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.

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.

In A Fog

September 1st, 2010

by Stephanie Fierman

There’s been a bit of a scramble among brands seeking to leverage AMC’s popular series, Mad Men. BMW is one of the largest and most frequent sponsors, prompting an auto site to gush, “BMW’s underwriting for Mad Men is mad marvelous.”

Maybe so. After all, the series is about an advertising agency and the supposed glamour of the post-War period, all glowy and wistful. It’s an unusual opportunity to create a fresh and fun message… IF it makes sense for the brand.

BMW did two things right. First it aligned itself with the overall je ne sais quoi of the show: the ambience, the characters, their lifestyles, their appearance, their tastes, the physical environment. That provides a very broad base upon which to construct an association. BMW is already an upscale, luxury brand, so this association is more of a positive reinforcement than a flat-out creation.

Second, this attachment is even further strengthened because BMW’s ads run during the episodes themselves. As the show transitions almost seamlessly from content, to commercial, and back again, the company and its cars place themselves directly alongside the target of their (and your) dreams. The viewer sees both in the same sitting; the brain experiences both in the same moment. The connection is made in real time.

London Fog‘s new Mad Men-related ads, on the other hand, miss on both these counts.

Unlike BMW, London Fog’s owner, Iconix, chose to bet all its chips on one single character, Joan Holloway (aka Christina Hendricks). This demands a plausible or at least believable connection between what the product and the individual represent, which is not present here.

Today, London Fog is generally utilitarian, functional, male (androgynous?), classic (tired?) and generally unremarkable, while Hendrick’s Joan is nearly the polar opposite: voluptuous, sexy, powerful, womanly, stimulating. She’s brightly-colored cotton candy in a dress. When you watch the show, her sexual presence makes her nearly every man’s fantasy at one point or another. She’s unattainable, like a rare luxury item.

London Fog is the opposite. By its own admission, the brand has far-flung distribution and high consumer awareness: it holds little mystery, no magic, no unattainability. Mad Men‘s Joan would not wear a London Fog, and no woman (consciously or unconsciously) believes that she will be “more Joan” by wearing the brand. The effect is double-whammy, given that the clothes (which might look fine on “normal” people) appear boring, dull and awkward draped on Hendrick’s frame. The two zeitgeists are just too far apart.

Iconix may have thought that Joan’s essence would rub off on the product. And, prior to Hendricks, Iconix enlisted Eva Longoria and Giselle Bunchen for its ads, presumably with the same objective. The problem is that consumers cannot make brand connections that aren’t there or – worse – pulling in opposite directions.

Forcing an otherwise adequate brand into an environment that makes it appear inadequate is sad and unnecessary: an embarrassing kind of brand dissonance that can do the brand more harm than good.

Lastly, the Joan ads do not have the benefit of being absorbed in the same moment as the story itself. The connection failure is particularly dramatic when experienced in the middle of a fashion magazine, surrounded by circa 2010 fashions, photos and messaging.

Managing a brand – particularly one trying to meld a perhaps very different past with the present – is a fine art. The brand steward must have an unblinking grasp on what the brand is and is not, what it might become, how fast such a change in direction might be made and how to begin. If that direction is wrong, or the speed too fast, the desired messaging won’t find its target and you may needlessely displace the neutral-to-positive feelings most people have about the brand in favor of all the characteristics the brand does not possess. It’s work grounded in an almost DNA-level of understanding of brands, consumer desire and human behavior.

Most brands have positive if not wonderful attributes to emphasize. Show yours in its best light. Avoid whatever might be hot right this second if it just doesn’t fit, and create an environment in which the product can truly shine.

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.

As my readers know, I’ve been fixated on the concept of value for quite some time. Any random post may not seem to fit this theme, but just about all of them do: turning store returns into a great shopping experience; Visa offering upscale bathrooms to attendees at a festival; a company that lets you leave a voicemail for a person without running the risk of actually having to speak to the person (eww!).  All of these are examples of real, observable value.

money-tree.jpgFor all intents and purposes, this is my first post on the general state of marketing since the US economy imploded. I haven’t said a whole lot because I’m still forming my own opinion on what brands need to do to survive and maintain consumer loyalty. What I am ready to say is that the key is value.

I believe the key distinction now, however, is between real and perceived value. Perceived value is what I talked about when I happily acknowledge(d) buying $250 Gucci sunglasses. I am fully aware that I could derive the same amount of real value from $10 shades bought on Canal Street.  Shield eyes from sun? Check.  but I saw a level of psychic value in the brand for which I was willing to pay an enormous premium. I measured that psychic value by how the world around me recognized that value. Looking at myself in the mirror wearing Gucci sunglasses gets old quickly. But having people reinforce my purchase – every day – as I walk around the city? Priceless. Value has two ingredients: (1) the real value that delivers functionality, and (2) the “psychic premium” I’m willing to pile on top so that the world sees me (and I see myself) in a certain way.

