Dear Fellow Marketer,

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


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


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


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


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


***** Message *****


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


Hi,


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


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


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


Can you please help me with this?


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


Thank you.


***** End *****


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


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


Internet, Shimternet

June 14th, 2011

Do you ever feel like your head might just explode if you have to shove one more new business term in there? Or perhaps you’re simply in the mood for a friendly game of buzzword bingo. I have some extra cards right here…

Who could blame you? I mean, I think I actually met with the guys in this VIDEO just last week:



There isn’t room to list all the new words, terms and acronyms we’ve learned in the last few years:  moblog, m-commerce, phishing, NFC, PPC, CPA, CPO, CPS, DSP, skyscraper, pure play, Splinternet, semantic Web, SMS, TCP/IP, VOIP, XML, RSS, API, CSS, SMM, SMO, black hat (and white hat – I mean, duh) SEO, cybersquatting, adware, P2P, spider, favicon, mousetrapping, greenwashing, augmented reality, branded entertainment, geotargeting, behavioral targeting, network effect, SERP, cloud, triple play, (Web) abandonment, (Web) arbitrage, bot, deep linking, delist, linkbait, spyware, widget, maybe a million others… and certainly dinner isn’t dinner without a good forking.   Or something like that.

But there’s a new new term whose fear factor I want to eliminate right away: agile commerce. As defined by Forrester in its March 2011 paper, Welcome to the Era of Agile Commerce, agile commerce is “an approach to commerce that enables businesses to optimize their people, processes and technology to serve customers across all touchpoints.”

There are 15 pages of text and charts delineating the difference between multichannel and agile commerce, and the analyst also penned a Forbes article titled “Why Multichannel Retail is Obsolete.” “Agile commerce is a metamorphosis,” he says. “It is time for organizations to leave their channel-oriented ways behind.”

The problem is that all this relies on what I consider to be a seriously antiquated view of multi-channel operations.

The definition of multichannel commerce upon which the new agile commerce movement depends is a way of doing business that leaves customer touchpoints and transactions in silos: potentially envisioned, designed, managed and measured independently from one another.  It assumes that prospects/customers probably use one channel but not another (e.g. Jack’s a “store person,” Jill’s a “Web person,”), that user expectations in each of these channels do not overlap, that content, design, functionality, payment options, etc. etc. all differ from one channel to another and that it doesn’t matter because consumers don’t really see all the channels anyway.

What contemporary marketer believes this anymore?

Is there a digital-savvy executive alive who doesn’t know all the stats about connectivity exploding, and audience fragmentation, and the accelerating evolution of technologies, and the emergence of smartphones and tablets and ebooks (oh my)?  Is it news that TV watchers also like being online, or that newspaper readership is sliding around? And yet these are the metrics and conversation points that the paper uses to announce that it’s a new world and that ecommerce players better get with it.

For any marketer trained to start with the customer, the revelation that we must strive to deliver a 100% (a girl can dream) seamless experience from one channel to the next and that our business eco-system must be woven together and able to learn so that a user’s behavior is reflected and rewarded as she wanders from one touchpoint to another… well that’s no revelation at all.

Good marketers recognized and began turning their organizations toward this vision many moons ago.  The consumer is where everything begins and ends.  In the future, channels will be like lights in a galaxy that deliver a seamless, 24 hour brand experience.  Rather than you having to travel to the brand (e.g., you drive to the store), all the access points will do the virtual traveling instead.  With you in the center, the brand will constantly update its customized knowledge of and relationship with you, in all directions and in nearly all applications.  A little like ”Minority Report” but in a good way – and without having to remove your eyeballs.  [And yes, I wrote this paragraph while entirely sober.]

Now don’t get me wrong here; I doubt there is an organization on the planet that feels fantastic about where it is on this trip we’re all taking together.  Forget even the fantasy of walking into a physical location and having a person (or digital display) interact with you in a way that reflects a 360° level of knowledge of my relationship: I’d be excited just to talk to a call center rep who can see me transacting on his company’s own website in real time and help me out in a normal, knowledgeable manner.

