastic.

I guess they don’t call her the “bra whisperer” for nothing.

How many marketers have you known who had such confidence in their brands’ ability to deliver that they would go up against a customer in order to do so?  What would our bosses say about that? Isn’t the customer always right??

Not if the marketer has 100% confidence that specific aspects of the brand experience are vital to brand performance and ultimate customer satisfaction.

And just as I was pondering this thought, I discovered two esteemed friends and great marketers doing the same.  In “The Customer Isn’t Always Right,” Steve McKee, president of McKee Wallwork Cleveland, warns that a marketer must listen to the voice of the customer “with discernment” and offers up three instances when “you might want to think twice” about reacting to customer feedback.

The first is the point proven in the Intimacy story:  customers can’t know.  Henry Ford was a big believer in this one.

Second is a situation in which the customer can’t or won’t say what he wants – as in a B2B sales scenario where a prospect plays coy.  And the third is when a customer won’t stop asking.  McKee is sure that Target’s management firmly believes in the chain’s slogan, “Expect More. Pay Less” – up to some point before the chain goes out of business.

Similarly, Stephen Denny, author of the new book, Killing Giants, writes in a blog post that “it’s your job to do your job.” In a world where total strangers seek out each other’s opinions online (in reviews that might not even be real), you are still very much responsible for what you do and who you are.  Brand managers at Nike, Apple and others are “pretty firm that their brand is their business – they own it, they manage it daily and they know it’s important work.”

In one week, the three of us were studying the same angle on what makes a brand a great brand: knowing that – sometimes – you as a marketer must have the gut-level knowledge that your choices are the right ones.  After all, consumers voted for New Coke, and those who saw the Sony Walkman didn’t think it had a future.

Think about the brands you manage and those with which you have a personal connection.  Chances are that at least one of them wouldn’t exist if there weren’t people who believed in it, protected it, grew it… and ignored a lot of focus groups along the way.

P.S. CTPB = Contrary to popular belief.

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A version of this post was originally published on the Marketing Executives Network Group blog, MENGBlend.

No Closer Relationship

July 6th, 2011

Today, I get to combine two of my favorite things:

1.  When it comes to customer engagement and loyalty, I am a complete fanatic about the symbiotic relationship between marketing and customer service.   The brand is codified in the moment of contact with a customer or prospect – period.  I can spend millions of dollars on marketing, get wonderful recall and purchase intent scores and have it all wiped out by persistently poor customer care.

And isn’t that the way it should be? Reality trumps promises, after all.

2. 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 T.  JonesAdland.  Here, it’s Tom Fishburne’s Brand Camp.

Sometimes things just come together…

 

Will Donald Trump’s personal brand take a hit from all his recent tomfoolery?

Check out my second blog for the post, TRUMP IS JUST BEING TRUMPY.

A couple days ago, I returned a dress to Kenneth Cole in NYC. Clearly criminal behavior, based on the way I was treated. The staff seemed almost surprised that I had the receipt AND the credit card associated with it.

Once the associate began the return, he asked for my phone number. I declined to provide it. He said “they” needed it, or he couldn’t process the return. Since the card associations (in this case Mastercard) do not require a phone number for a return, the “they” in these cases is clearly the retailer. But in some cases – where providing a phone number is the shortest path between me and my money – I provide a phone number. Sometimes it’s mine and sometimes, not so much.

Since I squeaked out a weak protestation, I suppose, the associate snarkily replied, “Are you having a good morning, miss?”

Grr.

I said yes.  What I really wanted to say was, “Why? Does Kenneth Cole require a phone number AND a good attitude for a return?”

How much business do these companies need to lose to Internet shopping before they realize that they’re going to have to make a face-to-face transaction really, really good?

Which reminds me of another experience I had recently at Best Buy. I bought a not-unusual item for about $30. I paid cash. Simple.

‘Turns out the item did not have the feature I needed, so I went back to the store a few days later to return it. I had not opened the blister pack, etc. – the item was pristine.

The rep at Returns asked for my phone number. Then I think she may have asked for my email address. Since I use an email specifically for this purpose (cataloguers and the like) I gave it to her. I did ask why it was relevant for a return, and again it was the mysterious “they” who needed it.

Sidebar: Do you think there’s a “They Club” somewhere where all the theys hang out, eat candy and plot their next diabolical scheme? The TSA could run it.

So anyway, the associate has my phone number and my email and I’m holding on, I can do this, go with the flow. Then she asked for my driver’s license.

This is a problem.

My driver’s license for a $30 item? My driver’s license number is not a retailer’s business, particularly when I make a (low-value) purchase with cash. I don’t recall anyone at the store when I purchased the item having any trouble taking my cash: they only appear to have a problem giving it back.