It turns out that it is not just beauty – but also value – that is in the eye of the beholder.

This is why even people “with money” have slowed their spending… why even luxury goods are seeing a decline in sales. It’s no longer fashionable to display the same brand names that only months ago were a mark of prosperity. Those marks are now seen as an indication of greed, of phony superiority, of foolishness. It’s not cool to show you have lots of discretionary income when everyone else is suffering. That’s why Mrs. Dick Fuld is still shopping at Hermes but now demands the store place her purchases in a plain white bag. It’s why Danny Meyer says his restaurants are actually selling the same amount of wine (as before the crash) but fewer bottles, his supposition being that people have decided that a bottle sitting on the table is an unwanted signal of wealth. It’s why DeBeers’ new ad campaign attempts to position diamonds as something to be kept forever in a world filled with “disposable distractions.”cutting-credit-card-debt.jpg

Don’t get me wrong: there will always be rich people who wear big big diamonds in environments where everyone else is doing the same. That’s not going to change, but that’s also not what fueled the success of Coach and Vuitton and even Starbucks in the US: what did was millions more not-so-rich people over-extending themselves to buy that Vuitton bag (or Gucci sunglasses) because they liked the world’s reaction. These behaviors are at the heart of the “trading up” phenomenon in America. Take away both (a) the people who couldn’t afford their purchases in the first place, and (b) those who can afford expensive things but who will no longer get the thrill of everyone else’s desire, and you’ve got major, major problems. Products and services that run on perceived value need to make a new plan, Stan, and fast.

This will not happen overnight. As I said, some people who can still afford to buy status-driven things will continue to do so. Others will wean themselves off instead of going cold turkey. Read the Wall Street Journal editorial, “I Once was Chic, But Now I’m Cheap,” written by an Apple buyer who vows that his family’s next computer purchases will be PCs. The piece reads like a therapy session. The writer’s preparing for the DT’s.

I’m also not particularly convinced that this is some sort of seismic global shift in values; the current economic situation may simply repress luxury consumption for awhile. But until that happens, consumers will either live without or discover products and services that deliver more real value: and once a shopper discovers that a store brand whitens his teeth as well as your brand, he may never come back.

stephanie-fierman-treat-customers-right1.jpgDraw your loyal customers closer, now.  Add value, if you can.  Remind your customers why they buy from you.  Get them to tell others, and you may just be able to stay flat (which is, after all, the new up).  The water level is going down, gentle readers, and all that’s underneath are the brands that deliver enough usefulness to hang tough until the next tide comes in. And that could take quite some time.

In August, I wrote a post titled “Stephanie Fierman On Beer And Blahniks.” (or, Why Do Businesses Not Understand Women, Part 1).  The upshot of the post is that Guinness planned to launch a beer “for women” that was essentially a watered-down version of their existing product.   The head of marketing at Guinness said that he wanted women to love this new watery beer as much as they love high heels.

I felt sorry for him.  Sort of.  But no one else seemed to.

I added the post to Blogher, where it received praise from one of the site’s founders, Lisa Stone (thank you, Lisa!) and this from Liz Rizzo (aka Beer Lover): “I love beer WAY WAY WAY WAY WAY more than I love shoes.  And watered down Guinness?  For my sanity, I’m going to pretend that I never ever ever read those words.  They hurt me.” 

It’s frustrating.  There appears to be two prevailing views of women in most marketing efforts: (1) the good-time girl who weighs 90 pounds and lives only at night, goes out with lots of friends in great clothes, does not appear to have a job and loves your car/bodyspray/lipstick/ deodorant/liquor (Guinness), and (2) the mom (Best Buy).

But back to Best Buy in a minute.  First, an anecdote.

I was on a plane last night and watched Baby Mama.  Loved it.  Silly, and a bit like one SNL skit after another, but 98% fun overall.  It’s the story of an attractive, totally put-together non-spinster woman, played by Tina Fey, who has a nice life and great career.  She’d be happy to be in a relationship but is ok being alone at the moment.  She does, however, understand that her eggs can’t wait so she wants a baby.  Now.

Flash forward to Fey, her sister and their mother (played brilliantly by Two And A Half Men’s Holland Taylor) having dinner while discussing Fey’s intention to adopt or otherwise secure a baby.   While her sister is going along, Holland Taylor despairs, “not everyone is so supportive of your ‘alternative lifestyle.'” 