We have a long long (long) way to go.  But this post is my way of saying that no one should be discouraged, or privately assume that keeping up is impossible.  The  next time you see or hear a new Internet/marketing/digital business buzzword, it may be just that: a new arrangement of letters describing a principle you already understand (perhaps better than those making up some of these new terms in the first place) and live by.

Either way – as long as we keep our heads – it makes for a good game.  And, hey! I’ve got Bingo!!!
———————————
A version of this post was originally published on the Marketing Executive Network 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.

 

 

Let’s talk about Audi and the choices it seems to have made regarding its newest advertising work.

Audi USA’s new campaign is based on the “Green Police,” a band of roving law enforcers who try to protect the environment.  “You picked the wrong day to mess with the ecosystem, plastic boy,” says a Green Police enforcer to a clueless grocery shopper in Audi’s Super Bowl ad. “A man has just been arrested… for possession of an incandescent light bulb,” says a reporter.  Here’s the ad:

There are even educational YouTube videos, like this one that tells you how many napkins to take per sandwich.

Hoo-HOO! Hilarious.


But if your brand had a history that was, you know, linked to the largest human massacre of all time, how funny would an ad have to be for you to go ahead anyway?


Audi’s problem is that there’s already one Green Police in history - a Nazi organization associated with the forced labor andphoto-original-green-police1.jpg extermination of millions of innocent people.  Audi is one of the companies that converted its factories to make automobiles and heavy artillery for the Nazis.  Both Audi and Volkswagen have been named in multiple lawsuits filed by Holocaust survivors and their families over the years.

So the social media campaign and the TV ad comes out… and some people are upset.  Others race to defend Audi’s advertising process, e.g. Audi did lots of research prior to launching the campaign, and it showed the ad to Jewish organizations and Holocaust survivors who were not offended.


These comments just reinforce Audi’s deafness.  Did Audi know in advance or not?  Which would be worse?  And as for the defense that the company showed the ad to some Jewish people… there were thousands of people of multiple faiths caught up in what happened during WWII, and there are human beings of all faiths who could be offended by such a reminder.  We are all citizens of the world – and we are all consumers with money to spend on new cars.  And if I’m not in the market for a car, I can assure you that I talk to someone on Facebook or Twitter or at work who is – someone who values my opinion.

This isn’t about religion, it’s about brand.  It’s about judgment.  It’s about customers.

What was the judgment that Audi made here? As PR flak Melanie Lockhart says on her blog, “Lockstep on PR, “Even if you don’t personally think so, from a PR strategy perspective, it doesn’t matter.  As soon as someone takes reasonable exception to anything an organization does (and especially if that someone has an audience), you’ve got a potential issue on your hands.  Can you reasonably predict that a campaign with resonances of the Holocaust will offend people? I think so.”

green-police-logo-design11.pngOthers on the Web haven’t been so charitable.

Audi volunteered for a big kick in the gut. Why - for a social media campaign? To spend $3 million on a single :30 Super Bowl ad insertion, when said ad drags so much negative baggage with it?  If I were CMO, I’d like to think that I never would have seen the concept in the first place, because my agency would have considered and rejected it. But if it had gotten to my desk and I’d reflexively typed “[Fill in the Blank] Nazis” into Google, it’d have been lights out.  No chance to debate whether or not an ad may or may not offend anyone.  Why take the chance? 

In this case, there simply isn’t enough funny in the world to balance the scale. It’s not as if there’s “another side” to the Holocaust.  This isn’t the same as being “offended” by a bunch of guys farting in a TV ad.  Even if you are one of these folks - in the words of Help A Reporter Out Founder Peter Shankman on Twitter, “Nothing good can EVER come from a PR campaign involving Nazis.”  

In a world where trust is a brand’s greatest asset, one’s very first filter has to be good taste.  Audi had no reason to take this kind of risk.  It makes cars that people love – one guy calls  his Audi TT “lovable and charismatic.” The company doesn’t have any controversial point to prove, and the brand doesn’t need shock value. Why take this road?

