Well, it's the end of the holidays, and I have things other than marketing on my mind, so I'll just say Happy New Year to everybody! Have a fun and safe time this weekend, whatever you do. Unless something comes up that I just have to blog about now, I'll see you in 2007.
Wednesday, December 27, 2006
Today we read that Verizon is planning to put banner ads on mobile phone web browsers. Personally, I can't think of a better way to make people not want to use their mobile browser.
I use mine (I'm not a Verizon customer, by the way) occasionally. My take on it: it's nice that you can look at web sites on a mobile phone, but the best thing about it is that it's possible, not the actual experience, which is relatively painful. It's slow. It's hard to find what you want. My provider (Cingular) offers a set of selected web links that is just awful; most of what they try to lead you to is just useless, whereas what you need is buried somewhere relatively inaccessible.
The last time I used it, I was at the airport trying to get status on a flight (because the big boards in the international terminal at Houston's airport are always wrong). I eventually gave up and got the information by calling Continental. It was less painful.
Seth Godin's reaction to this is right on the mark:
According to today's Times, you're leading efforts at Verizon to get banner ads and other advertisements on cell phone screens. The reason? Because advertisers want to buy those ads.
This is not a good reason. In fact, it's a bad one.
A typical cell phone user spends more than $2,000 a year on telecommunications, and the number is going up. For a product with a marginal cost of zero, this is an astoundingly high figure. Why would you risk your market share and what little customer satisfaction remains by selling off screen space to advertisers?
It's classic old marketing thinking: we can put an ad there, so we will. It will interrupt the customer and annoy them, but we can do it, so we will. What are they going to do?
Well, maybe switch providers. Or maybe just not bother to use their phone to look at the web.
People are tolerant of these things only if they're getting something for them. We accept intrusive ads on the web because they make free content possible.
I pay an extra charge for being able to access the web on my phone. The day I have to look at ads as well as pay money is the day that I cancel that service.
I'm hoping that Verizon's experiment fails miserably.
Monday, December 25, 2006
The sheer crazed, greedy exuberance of these kids is just hilarious. And there's no phoney-baloney-ing about giving someone a BMW: it's about this being a good time of year to buy one (if you're so inclined).
Of course, it is all about much that is terrible in the season: gimme, gimme, gimme; more, more, more; never enough, never enough, never enough.
And, yet...I laugh every time I see it.
I'm taking a couple of days off from Opinionated Marketers (although not, of course, from being an opinionated marketer.) All opinions are on hold until what I hope is a Happy and Healthy New Year for all.
Sunday, December 24, 2006
The award for long-running irritating Christmas-related ad: gotta go with Lexus. Who gives a car for Christmas? What do you give, the downpayment? Talk about a gift that could keep on giving. Anyway, I find these ads incredibly obnoxious. If class warfare is ever declared in this country, they'll trace the seeds of rebellion back to these "we're rich and you're not" ads that make those who can't afford a Lexus feel like the poor little match girl with out noses pressed to the window of the car dealership.
Anything by Kay Jewelers, Zales, or the diamond industry is a must for a humbug award. The entire equation of diamond = love brings out the worst in the women they're so squarely aimed at. Okay, Kay Jewelers is on the lower end of the "diamonds are a girls best friend" spectrum, and I haven't seen them run any of those rule-of-thumb for engagement rings ads (if he really loved you, he'd spend 90% of his annual salary...), but I find these ads manipulative (even by advertisting standards) and smarmy.
(Speaking of smarmy, I had been a little worried about the young woman in the Bank of America ad - the one who's just been made the branch manager and is telling mom and dad the good news. I keep wondering, how old is she? Does she really still live with her parents? Can't a branch manager afford to live on her own? Well, my worries about little Miss Goody Two-Shoes still sleeping, at age 33, in her twin-bed with her high school pompoms still stuck in a vase on her bookcase, have been put to rest. She's apparently gotten married. She's the pretty-ish, dreamy-eyed woman sitting on the floor in front of her couch watching It's a Wonderful Life, when her husband gives her a diamond gift and/or a Bulova watch from -ta-DA - Kay Jewelers. I'm sure her BofA parents are much relieved.)
Friday, December 22, 2006
Perhaps it's because it's the holiday season, but customer service stories are everywhere these days.
There's a great magazine called Oxford American. It's a quarterly that features writing and culture of the American South. The American South is, in my opinion, probably the most culturally rich part of the country when it comes to writers, musicians, and artists, and Oxford American explores all of that quite wonderfully.