To which Fey responds: “Mother, being single is not an ‘alternative lifestyle.”

Mother:  “It is when you are 37 years old!”

Holy mackerel.  How and when did being fine and single become AN ALTERNATIVE LIFESTYLE??

So back to Best Buy.  Best Buy has gone for Door #2 as described above while exclaiming that they have created new stores “with women in mind.”  “Gone are the chain’s typical warehouse-like blue interiors… replaced instead by wood paneling.” A store for women apparently also needs family-friendly restrooms and race car-shaped shopping carts – because the only way a woman would ever venture into a Best Buy (sans male decision-maker) would be with her male children in tow?   If you click on the photo in this post, you will see shots of the interior of one of these stores. Note the cozy throw pillows and kitchen set-up.

I store things in my oven.

Ginger Sorvari Bucklin, Best Buy’s director of Winning With Women, explains that the chain has created these stores based on its appreciation of the fact that 45% of all electronics purchases are made by women.  The chain is paying attention.  They are spending the time. The new stores were more expensive to build than their standard model.  So why such a horrible blind spot?  Where is the understanding that women are a diverse crowd?  Some of us are single, some are married.  Some love babies, some don’t.  Some live in the city.  Some even live in the suburbs… alone (the horror).

I decided to google Best Buy’s endeavor and saw some seemingly positive reviews.  A site with the impressive URL GlobalMarketer.com praised Best Buy as being “best in class” based on its new stores targeting women.  I opened the article.  It starts with “My husband and I (Strike 1) walked into a Best Buy store in Richfield, Minnesota (Strike 2) at 1pm on a Sunday afternoon (Strike 3).” You can’t make this stuff up.  I have nothing against husbands, Minnesota or Sundays on their own but, seriously: this vision would actually drive me away from such a store. Especially on a Sunday when my friends and I are in Tribeca nursing Bloody Marys. Next!

It’s not only silly and frustrating to be seen exclusively as either a party girl or a candidate for Jon and Kate Plus Eight… it’s offensive and disrespectful – to all women.  I do not believe that most companies deliberately disrespect women.  Best Buy does not consciously disrespect women.  It’s worse:  companies so smugly assume that they know what women are and what women want – or what they need women to be – they simply disregard the possibility of anything to the contrary.

How Best Buy traveled from learning that “female customers wanted more help seeing how products could work together and fit into their lives” all the way to diaper changing tables and race car shopping cards is beyond me.  Sadly, the result will be beyond Best Buy when these stores fail to reach their full potential.

Best Buy   Best Buy women  

Stephanie Fierman Prefers Tylenol

September 9th, 2008

More than 25 years ago, Tylenol changed the “crisis management” business forever by taking decisive action to compromise profitability based on something that was not its fault.

In the fall of 1982, seven people in Chicago died after taking Extra Strength Tylenol capsules laced with potassium cyanide.  A 12-year old girl was reportedly the first to die.  Panic ensued.  Police cars roved the streets in and around the Chicago area blasting warnings from PA systems.  When it was determined that the poisoned bottles had come from different factories, the possibility that Johnson & Johnson (Tylenol’s ultimate parent) was somehow to blame was decisively ruled out.  Officials came to believe that one or multiple criminals had instead removed bottles from stores, tampered with the contents and then surreptitiously returned the bottles to store shelves.

And yet, responsibility never entered into the decision-making process underway at J&J:  only public safety did.  The company stopped all Tylenol production and promotion.  It issued a national recall not after the episode was over, but while it was still very much underway.  The bottles returned to J&J as a result of the recall had a retail value of more than $100 million.  I shouldn’t say that J&J stopped all Tylenol promotion:  it paid for and issued new national advertising instructing individuals to avoid taking any products that contained Tylenol, and offering to reimburse anyone who sent in an existing bottle of Tylenol capsules.

Once both the crisis and J&J’s action plan were in full force, Tylenol’s market share dropped like a rock from 35% to 8%.  To be expected.  What was not expected was that share rebounded in less than one year:  a return widely credited to J&J’s immediate and decisive action to sacrifice its own well being for the health of – really – the entire country.   Since then, J&J’s response is widely considered to be the gold standard in crisis management.  Act now.  Ask later.

I cannot overemphasize how I feel today about J&J’s behavior that long-ago autumn when I was still a kid.  It made an impression that has lasted my entire career:  one that influences how I measure companies and my own conduct as a business executive to this very day. 