But this post isn’t about the fact that fraud and theft have driven some retailers to do crazy lengths and that they clearly believe an employee can’t do hard things like ask for a driver’s license only for items priced at more than, say, $100.

No, this post is about creating an environment where employees and customers feel welcome and understood.

This “they” thing is pervasive – and completely unnecessary. What it means is that associates are either trained to say “they” – which would be super obnoxious – or they’re not trained for pushback from the consumer at all, and squeeze out a “they” because they truly do not know what to say. In either scenario, the retailer has pitted some innocent, often 19-year-old kid against an unhappy customer, transforming this stranger across from me into the faceless “they” – The Corporation.  And no harried consumer appreciates this when s/he’s trying to get something done.

It doesn’t have to be this way. The associate is human, the shopper is human. Why aren’t employees trained to diffuse the situation but making eye contact and saying something like (insert head shake here): “I know, but Best Buy requires me to do it. I’m really sorry.” Or replace the “sorry” with an “I know it can be annoying.” Or “I know it seems silly and I will try to get you out of here as quickly as possible.”

Something – anything – that reinforces and reminds the customer that the employee is not the company. We all do things we don’t like to do: when a sincere rep looks me in the face sympathetically and says anything close to the phrases above (and the smart ones do), it is a far warmer transaction for both parties.  Then we’re in this together.

And let’s not forget the employee’s feelings too, by the way: how does Best Buy think this rep feels about her job if half of it is occupied by unhappy shoppers? So the company is whittling away at morale by tossing these kids out on the floor without the appropriate “human interaction” training, as well.

Once again I am inclined to say… Grrr.

So the next time, gentle reader, an employee says that “they” need you to swab the inside of your mouth to prove that you’re you, take a deep breath, consider writing an email or letter to the retailer and assess all of your shopping options. Fortunately for us, there are more choices than ever.

Is Santa the best marketer ever? Perhaps.

Consider the evidence:

Long-term reputation management. No steroid use or bogus investment schemes here.  Ever.   

Take Coca-Cola with its 80-year investment in the big guy.  Do you think that Coke worries that a YouTube video will surface, showing 7-year-old girls making lead-laden toys in the Korean outpost of Santa’s Workshop Inc.? Not likely. 

And then there’s the third rail: do you think that Mrs. Claus has ever found “hundreds of texts” between Santa and that dumb blonde the Easter Bunny married? Or that’s she’s had to accompany her husband to the hospital for alcohol poisoning (paging Charlie Sheen – again)?

No, no and no.  Santa is one reliable dude. And he appears to do what’s right even when no one is looking.

Brand promise and the “continuous connected experience.” No matter where you go, you get the same reinforcing message from and about @SantaClaus.  Movies, television, email, social media, online video, radio, snail mail, retail – it doesn’t matter.   He has a booming voice, he’s fat, he wears a red suit and he brings good stuff. 

And the other thing is… even if you bop from one medium to the other, you won’t lose your place.  Forrester calls this the continuous connected experience.  Santa is suggesting you be prepared to deliver your own in 2011.

Engagement.  Is there any experience more anticipated than Santa’s arrival?  And how about expectations met and exceeded? That’s unless you’ve been bad, of course, in which case you should consult the Terms and Conditions.

Accurate, On-Time Delivery.  Neither WikiLeaks, nor Chilean mining disasters, nor 0% interest rates will keep Santa from delivering the goods on Christmas Eve.  Not December 23. Not December 25. It’s December 24.  Every year. And the idea of getting your neighbor’s gift by mistake is simply inconceivable.

Supply Chain Management.  You have to admire the man’s ability to manage his vendors, handle inventory, move the merch and turn on a dime.  Your kid decides at the last minute that she wants a Wii instead of the bike that Santa has already bought and loaded on the sleigh?

The Wii will be under the tree, for sure.

Never any hidden charges. There are no Congressional committees convening to discuss whether Santa is taking advantage of consumers. There are no pending FTC rules in the pipeline. No small print.  Just because you get one set of skis, doesn’t mean that you’ve “agreed” to receive a new set every month (along with the bill). No nickel and diming. No charge for the second bag.

Santa’s pricing policies appears just perfect, in every product category ever invented.  And shipping is always free.

Brand advocacy. Think of all the parents who read stories about Santa, take their children to see Santa and tuck said children into bed on Christmas Eve with the promise that Santa will soon arrive with presents.  Even adults will sometimes tell each other what they want from Santa.  The dude’s got an army of advocates carrying his message each and every year, and everyone’s happy to do it.

Wow!  That’s gonna be a lot of “Likes” on Facebook.  A lot.

No invasive pat-downs.  Do you remember leaving cookies and milk out for Santa, and then sneaking down the stairs just in time to see him putting your presents under the tree? Well, when he saw you, did he beckon you over, force you through a machine and feel up your naughty bits?  Or when he came down your chimney, did your parents do these things to him before letting him into your living room?

