September 7th, 2011
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.
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.
July 25th, 2011
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.
July 13th, 2011
I blame Oprah. Or at least I want to blame Oprah for an icky, funky (and not in a good way), goofy seemingly-exploding category in the ad world.
Allow me to take you back five years. It’s hard for medical shows not to use words that are, you know, normal words describing parts of the body when these words are forbidden by the standards and practices folks. And so it was in 2006: Grey’s Anatomy needed a word to use during a childbirth scene, and thus the word “vajayjay” premiered on television. [The only thing that was actually born, of course, was the stupid word, vajayjay.]
And then? Nothing, really. Even with Jimmy Kimmel, and 30 Rock, and Tyra Banks all using the word… meh. Everyone seemed to go about their business. Vajayjays stayed wherever vajayjays are supposed to be. Then Oprah I-Utter-Your-Product’s-Or-Book’s-Name-And-You-Are-Set-For-Life Winfrey used the word to describe her own vajayjay, and her friends’ vajayjays, and vajayjays in general (here a vajayjay, there a vayjayjay, everywhere a vajayjay) and that was it.
You could say it was the vajayjay heard around the world (beginning with Oprah‘s 45+ million viewers).
Since then, it just seems to me that we have more and more truly wacky advertising for sex aids, health and beauty aids, self-heating, uh, whatever – you name it. We’ve always had condom ads, then it was the ED ads (Q: When the moment is right, will YOU be ready? A: Maybe, but why are our bathtubs in the backyard?), but now? Whoa.
I was just sort of snorting through all these weird ads and getting on with my life when Fleet Lab’s new viral campaign for Summer’s Eve came along. Alas, I could be silent no more. Witness just a tiny sample of these (and other) ads for yourself:
1. SUMMER’S EVE: THAT’S VAGINAL
This is not my fault.
2. TROJAN: THE NEW TRIPHORIA VIBRATING, uh, MASSAGER
I have all sorts of questions about this ad, but I guess the biggest one would be… is it good that a “massager” blows your hair back? Would I want said “massager” to blow my hair back? Are there settings on the thing? Slow \ Medium \ High\ Blow Your Hair Back? The mind reels.
3. TROJAN: FIRE AND ICE CONDOMS
This ad is so hilarious, it could be a Saturday Night Live spoof on condom commercials, which I’m sure was part of the planned fun. My question here is similar to the one I raised with the Triphoria: less about the crazy ad, more about product characteristics and benefits.
FIRE and ICE? Who is supposed to be enjoying something described as having been “dipped in IcyHot?” It scares me, frankly.
Such is the state of advertising today, my friends. So crazy, it’ll blow your hair back.
P.S. Check out this spoof of the Cialis “When the moment is right” ad. Hilarious.
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.
Sometimes things just come together…
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.
June 6th, 2011
Birth control ads are strange. Exhibit A: the Nuvaring ad (see HERE) where the gals take off their clothes and climb into a hot tub with their yellow bathing suits on. Each woman has a… each has a number… and… and one has a bathing cap… and then the hot tub spins like a ride at Disneyland… and then there’s a song that makes me hear Satan’s voice urging me to kill (Mommy!).
I don’t know what’s going on, other than understanding that I better use Nuvaring because remembering to take a pill every day is simply too much for me. At least I think that’s what is says.
So in a land of weird, one must rise extra high to be noticed – and I think Beyaz overshot by a mile. Check out the ad (see below or HERE):
The “it’s good to have choices” positioning is fine, but to put women in a shopping setting, where they can simply choose the men, educations, homes and discretionary incomes of their dreams off a shelf at any time – with as much thought and planning as picking a bottle of ketchup – is offensive. And what was the general idea here: that because women understand shopping the best, we can make birth control a section of a department store to help the message hit home?
Then there are the choices themselves. The home the female shopper chooses is a sweet little purple house, with a car out front that looks like it’s from the 50s. Is that where women belong, or when women were “best” – in the 50s? Have we already failed if we don’t want the picket fence?
And the stork: the only “selection” that tries to literally follow the woman once it is rejected (a stalking stork, if you will). All the women in this ad are still in their 20s: are young women supposed to have babies… or else? Note there are no “and” equations in this ad. It’s all about the ”or,” as in grad school or a baby. None of the shoppers leave with more than one item.
or me, though, the most disappointing episode takes place over in the Significant Other section of the store. First of all, the store only carries men in inventory. Being homosexual is not a choice in this retail establishment. Then comes the best part: a woman standing in front of a man (under glass…), only to have another female come along with a smirk on her face and snatch the man off the shelf.
That’s nasty and cruel. And pits women against one another.
The site TresSugar.com does a great job breaking down the ad, scene by scene, object by object. Take a look if you get the chance.
Even in the fantasy world of flying snacks, sodas that never make you fat and perfect hair, I think this ad is over the top in its disdain for women.
This is an encore presentation of a blog post originally published on Stephanie Fierman: Marketing Daily.