So when I see a company disregard such a lesson for no other reason than financial gain, I am not just nonplussed – I’m disgusted.[Bassinet Recall]

SFCA Inc. purchased the assets of Simplicity Inc., a baby bassinet manufacturer, earlier this year after Simplicity went out of business.  SFCA is an affiliate of the private equity firm, Blackstreet Capital.  Two weeks ago, fifteen retailers – including Target, Wal-Mart, Toys R Us, Amazon and Kmart – halted the sale of certain Simplicity bassinets that the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission said could be hazardous to babies after two baby girls died (from strangulation in their bassinets).  The Wall Street Journal reported that Toys R Us were selling eight of the 66 models affected by the warning; the chain pulled the products anyway.  And all the retailers affected agreed to permit consumers to return the bassinets for a refund or store credit, regardless of how long ago the product had been purchased. 
These retailers heeded the lessons learned from the shining example set by Johnson & Johnson.  Act now. 

SFCA, on the other hand, is doing nothing, holding fast to its claim that it bears no legal responsibility for the hazardous bassinets.  The USCPC couldn’t even issue a product recall, because SFCA would not cooperate.  Rick Locker, a lawyer representing SFCA has declared the company unwilling to recall  “a product that it did not make and sell.”  The blog Daddy Types reports that – while SFCA may have hired Locker to assist with this matter – Locker is also paid as counsel for the Juvenile Product Manufacturers Association:  the lobbying organization that helps protect the makers of children’s products.  


Ironically, the JPMA’s website is currently heralding September as “Baby Safety Month.” In July, the association tooted its own horn for “reaffirm[ing] its commitment of safety.”  The communications contact on the July press release isn’t someone at a real PR or crisis management firm:  it’s a woman at Association Headquarters, Inc., an organization whose lone means of support is selling services to organizations such as… JPMA.  You can’t make this stuff up.

dilbert-business-ethics2.jpgHenceforth, SFCA has taken a “Who, me?” approach to its products killing children.  The company claims that it might go out of business if it took all the offending bassinets back.  I find this particularly ironic and outdated in our Web 2.o world.  If SFCA came out on the Web and announced a recall (even though they were not legally responsible), the company’s future would be far more secure.  The company would be a hero.  Parents would rave and remember the company when they went shopping the next time.  They would tell one another, at a time in history when spreading the word is easier than ever.  Their marketing folks would get college and business school cases written. 


Isn’t this exactly what Tylenol did and exactly what happened as a result (in a decidedly Web 0.0 world)?  But then again, it’s not hard to imagine those meetings in 1982 where well-meaning lawyers warned that a recall could take down the company and J&J’s top management said, So be it.  We’re not going to stand by and let people die.  Short-sighted greed and bad lawyering are in full control at SFCA. 
The drawbridge is up.  SFCA is not legally required to take back the affected bassinets, there are no mandatory standards for safety in the category and the USCPSC cannot bring legal charges against SFCA.

No matter.  There is a higher standard for working and living on this planet that J&J set and by which all corporations should live.  As an aside, I’ll say once again that it’s just good business: (a) the positive halo effect for J&J post-crisis was and still is phenomenal, and (b) not doing the right thing will get you in the end.  You can expect boycotts and bad press at minimum: perhaps a crazed parent manufacturing a terrible happening to take you down if you’re really unlucky.  Permanently disastrous online search results.  But aside from it being good business, it’s about acting human, like someone whose own child or grandchild was killed by your product.


There is no exception – and if there is, I haven’t heard about it and SFCA most definitely does not qualify.  This is capitalism run right into the ground, taking humanity and business ethics down with it.

SFCA  Simplicity bassinets   Blackstreet Capital  JPMA 
Johnson & Johnson 1982 Tylenol   Rick Locker  

Without Snow Globe Innovations, Christmas Décor Will Be Flat

Adweek Not A Weekly Anymore

A New Ad Agency – Eager For Press – Blunders Fundamentally
There is a new agency in New York called Womankind that is promoting itself as a new idea: advertising created by women, for women. It’s not new, of course (paging Mary Lou Quinlan), but it’s getting its 15 minutes. And what does it do, to show that it is serious about “harness[ing] the power of female ad and marketing executives” to make difference? It chooses a man to be interviewed by the Wall Street Journal.

This made me want to slap my own forehead. Hard. There is nothing in the universe that would have kept me from putting a woman up for that interview. If all the female ad executives in the world were wiped out by some advertising plague, I’d have media-trained a homeless woman. Or used a female sock puppet. Or put a dress on a rock.

I would have to think twice about giving business to a shop who, in my opinion, just displayed such colossally poor (and easy to correct) judgment right out of the box! Not kidding.