TSA does not stand for “Total Santa Aggression.” Personal respect is important to ol’ Kris Kringle.

Returns and Exchanges.  No problem.  While one of Santa’s elves may ask you to accompany him to the mall, that’s a small price to pay for better loot.

Long-term view of the customer relationship. Santa is committed to lifetime value.  If you’re a kid, he wants you to tell your parents and your grandparents and your teachers all about what you want.  He wants you to post what he gave you on Facebook.  He wants to take a picture with you and your friends at the mall.  And when you grow up, he encourages you to invite him into your home and buy extravagant gifts in his name.

Santa: the ultimate “circle of life” promoter.

Customer targeting and personalization. If you ask Santa for an iTouch, you’re going to get an iTouch. You might also get underwear and dental floss (paging my childhood), but he will be sure that your music itch is scratched. And if you state a preference, Santa is also highly likely to deliver an iTouch in the color of your choice. With the accessories you mumbled something about last March.

He invites you to be a vital part of his brand and help make the world a better place.  Be nice, get your gift. Be naughty, and you’re on your own. No anonymous troll behavior on the Web, no TMZ stories, no threatening or yelling. Everyone knows the rules, the rules don’t change and there are big rewards for all. Or not.

Brand benefits powerful enough to overcome controversy. Santa has a problem that few other brands ever experience: that is, some people don’t believe he exists! You may not like Red Bull, or Microsoft, or Kim Kardashian, or whatever, but you wouldn’t think of denying their very existence on the planet.  And yet, Santa transcends even this existential challenge. Even those who say they “know” he doesn’t exist still enjoy the gestalt of the brand. Name me a pizza chain or a department store or search engine who can say the same.

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

I did think of one problem area this year: money management.  In his zeal to delight his customers, Santa does sometimes buy things he can’t really afford.  His heart’s in the right place, though, and I think a little executive coaching might do the trick.  I am confident that he will want to change once he understands the problem.

And so, as yet another December passes, perhaps we should all look to #Santa for guidance in the coming year. After all, his operation is well-loved, profitable, always in growth mode and a new, devoted customer is born every minute. I think most of us would be happy with that.

A version of this post originally appeared on the Marketing Executive Networking Group’s blog, MENGBlend.

It was my pleasure to be interviewed by Peppers & Rogers1to1 Magazine for a story on the evolution of branding.  My responses were folded into the article “Hasbro Gives Control of Its Brand to Customers” HERE

Below is an expanded version of my answers.  It’s a topic that’s at the very core of how I think about brands, communications and the marketplace.  I would welcome your thoughts.

I’m doing a story about the evolution of branding: particularly the growing influence of the customer experience in branding strategy.  How is branding strategy different now than it used to be?
The biggest difference is that a “brand” is something that marketers and companies are accustomed to controlling. In the past, a company sent all of the brand messages that general audiences heard.  Brands pulled the strings – they had all the information that was to be had, and so were able to manage consumer expectations and impressions. In that kind of world, an unhappy customer or supplier – or a disgruntled employee or competitor – could only reach as many people as were in his or her own circle of friends and associates.

Today, any individual can reach literally millions of people in real-time.  The message is whatever each person wishes it to be.  Even if that message is inaccurate or unflattering, its reach is almost limitless.  And a message someone posts can grow in influence as others pick it up and begin circulating it to ever larger circles – that’s how something becomes “viral” – which means that marketers have to be as viral as their customers, ever- vigilant and ready to address whatever comes their way from any corner of the world.

A quick example is Motrin. Motrin created an ad in 2008 that used an irreverent tone in an effort to sympathize with moms who have sore backs from carrying their infants.  This offended some moms,  Had this happened in 1988, you probably would not have heard about it unless you were personally close to one of these women.  Today, moms created and posted angry videos of their own online, the Motrin ad was viewed 400,000 times on YouTube and thousands of comments were posted on Twitter alone.  And this happened on a Saturday, by the way: we’re on consumer time now, not brand time.  So same reaction, perhaps, as many might have had 20 years ago, but much bigger megaphone.

This is something that companies and marketing teams are not organized to address – and it exposes all elements of a brand, warts and all, 24/7.  Brands are no longer the shouters: they’ve got to be the listeners. For brands that embrace a conversational relationship with the market, this can be an exciting experience that ultimately creates even more respect and love for a brand.  But for marketers who are accustomed to maintaining a tight rein, there are fundamental challenges ahead.