May 3rd, 2011
A friend of mine, Stephen Denny, has written a new book, Killing Giants: 10 Strategies to Topple The Goliath In Your Industry. The chapter titled, “Winning in the Last Three Feet” plays to my particular devotion to brands that understand that the moment of contact with a consumer is the most precious in the entire marketing lifecycle, or – put differently – that all the advertising and promotion in the universe cannot overcome the true experience at the point at which a consumer must make a decision.
A Wall Street Journal article recently had me thinking about the same thing. “Tracking the Loyalty of Coffee Drinkers” is interesting, because the research study on which the piece is based doesn’t study its navel by exploring why consumers “roam” between proprietors; it just captures how much wandering people do.
The author of study, Dave Jenkins of CustomersDNA, says, “ Getting that customer to come one more time to their restaurant and one less time to their competitor’s is how the battle will be won or lost.” One more for me, one less for you. Over and over and over. So simple. But how often do senior marketers think like this – about the trees vs. the entire forest?
Denny tells a great story of one such marketer, Mandy Torvick, at Adobe. With Thanksgiving weekend fast approaching Mandy was ready for Black Friday: she had a big category-exclusive ad buy ready to go with Adobe’s largest big box retailer in the U.S., and she was dreaming of turkey. Then the retailer came back at the last minute and said the ad space would instead be given to Microsoft.
Now, I’ve been a businessperson a long time, and know plenty of talented people who would have absolutely freaked out. Frrrrreeeeaked out. Instead, Mandy viewed the event as an opportunity. She could not control the altered landscape, but she could control what she and Adobe did about it. Mandy took some of the advertising money and used it to send guerrilla teams into the retailer’s stores to stand in the aisles and enthusiastically demonstrate the product. And there were plenty of shoppers in the aisles, of course, because Microsoft’s advertising and discounting got them there.
Adobe’s lovingly planned, detailed holiday ad plan went up in smoke, but Mandy wasn’t focused on the advertising: she was focused on the sale.
What is the Web equivalent of this? And I don’t mean that sites ought to be easier to use, or faster to navigate: I mean really, really at the last minute. I started thinking about this after I bought my first yoga mat last week.
With no loyalty to any particular seller, I did what I always do: start with Google, learn about products and pricing and then start hunting around for discount codes. Gaiam.com had me at hello. I was familiar with the brand, its website helped me understand all the choices, it sold the extra-thick mat I wanted and – cool! – the product even came with a free yoga DVD. Free yoga video is all over the Web, but the DVD was a nice, thoughtful touch. I had nearly completed the payment form when I decided to do just a little last minute checking. YogaAccessories.com was selling the same mat, advertising a deal on shipping and – with the discount code I found – saved me enough money to make dropping Gaiam worth it.
Actually, that wasn’t the end: a friend asked me to let him know if I liked the mat. Once the mat had my approval, the easiest thing to do was to simply hand him the YogaAccessories.com invoice right out of the box so he could see the name of the website, the item number and all.
Score? YogaAccessories: 2. Gaiam : 0.
And not a peep from Gaiam. No pop-up with a last-ditch discount offer, no “research study” request – nothing. And I made sure to give them a shot, keeping the same browser window open and going directly to YogaAccessories.com from Gaiam.com.
That’s scary. In a split second, Gaiam lost not only two sales but also two enthusiast buyers – with friends.
The sale that Gaiam lost is a drop in a very big bucket. Retailers lose $18B a year to shopping card abandonment every year, and my personal experience reflects the top two reasons cited by millions of shoppers: shipping charges and a desire to comparison shop. Worse, more tech-savvy shoppers are even more likely to drop a transaction when it’s nearly completed.
But this is about far more than the “25 ways to ensure shopping cart abandonment doesn’t happen to you” lists you can find all over the Web (thought this is a good list, fyi), or whether or not you re-market to a lost shopper. This is about you being Microsoft, and Mandy being right there in front of your customer 24/7, offering another – and sometimes better – option.
So what’s a site to do? I’d love to hear everyone’s thoughts, but the #1 most important thing that an online retailer must do is follow the path of your shopper. Every day. Make sure you have a grasp of what’s happening in your competitive space on a day-to-day basis. Who’s doing what? Who’s running specials or offering free shipping? Some of this can be designed into algorithms, but nothing beats a human review comparing your presentation to your shopper’s other choices.
Second, a retailer must test mercilessly. Who are your customers and what are the habits? How price elastic are they? Where are your core segments and (a) what are you doing for them right now on your site, and (b) what are you doing for them all year ‘round, to help built loyalty and perhaps a little price insulation? You’ve got to understand what you are and are not willing to do and for whom. Not all shoppers are created equal, for example and – while you have your target populations – some may not be “worth” the effort. How many Stephanies are out there, for example, willing to spend 10-15 minutes gaming discount codes, with no history of purchasing yoga-related product? Can I ever be saved? Probably not. Should I be on the top of your target list, relatively speaking? Probably not.
But all this is unknown without a solid, day-to-day grasp on (and primary research about) your target segments and their behavior.
There are some interesting new tools out there than can help. Dynamic serving of both content and offers from companies like Monetate is exciting new work… but you still need to know what to serve to whom. And what offers your competition is promoting. And when to stand in the aisles to grab one more transaction. To win… in the last 3 clicks.
May 1st, 2011
April 11th, 2011
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?”
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.