And in case you think I’m being overly sensitive, or perhaps that killing the campaign would have been tantamount to censorship, you may have a tin ear.  It’s not about us.  It’s about the audience and the message you want them to receive.

Be tough.  Put ideas to the test.  If one person can “reasonably predict” a problem, don’t hogtie the work and your reputation by asking for a punch in the face. There are plenty of great ideas out there that won’t generate over 100,000* negative mentions on Google.  Go find one.

* On February 14, 2010 a Google search on “Audi Nazis Super Bowl” yielded 107,000 results.

I’m feeling a bit huffy about Advertising Age these days.

First it was the story on ad agencies that have their own bars and – woo-hoo! – staffers who drink on the job. Now, I know that this is all just good bonding fun: 99.99% of folks aren’t getting drunk on the job. I just thought the piece was a little insensitive (and not too reader-friendly) given that the rest of the issue was focused on layoffs, ad cutbacks and clients bleeding to death.stephanie-fierman-adage-cover1.jpg

Now comes what I would call the “Call Me Irresponsible” issue (August 4, 2008).

1. A sidebar about the TV show Mad Men discusses the big sales of Frank O’Hara poetry after Don Draper reads O’Hara‘s poetry on the show. The article’s title: “TV Can Boost Book Sales, Too.” Didn’t Oprah prove that… years ago? And, like, over and over? Hmmm.

2. On a Law & Order episode I saw last weekend, a witness testifies that violent television programming makes juvenile delinquents delinquent. Sam Waterston then proceeds to eat said witness for lunch by quizzing the guy about the difference between “cause” and “correlation.” Now comes the inadvertently humorous, self-involved AdAge article, “Ad Cutbacks Backfired For Bankruptcy Victims.” [Even though your product is lousy, and you expanded too fast, and your customer base dried up… you’d have been fine if you’d only kept advertising!]  The article does admit that perhaps there are other factors that make companies go belly up, but when push comes to shove…  See Wikipedia on this topic.  

3. Finally, an article titled “How The Economy Is – And Isn’t – Affecting Our Lives” tries to take a sort of tongue-in-cheek view on how the recession is changing consumer behavior. We’re buying (cheap) coffee at McDonald’s instead of Starbucks. We’re “ordering from the dollar menu” instead of choosing Big Macs.” We’re “knitting ponchos” instead of “buying back-to-school clothes.” OK.  Not brilliant, not offering me any insights for my subscription dollar, but fine. Then I got to a claim regarding our reading habits: We are “reading Stephanie Meyer,” but not “reading Maureen Dowd.” The writer’s evidence for the latter is The New York Times’ declining profitability. 

Oh… Trying.  To.  Move.  On.  Can’t…  Drat.

(a) Nearly every newspaper is losing money at this point because offline readership is declining, (b) Maureen Dowd has written two books that have done pretty well, and (c) Dowd’s columns are quite popular online where – unlike the paper – they can be read for free. So what the heck does the Times‘ profitability, in this particular case, have to do with Maureen Dowd? Nothing.  The article does, however, include a picture of Maureen Dowd, so maybe they just thought that that would attract attention. And while I’m on a roll, the author’s supporting evidence for the idea that we’re knitting ponchos is Martha Stewart Living’s increase in 2Q08 sales while consumers are cutting back on back-to-school clothes.  Help me.

If AdAge was known and purchased for its satire, this wouldn’t annoy me. And you may conclude that I’m making a big hoo-ha over nothing.  But you know what? I really look forward to getting something out of AdAge every week.  I give Crain Communications my time and my money, and this stuff isn’t worth either.  It’s just dumb.  A revered trade journal owes its readers more.

I sometimes refer to the difference between Marketing being at the “front of the [business] process” and marketing being at the “end of the process.”

Marketing (with a capital M) at the front of the process is about assuming the voice of the customer and leading/partnering in the process of uncovering an opportunity, identifying a target audience, testing product-price-promotion, crafting messaging, etc. Then rigorously testing post-mortem with the goal of constant improvement and deeper insight, etc.  In other words: building a product and experience to meet the needs of the customer.

marketing (small m) at the end of the process is when a creator follows his own voice, and then lets the marketing team suggest whether the poster should be blue or off-blue.