I was turned on to it by my partner, who's a huge fan of it. One of the highlights of the magazine is their annual music edition. It comes with a CD with all kinds of music created by southerners. The CDs cross genres and styles and are uniformly wonderful.
We've spent a shocking amount of time and money on eBay assembling a complete collection of the disks; the magazine produces a bunch to ship out with the music issue, sells the rest from their web site, and then they're gone.
This year, we missed the music issue. While my partner is a subscriber, the issue came out while he was in the midst of an overly complicated move, and it just got lost somewhere - with the much-anticipated CD. So he called them to let them know that he never got it.
Here's what they had to do to make him a thrilled customer: ship off a copy of the magazine with the CD. Here's what they did: they extended his subscription by one issue.
He said it sounded like fulfillment was handled by some large third-party company, who probably have a simple rule: when somebody misses an issue, extend their subscription. That's not unreasonable, and for most magazines, that would be just fine.
But not for Oxford American, and especially not for the music issue.
It was, it seems, absolutely impossible to get the resolution he wanted. So he wound up just accepting the extension, and then going to the magazine web site and ordering the CD so that our collection will be complete.
But really, it's such a small thing, and they couldn't do it. It's especially bad for them; the magazine has gone out of business and suspended publication repeatedly, until someone came along to kick in the cash to start it up again. It's a labor of love for its publishers, and seems to exist thanks to the devotion of its fans - such as my partner and me - but it always exists on the verge of disappearing again.
If the cost of making the people who are keeping you from falling into the abyss is taking a magazine, sticking it in an envelope, and mailing it, wouldn't you want to do that?
They won't lose us - the magazine and the CDs are good enough to put up with a minor inconvenience and expense like this. But I sure hope that's true for most of their readers, or our loyalty may not matter.
I have to say that most days, Marketing Profs is like a candy box: you open the lid and there are a lot of good posts to pick from. (Fortunately, unlike with the candy box, you don't need to sample just one or two.)
Yesterday, my favorite - the chocolate covered cherry, as it were - was Nedra Weinreich's post on marketing to introverts. No, I didn't just like it because I'm an introvert and it was ABOUT ME (although that did play a part). From Nedra:
I have found that introverts and extroverts have a Mars-Venus thing going on. It's hard for an extrovert to get inside the mind of an introvert and understand where they are coming from...This got me to thinking about whether marketers might need to take a different approach to be more effective in reaching introverts, who make up 25-40% of the general population (but 60% of the gifted population!). That percentage is large enough to think about taking the needs of introverts into account in your marketing, even if you are not trying to specifically reach engineers, writers, researchers, lawyers, programmers, college faculty or Star Trek fans, all of whom are more likely to be introverts.
The point is that you need to be aware of your audience, and provide them what they want and need accordingly. As a marketer with a background in product management and product marketing (all in the tech world), I've had a number of running battles with marketing people who don't like any approach to providing information that actually provides information.
I've been told over and over again that "people buy benefits, not features." Thus we see all these claims that "our software solution with increase ROI and employee productivity" without actually ever revealing what exactly the software solution does and what it's used for. In my experience, techies have already decided on the benefits, and they want "it". So you need to tell them what "it" does, and "how it works." The techies may need to know the benefits (and have you help connect the dots to how the benefits are derived) in order to sell internally. I've rarely met a techie who didn't want to understand the innards, and who also didn't think that the benefits statements were marketing fluff and BS.
This has led me to define my own marketing mantra: Someone, somewhere in the customer organization is going to want to know what your product does.
I posted a comment on Nedra's post that cited an experience I had. Years ago, I was invited by the marcomm people at my company to sit in on a meeting with our advertising agency. (I ran product marketing, and my group and I were often brought in by marcomm to review ads, direct mail pieces, web content, and collateral to make sure that it didn't get what we did wrong.) At this particular session, our ad agency was going through an exercise in which they showed us a whole bunch of ads for various technology products. We were asked for our response on which ads were good and which ones were bad.
Naturally, all the ads that I liked were dense and wordy and provided a lot of information on the products being advertised. The ones that I hated told me nothing: horses running through waves, talking heads with a caption about solutions, etc. (A lot of them reminded me of the ads that appeared in women's mags when I was a kid. They showed women in ball gowns, leaning up against pillars, and the caption read "Modess....because." I'm sure our mothers knew the "because" part, but we just liked the pictures of the pretty ladies, which we cut out and put in scrapbooks. Well, "Tech Solution....because" won't cut it for most techies I know.)
Naturally, I was told that I didn't know anything about advertising. The agency regarded the information-rich ads as terrible. I tried to point out that techies might like them, but was hooted down.