Branding used to be a way to gain awareness to a mass audience. But tools like social media, more robust customer data, and increased online activity in general seem to be pushing branding toward more personal engagement. What are your thoughts?
I don’t think it’s an either/or: each makes the other better.  Better data helps companies spend their mass advertising budgets more effectively and more precisely, which in turn provides air cover for more personal, individual efforts on the ground.  But there’s no question that it’s always been somewhat difficult to measure the effect of many forms of mass media, and – as other customizable channels become even sharper – there will be even more pressure on companies and their media partners to “prove” value from TV and other big efforts.

Personal engagement has another effect, as well: it raises consumer expectations.  How many times have you heard a frustrated person say “but they know me!” in response to an email addressed in the wrong language, or to the opposite gender? Consumers now know that companies have all this data, and they expect to benefit from it.  How well this data is, in fact, applied may then have an impact on whether the market listens to any messages a brand might send in any channel.

How do trust and credibility play a role in branding strategy these days, and how is it different than before?
Everything’s laid bare now.  There is virtually no nugget of information that isn’t available with a quick Google search.  An employee can create a pseudonym, for example, and tell the world how things “really” work, or that a company is being misleading or untruthful.  There’s no way to hold things back, or sweep something under the rug anymore. 

This puts intense pressure on brands to be more authentic and more worthy of consumers’ trust.  Let’s say a company manufactures merchandise overseas in unacceptable or even illegal conditions: in the past it could continue to do so for years, if not forever.  Now that people walk the globe with high-speed Internet access and cell phones that capture video, those times are over.  And if a company does get “caught” doing something today, these dynamics make the blast exponentially more damaging.

Where do you see the future of branding headed?
I’m hopeful about the future. My own professional community is full of marketers who understand that a brand is no longer corporate IP that needs to be policed and protected: it’s the beating heart of the enterprise. Instead of being talked at, consumers want to talk with a brand, and see the very human passion behind what you sell.  That can be scary, but it’s also pretty darn exciting.

What’s the biggest challenge to getting there?
One of the most difficult challenges is the uneven level of understanding and expectations of those who surround the marketer: the CEO, the CFO, the pressured head of sales and the Board, to name a few.  Executives already know what television advertising or print is, no explanation needed.  There’s comfort in that.  There’s going to be a lot of uncertainty and skepticism about dipping into a world that looks a little crazy, to do something a brand’s never done before.  And the road won’t be smooth: it’s already difficult to explain why something “negative” that’s said online is par for the course and why the brand must continue to engage, not back away.  I am very empathetic to the people on both sides of that table.

Any other thoughts?
For those who already know that good ideas rarely come from sitting behind a desk and who get charged up by listening to product users, prospects and partners, this is a great world.  Assuming a brand is being authentic, there is no real “bad” feedback – there are only lessons that help make you better and better.  There’s going to be plenty of trial and error, but this is all about getting closer to your customer, and that’s a great thing.

 

Stretching More Than Dollars

October 1st, 2010

by Stephanie Fierman

It’s true that people love certain brands, and it can be awfully expensive to launch new ones.  I started thinking about this after seeing some slightly off-kilter commercials: could it be that established brands are trying to extract value by presenting new uses for existing products?

Witness the following:

* EGGO ON THE GO-GO.  Working three jobs to pay the mortgage? No time to sit down for breakfast? No problem – take Eggo waffles with you! Last I checked, butter and syrup are a real pain on the subway, so this ad shows kids and adults running out the door with waffles in their hands.  A kid is just running with – you know, a plain ol’ waffle – and a woman says that she takes hers with just a “smudge” of (what looks like strawberry) cream cheese.  A smudge? What’s a smudge? And is that waffle toasted? Because raw would be gross, but cold and toasted and hard would be, well, gross… And then you’ve got the smudge… Eeeee!!

* I LOVE THE SMELL OF ASPIRIN IN THE MORNING. Then there’s Bayer A.M. A television ad features a working dad moving in slo-mo while the voiceover asks whether you’ve ever needed a little get-up-and-go in the morning. He takes Bayer A.M. – “an extra-strength pain reliever with alertness aid specially formulated to fight morning pain and fatigue” – and suddenly he’s racing out the door. Specially formulated! My goodness, what is this magic drug?  That would be caffeine – 65 mg of caffeine in each tablet. Less than 1 cup of coffee. So much for pharmacological breakthroughs.

* GOOD DIGESTION FOR DESSERT. Lastly, there’s Yoplait positioning yogurt as dessert. This was new to me, but apparently Yoplait actually sold “dessert yogurt” back in the 80s.  I don’t know – it’s hard to ponder “dessert!” when all I can think of is Jamie Lee Curtis and those animations of little microbes floating around in my gut.  Maybe it’s just me.

There’s nothing wrong with any of these, of course; one could say they actually represent the creativity of the folks behind these brands.  But there are limits: when they start suggesting that we use Stayfree Ultra-Thins as shoe insoles, I’m outta here.