Then there’s… not even being in the same room as the “process.” The director of Pixar’s new movie, Wall-E – a mostly-silent movie about robot love – was quoted in last Sunday’s New York Times as saying, “I never think about the audience. If someone gives me a marketing report, I thow it away.”

Well, gosh! How wholly satisfying for Pixar’s marketing team!

Look, this guy may be perfectly great to work with, and could well be one of those people that truly has the golden touch. The kind of gut that marketing people try to bottle. He did, after all, win an Oscar for a fishy little movie called Finding Nemo. And Wall-E is getting wonderful reviews.


And if we all waited around for market research to uncover a customer need, we’d be literally sitting in the dark and Benjamin Franklin, Albert Einstein and Steve Jobs would be bummed. I get it.

But we know these names because these people are visionaries. There are many, many more, however, with the same attitude sans the honeyed hunch. People who believe that thinking about the consumer would require an unattractive conversation about commerce, with all of the un-artistic factors that go along with it. This attitude is one of the reasons why so many movies/books/ideas fail. Artistic “vision” – no customer.

welchs-lickable-stephanie-fierman.jpgMagazine inserts have long been a fact of life.  The “interactive” ones most familiar to women typically deliver a scent (marketing perfume) or a tiny sample of lipstick, blush, foundation or cleanser.  Boooring.

Now we’re in a whole new world!

For me, the insert became noticeable again with Welch’s grape juice LICKABLE insert.  Have you seen this thing?  It’s crazy!  And clever.  I sat on my own couch and licked a magazine.  And it wasn’t even a picture of George Clooney this time!  Oops, sorry… How’d such an ingenious ad happen? It was sparked by a new CMO, of course.  With sales down, the team looked hard at everything from Welch’s age-old positioning focused on moms to its CPG-typical media mix of heavy TV and Sunday coupons. 

kid-licking-welchs-ad-stephanie-fierman.jpgSidebar: When looking for innovation, sometimes the biggest obstacle can be your own history.  I’ve been the “change agent” in many situations, and it can be very hard to motivate and inspire tenured employees.  Many sometimes feel that you’re disregarding a brand’s history: that you don’t appreciate that that history is precisely what’s gotten you your new job, etc.  It can be tough going.  One of the things I’ve noticed in the Welch’s case is that its new CMO was in fact a VP promoted into the job.  Let’s assume that he’d been there for awhile and that his promotion indicates that he is well liked and respected for his work.  This doesn’t guarantee success, but being on the “inside” can make a significant difference when delivering a message of change.  Fellow employees know for themselves that you truly understand and respect the brand’s history, challenges and realities.  This helped pave the way for this guy, Chris Heye, to succeed with a ”nothing is sacred” approach to an decades-old brand and (with a little help from Britney) win big.  Major kudos to him. 

To kick it all off, Chris challenged his team to create an ad that would stop people in their tracks.  JWT subsequently First Flavor, a company that created the first lickable ad using “Peel ‘n Taste” taste strips that dissolve in the mouth like a breath strip, and turned to print to reach Gen X.  People Magazine – with its huge circulation and experience handling odd materials – was the big choice.  The luck came with the Britney Spears cover that happened to grace the issue in which the ad first ran. 

Then viral success whipped the attention even higher with a flurry of news coverage from the Wall Street Journal, GMA, NPR and more.  Based on the brand’s own research, nearly 16 million consumers say they heard the Welch’s name in the month after the ad ran.  The company says those are big big numbers for them.

The most recent new innovation in inserts – also tipped into People – is the one for the upcoming movie, Mamma Mia!.  “Singing” greeting cards and inserts aren’t new, but this one let’s YOU record your voice, too (and suggests you try singing the Mamma Mia! song yourself.  Pass.).

This intriguing technology comes from Americhip, which claims to create “the most vibrant, spectacular, interactive Multisensory solutions experienced anywhere.”  Judging from my first experience with them, and their impressive website and client roster, they may just do that.  