I will admit that I've made my own mistakes here, too, taking my introvert need and desire for more information into too much information for the audience. I'll admit, the business buyer may not care about the "how it works", even when I've tried to force feed it. The business guys do, indeed, want to know "what it does for me."
Wednesday, December 20, 2006
Second Life, the virtual world created that claims over two million "residents," is one of the more hyped things in the interactive marketing world today. Major retail brands are falling over themselves to create Second Life outposts, Starwood has created a hotel there, there's an ad agency with headquarters there... it seems that everybody's diving into Second Life.
Oh really? This MarketingProfs article is a welcome reality check:
I'm sitting in the chic lobby of Aloft, the groundbreaking Starwood hotel that has opened in the virtual world long before one opens in the real world. I'm alone at the bar, last stool on the left. I'd order a drink, but there doesn't seem to be a bartender on duty. I'd complain to the manager, but I can't find her, either. In fact, there isn't another soul in sight. No guests. No staff. It has been this way every time I've come for a visit.
Virtual Aloft is beautifully rendered. The attention to detail is amazing. But, still, it feels dead. This can't be what Starwood was going for when it started this marketing experiment.
Bored, I teleport to the American Apparel store. Empty, too. A sign next to the unmanned cash register reads FREE BEER. There's that drink I was looking for... but an offer of free beer from a youth-oriented retailer?
Actually, the sign and the cases of Tecate Mexican beer stashed behind the counter are the work of a rogue resident, an act of silent protest against Big Marketing's invasion of the virtual world. The beer has been there for months, along with a tray of steaming tacos and a piñata that hangs from the store's ceiling.
Toyota's Scion show room? Empty.
This matches my experiences with Second Life. People are spending a lot of time there, but not with marketers (whom they increasingly resent).
Should you forget about Second Life? Of course not. But you need to know what it is and what it is not, and sorry, marketers: it's not two million people wandering around thinking, "If only an ad agency would show me something, this would be perfect!"
Users seem to be attracted by the opportunity to build things themselves and interact with other users. They're not waiting around for you; really, they don't care about you at all and would prefer you not bother them.
Second Life is a social medium. The MarketingProfs piece offers the best possible advice for marketers: before you do anything, go into Second Life and play. Explore it. Get a feel for how it works. See what's going on.
If instead you follow the typical marketer's first, worst instinct and look upon Second Life as its "residents" as a giant target audience for you to shake money out of, be prepared to waste your effort and annoy the people there.
I have long keened the marketer's lament about all those times I've gotten "stuck" with products that were priced well above the market norm. That seemed larded with features that no one really wanted to pay for. That weren't all that differentiated (other than the lard).
Then I saw an ad in The New Yorker for a $400 yo-yo and I knew I had to check out the Yo-Yo Guys.
Well, the price may be above the market norm, but looking at the Yo-Yo Guys (and the other yo-yo related sites out there), I realized that yo-yo-ing is a pretty darn serious business these days. No doubt there is a market for a limited edition beaut like the Duncan Freehand MG that's a far cry from the wooden Duncan I used to have that probably cost two-bucks. Or the funkier "No Jive" someone gave me a decade or so later. Not to mention the cheap-o plastic yo-yo's with thread instead of string that used to come in cereal boxes. (If you were lucky, you got one up-and-down before it fell apart.)
The picture doesn't do it justice, but here's the description:
The Cadillac of YoYos is here! Butterfly shape body is 99.5% forged magnesium. Ceramic bearing for ultra-smooth spins. Limited quantities per year (200 of each color). Includes limited edition white/black counterweight set and (4) friction stickers. This edition is powdercoated with a sparkle blue finish.
And, unlike some of the products I've marketed over the years, the value prop on this one is pretty straightforward: This product is fun! And, once you get the hang of making a slip-string for your finger and perfect the up-and-down motion, it's a darn sight easier to use than a lot of my products have been.
Tuesday, December 19, 2006
It's in the air this week! I wrote about companies paying attention to bloggers commenting on their bad experiences with them, and then found local blogger John Wagner talking about a heinous Home Depot experience.
As of this morning John hasn't heard from Home Depot, although he's called them - and there have been some hits on his blog from their headquarters.
Bad, bad Home Depot. Here's a chance to make it right and you're ignoring an unhappy customer... who has a blog. Dumb.
This all got me thinking about stores like Home Depot, and whether a big corporation like that can ever really provide good service. I suspect not.
I generally don't shop at Home Depot; I've never had an experience like John's, I've just found the place to be uniformly mediocre. It's hard to find things in a store the size of an airport, and nobody there is helpful.