Clinton Library To Get More Green

Sak’s Wealthy Clients Help It Buck The Trend
“The higher-end luxury price points have not seen a slowdown and we feel quite good about that consumer’s buying power at this point,” Saks Chief Executive Stephen Sadove said on Tuesday.

This is one of several interesting articles spawned by Saks’ prediction of increased sales in the 3Q and a prediction of better sales in 4Q06 vs. 4Q05. The key observation overall appears to be that the haves are getting more and the have-nots are slipping down, while the middle is getting squeezed.

High-end luxury retailers, targeting the truly affluent client (net worth of $1M-$10M) are still performing, as these are the customers immune to credit problems, housing woes and $3/gallon gas prices. But those in the middle who have been reaching up to “low end luxury” brands such as Coach for the last 5 years or so (consumers with annual incomes of $100,000 to $300,000) must now pull back and will shop at Wal-Mart instead – shopping closer to their needs than their wants.

TWO SPINS ON OUR CONVERSATION ABOUT ONLINE REPUTATION MANAGEMENT AND THE UNFETTERED NATURE OF THE WEB

Town Considers Criminalizing Online Harrassment After 13 Year Old Commits Suicide
A terrible, sad story about “Internet shaming” and the death of a 13 year old girl. Where are we going re. regulation on the Web? What responsibility, if any, do we believe that ISPs, social networks and other involved parties must take?

Bob Garfield’s Campaign Against Comcast Continues
“For people with anger issues, the internet is a cathartic godsend and/or lethal weapon.” “… all he needs to have, basically, is fingers and rage.”

Garfield’s ongoing campaign is funny to read, ha ha, and we all feel good about it when we agree with the attacker’s point of view. Then it happens to you personally, or your brand. What do we do?

>

“Are we in heaven?”

September 11th, 2007

“Are we in heaven?” asks one of the videos’ guests. 

No, Dorothy, we’re at Neiman Marcus.” Or so the high-end department store chain would have us respond on this, the store’s 100th anniversary.
Neiman Marcus has created a 4-part online video series called “The Mystique” and it’s getting its share of criticism online. For some reason, Neiman decided to run Part 1 on the home page of Youtube.com – and paid for it with some criticism. Comments range from “Neiman Marcus= needless markup” to “This is a seriously pointless video.” Other, more positive comments were logged, as well. Why did Neiman Marcus pay $250,000 to spend one day on the home page of Youtube in the first place? A little undercooked thinking is behind the plan, with the VP of corporate communications quoted as saying “Like with anything, you hear people in meetings say, ‘Did you see the thing on YouTube?'” Except Neiman Marcus isn’t “anything” – it’s not a video of someone killing an iPhone in a blender, or your crazy Aunt Agatha falling off the roof – it’s one of the greatest specialty retailers in the country.  Truly a story of American entrepreneurship, Neiman stands for luxury, fantasy and “retail theatre” in the grandest sort of way. It’s not for everyone – what luxury brand is? – but then again that’s why it doesn’t belong on YouTube.

And speaking of luxury, the videos are beautiful. All four are lovingly shot, produced and inspired in their thinking. I do have a beef with the editing, in that each of the four is a bit of a story hodge-podge, jumping between ideas such as design, store display, the history of the chain, the importance of designer relationships, etc.  Neiman would have been been better off reserving each of the four for one theme, and then naming each segment accordingly, so that each story had its own thread and viewers could tell what they were about to see (i.e., name the first installment “The Story” instead of Part 1, the second installment “What is Luxury” instead of Part 2, etc.). But they were fun to watch all the same. Lastly, I’m curious as to where NM is, in fact, running the series in order to reach its key constituencies, whom I see as shoppers and would-be well-to-do visitors, designers, vendors and partners (outside of employees, whom I hope can find them easily on the NM intranet). This intrepid blogger could not easily find them off the NM homepage, nor by Googling “Neiman Marcus, “Neiman Marcus video” or “Neiman Marcus 100 anniversary video.” I wandered luxury sites and blogs – no dice.

Let’s hope that Neiman is using its own customer list, at minimum, to make sure its most valuable friends and family see and enjoy this work. And how do you get a viewer to watch 4 separate vignettes? Give them something for doing what you ask. Neiman Marcus has long had one of the most successful frequent shopper rewards programs around, InCircle. If I were running the ship, I’d give each viewer at least 100 InCircle points (reward levels don’t even start until one has 5,000 points!) for giving me their email address and for watching each of the four videos. The viewer is inspired and rewarded, and I get them back into the store, feeling the magic.

Using new Internet capabilities – blogging, podcoasting, online videos –not to be part of the media pile-on (“yay, we’re on Youtube!”) but to draw your supporters even closer, make them even more loyal? Magic, indeed.