So what do both these mini case studies have in common?  The answer is an ability to recognize and leverage the old - the true essence of the brand, what makes it special - but deliver it for new audiences in new ways.  Welch’s grape juice tastes great.  The calling card for Meryl Streep’s new movie is unquestionably the great ABBA song by the same name.  Neither team made the mistake of straying from these positives: they just refreshed the delivery.    Both are great examples of good judgment matched with a healthy restlessness to stay current and breakthrough in an exceedingly cluttered world.

I can’t believe I haven’t written about Mona Shaw before, because she’s become a hero to frustrated consumers everywhere who must cope with companies that have a virtual monopoly on some corner of our lives, such as the providers of trash pick-up, energy, phone and cable service – companies that hold you practically hostage (or at least it can feel that way), because you have nowhere else to go.

I had my own experience with one of these companies in the past week – Time Warner Cable – and once again I was reminded that all the marketing in the universe cannot make up for one customer service representative who treats me like I just fell off the turnip truck.

The short version is that, for over a week, I had intermittent high-speed cable service. Do you understand? No Internet connection. I mean, didn’t I come out of the womb with an Internet connection? No? Inconceivable!

I spoke to many representatives. Those that treated me like an idiot made me angry – not at the CSR, necessarily, but at Time Warner Cable. Then the second representative who had to come to my apartment in person restored my belief in humanity by fixing the problem, cleaning up after himself, validating my feelings of frustration and wishing me a good day.

Why do consumers have wild “mood swings” like this? How can one person in a call center destroy years of corporate spending and goodwill?
 
                          stephanie-fierman-on-comcast-customer-service.gif

It’s because it’s not about the product. It’s about a much deeper human need for respect, understanding and honesty.  Too many marketers think that marketing is “the fun stuff” – advertising, PR and whatnot.   Not true.  Marketing must become a student of the entire customer lifecyle, including – maybe most importantly, in many cases – the touchpoint at which the customer and company make contact. 

If you don’t put Customer Service up on a pedestal – push them, but provide solutions, too – you’re dead.

So back to Mona “The Hammer” Shaw of Bristow, VA. Certainly Mona was reacting to a particular seriess of prior events with Comcast when she entered a local office and began bashing phones, keyboards and monitors with a hammer, but her words indicate that what really made her angry was how she and her husband were treated: “[Comcast] thought [that] just because we’re old enough to get Social Security that we lack both brains and backbone.” In other words, a little respect goes a long way. Tara Hunt writes a great post on this very topic, triggered by a recent experience she had with a rental car company.

What’s most interesting to me is that the traits Tara assigns to companies that make customers happy vs. those that make them crazy once again have nothing to do with product quality. In old direct marketing-speak, decent product execution is almost “hygiene,” and consumers do understand that a product or service may not work sometimes. No one takes a hammer to your phone because your product failed: they do so because (a) you put them in a corner with no choice, (b) you duped them (Mona and her husband waited two hours in Comcast’s local office only to be told that the person for whom they were waiting had left) and (c) you treated them poorly.

Companies in these one-choice industries are exactly the ones who have the opportunity to delight customers right into buying additional services. So why is the reality too often the opposite? Where is the rest of the organization when a CSR takes a call?  Is that person adequately trained and ready? If not (and that’s an enterprise-wide responsibility),  treating a customer poorly will overwhelm a new-and-improved widget or ad campaign every time.

If CMOs and CEOs don’t focus on ”experience delivery” and include relationship-oriented customer service metrics when they calculate marketing ROI, they’re missing a vital part of the success equation.

Please check out my new daily blog at http://www.stephaniefiermanmarketingdaily.blogspot.com, and consider subscribing for quick takes on news and trends of the day.

Tappening Continues To Draw Attention With Its Message
Readers of this blog enjoyed an exclusive interview with the creators of the tap water movement, Tappening. 
Eric Yaverbaum and Mark Dimassimo continue to pick up steam, selling 39,000 bottles in the first 36 hours of the campaign.  Good thing they’ve restocked, because Tappening was featured for the second time this year on Good Morning America just yesterday. The first GMA segment in January featured the Tappening reusable bottle in a segment on hot trends.