And I have a great little neighborhood store where I can walk in, ask questions, figure out what I need thanks to their expertise, find it fast, and leave in the time it would take me to park at the Home Depot just up the road.
I think these little stores are, by their nature, better; they're part of the neighborhood, and understand that they succeed because people like them and tell their neighbors about it.
My guess is that at the Home Depot nearby, almost nobody has any particular connection to the community they're serving; they're part of the Atlanta based juggernaut. At my local store, the people there are "us." You don't say vulgar things about your neighbors who come to your store, as happened to John at Home Depot.
Home Depot does well because they have everything at a good price... and because sadly, in many places, there really is no local competitor. So even though it's hard all that stuff, nobody who works there seems to know what's going on, and nobody will go out of their way to make you experience a pleasant one, they do well.
I suppose if you buy tons of stuff, it's worth the aggravation for the savings. For normal people, though, it seems like it's worth paying a little more for a light bulb or some picture hangers to be treated like a human being and not waste your time. (And it's not like it's much more.)
When I lived in DC, I had a different little hardware store I loved, owned by a couple who lived in the neighborhood. At this point I don't think I'd want to live in a neighborhood that didn't have a place like this. Because then I'd have to go to Home Depot. Ugh.
Monday, December 18, 2006
A few reminder from the last week that smart companies are watching blogs for mentions of their name...
Last week I wrote about my unpleasant eFax experience. And shortly afterwards, I got an email from someone at eFax. I haven't actually spoken to him (he's says he's going to call, but hasn't yet).
I doubt there's anything they can do to get my business back, especially since I've switched to another fax provider and had new business cards with the new number printed up, but I give them credit for paying attention.
Companies that monitor blog chatter for their own names are still the exception. And that's just crazy, because it's so easy to do.
A few years ago I posted a rant about HP (specifically their printer software) on my personal blog. When I check the traffic reports for that blog, I regularly get people at HP's domain hitting the blog on that entry. So clearly a bunch of HP people have read the tale on one consumer who had a horrible time with the software they ship with their printers.
I've never heard a peep from them. It makes me sad; I generally like HP. I have one of their laptops and I love it. I have met folks who work there (Houston has a big HP presence - the old Compaq business) and they're good, smart folks.
I'd like to see them do better. Even if they just asked for some more details about what was so frustrating.
Anyway... you do have an RSS feed set up to capture mentions of your organization on blogs and deliver them to you desktop, don't you? If you don't, that's your assignment for today.
On October 11th, I blogged about the new composite-material basketball that was being rolled out in the NBA. Two months to the day, the NBA announced that the new ball was getting bounced. According to the NBA's official announcement:
“Our players' response to this particular composite ball has been consistently negative and we are acting accordingly," said NBA Commissioner David Stern. “Although testing performed by Spalding and the NBA demonstrated that the new composite basketball was more consistent than leather, and statistically there has been an improvement in shooting, scoring, and ball-related turnovers, the most important statistic is the view of our players.”
"In the meantime, we will work with our players and our partners at Spalding to determine the best possible ball for the NBA."
Even though I'm an opinionated marketer, I do not have an opinion on way or another about the merits of the new ball. That's obviously up to the players. But as I noted in my October post, from a marketing point of view, Spalding and the NBA had a problem on their hands. A very big problem. A number of the players - including Shaquille O'Neal were badmouthing the new ball.
From a product introduction and marketing point of view, Spalding had dropped the ball and clearly hadn't gotten buy in from a key constituency. They had done some homework:
NBA and Spalding subjected the ball to a rigorous evaluation process that included laboratory and on-court testing. Every NBA team received the new ball and had the opportunity to use it in practice. The ball also was tested in the NBA development Leagues and was used in activities during NBA All-Star 2006 in Houston. NBA retired players Steve Kerr and Mark Jackson participated in testing the new ball as well.
But clearly not enough with the incumbent players - including the one who is arguably the biggest, most widely recognized name on the court: Shaq.
Now, the ball is back in the NBA and Spalding court, and they're now saying that they will work with players more closely before introducing another new ball.
Those of us in high-tech marketing don't typically have to ever face situations like this. When we roll out B2B software, for example, we've generally enlisted key customers in the design phase, and as beta testers. Plus, let's face it, someone can complain about our software in a blog, but it's not going to get written up in newspapers, or splashed across the news in the way that Shaq's reaction to the new ball was.
Still, it's a good reminder about making sure that key constituents are part of the product creation process.