Tappening is a great lesson in the power of hipness.  The power of cool – of latching onto something positive and giving consumers a device – a bracelet, a ribbon, a red iPod, a bottle – that lets the owner show everyone that she’s “with it” without her saying anything at all.   Consider how much more attention your cause or brand could get if you could think of a way to make it cool.  Which only prompts this blogger to ask:  How can we get Americans to believe that saving money is uber-chic??


Even Presidential Candidates Have Trouble On The Web
How could Presidential candidates still not get the power of the #1 tool on the Web – search? With the new shiny objects being YouTube and Facebook and blah blah, those wishing to be the leader of the free world are missing out on the #1 way to reach voters. Don’t make the same mistake with your business, your brand or yourself.  The building blocks of any sound digital marketing plan is search.


A Blog At Just The Right Time (On Wall Street)
This week, I stumbled on Hedonic Adjustment (www.hedonicadjustment.com), a blog about personal finance.  I like it:  it’s smart, but doesn’t take itself too seriously.  Check it out.


Social Networks Are Gaining, But The News Is Messy
There are several surveys out right now in which a high percentage of CMOs say their companies are going to spend money on social networks in 2008.  A much smaller percentage of those same respondents say they actually understand the subject.  Little wonder.  There are big social networks and small ones.  Ski social networks and Greg Brady social networks.  They are also “slowing down” and “gaining big.”  Simultaneously.  What is phenomenally different is that (a) these sites aggregate masses of people who may share certain interests, and (b) you should wade in only if you’re willing to have customers actually talk back to or at you.  Don’t try this alone.  But beyond these specific insights, the principles of authentic communication, a better mousetrap and compelling creative still apply.


Everything You Wanted To Know About Online Video
This is a wonderful white paper from our friends at the IAB:  the first in a series about the online video space.  14 pages sounds like a lot, but it’s a painless read and will make you sound like you know what you’re talking about.  Quick:  what’s the difference between in-banner, in-stream and in-text online video?  Like I said…


Whom Do You Trust?
Jarvis Cromwell is a great friend to Marketing Mojo  and his own blog, Reputation Garage, is a must read for those interested in the critical topic of building institutional reputation.   Readers get a real bonus by reading a post from guest blogger Paul Dunay on this very topic.   For the first time, Edelman’s annual survey on trust included 25- to 34-year-old “opinion elites” in 12 countries who appear to put more trust in business than do their older colleagues.


The Tipping Point is Fine, Even If We Can’t Prove It
This is a very interesting article about a scientist named Duncan Watts who believes that influentials – the individuals or small groups in society that market puersrsue for their power to spread ideas and trends quickly – is bunk. I’m posting this article because it smells fishy to me. The experiments ring false, and it feels very much like an academic trying to prove the unprovable and almost poking fun (why?) at all of us who believe in the “tipping point” concept. What’s his (or Fast Company’s) angle?  Human behavior – and the spark that ignites or extinguishes a new idea or product – is sometimes unpredictable magic. Marketers know this. Academics, not so much.


“Oh, Yeah?? Well Go Elf Yourself!”
And finally – just in case you were living under a Christmas tree and missed it – no marketing blog would be complete without a shout-out to the Office Max “Go Elf Yourself” viral campaign that allowed users to paste images of their own faces onto the bodies of dancing elves. 26.4 million – NEARLY ONE IN EVERY 10 AMERICANS – visited the company’s holiday site in 4 weeks. Blog mentions were ginormous. So it’s a major bummer that the company’s head of marketing and advertising said that the initiative wasn’t intended to drive sales. “We are third-place players in our industry, so we are trying to differentiate ourselves through humor and humanization.” Geez, that’s embarrassing: an attitude like that just may contribute to the company being satisfied coming in 3rd in a field of 3. And it’s a shame, really, because he’s wrong: if the Mojo was in charge, the value Office Max would derive from that email list of “friendlies” would be bigger and more long-lasting than the campaign itself.