P.S. Because they are a Massachusetts-based company, I'm particularly sympathetic to Spalding and the costs (production, reputation, good will) that this has meant for them. I do think that they are handling things quite nicely, however, in offering anyone who bought the old-new (or is it new-old) basketball a way to get their money back. My guess is that most people will hang on. You never know. The ball that was introduced this year might be deflated now, but it might be worth something someday.
Saturday, December 16, 2006
McConnell and Huba take a look at the fast-growing phenomenon of consumer-generated marketing content, and the best thing about the book is that you get a sense of just how common this has become. The examples are plentiful and richly detailed, including responses from the companies whose products are the subjects of this "citizen marketing" - in some cases, a healthy respect for it, and in others an uncomfortable confusion. There were a number of cases discussed that I wasn't aware of, and they're quite interesting.
The question that doesn't get answered - probably because no one is sure how - is how to encourage this. There's good advice on what to do if you're fortunate enough to have a customer so in love with you that singing your praises becomes a hobby; or, even better, if an entire community forms around what you sell.
But marketers are marketers, and want to make this happen. The result, I expect, will often be clueless fakes - "community" sites that are actually created by marketers and lack the authenticity to work.
My other quibble with the book was that not much was said about the dangers of consumer content. What do you do when a community of passionate customers forms around hating you? Worse yet, what if you unintentionally give them a platform for it, as GM did with their ill-fated "create a Chevy Tahoe ad" program?
These are quibbles, though; McConnell and Huba are charting new territory here, and I don't think anything resembling best practices exists yet. If you're looking for some good examples of how well this can work - for example, to convince your legal department to stop worrying about trademark violations when the violators are doing you a favor - this is a good read.
Friday, December 15, 2006
There's no question that technologies like web chat and automated attendants can lower cost of service and help people get what they need quickly. All too often, however, companies buy the technology but then don't actually have the staff to provide the service. As this blog post points out.
I've used the guilty retailer of this story (Red Envelope), and I'm surprised; they're usually pretty good.
This problem could be solved really easily, too. What if the web chat started with, "Your expected wait time is 20 minutes. Would you like to leave an email for us instead?"
Of course, then they'd have to answer the email.
Thursday, December 14, 2006
From Forbes, a piece about a company that didn't get a spot at the O'Reilly Web 2.0 Summit - and took things into their own hands and found that got better results anyway.
Mashery failed to make the cut for prime placement at tech’s hottest conference of the year, the O’Reilly Web 2.0 Summit in November. So while thirteen other Web infants paid $10,000 to debut their new products on stage for under ten minutes, Michels sipped margaritas and nibbled on nachos.
His investors had rented out a conference room a floor above the O’Reilly show for $900 a day. Two margarita machines swirled lime green goodness from morning ‘til night all three days of the conference. The Palace Hotel’s couch and coffee table rental fee was too high, so Michels bought some modern-looking stuff at Ikea that an employee wanted for her apartment anyway.
His loss, turns out, was his win.
The article describes the resulting traffic to their suite and attention they got. The lesson here: if it's buzz you want, it helps to be doing something a little different than everybody else. I'm not suggesting that the spots at the conference weren't valuable - just that something simple but different from everybody else can pay off. Buzz is, after all, about keeping people interested.
Most of us remember the mythology stories they taught us in school (Zeus and Thor and the rest of the comic-like heroes.) Myths allow us to project ourselves into their stories, to imagine interactions that never took place, to take what's important to us and live it out through the myth.
There are dozens, if not hundreds of entertainment mythological brands. James Bond and Barbie, for example.
But it goes far beyond that.
There's clearly a Google mythology and a Starbucks one was well. We feel differently about brands like these than we do about, say Maxwell House or Random House.
Why do Santa and Ronald McDonald have a mythology but not Dave at Wendy's or the Burger King?
This is all very interesting to think about, but is there really any there there? Do Google and Starbucks truly have "mythologies"?
Not by the definition that Seth gives. What about Google or Starbucks "allows us to project into their stories"? I prefer the apparently unmythic Dunkin' Donuts to Starbucks, but I do google, often and early. And I guess by some wild stretch, by googling something I'm "taking what's important to me" at that very point in time, but am I "living it out through the myth" when I google on bulky non-wool yarn so that I can make a scarf for my cousin who's allergic to wool? I mean, Starbucks and Google may be hot, compelling brands. But mythic? The only thing that strikes me as mythic about Google is their share price. But maybe I'm missing something here. Back to Seth:
So, if I were trying to invent a mythic brand, I'd want to be sure that there was a story, not just a product or a pile of facts. That story would promise (and deliver) an heroic outcome. And there needs to be growth and mystery as well, so the user can fill in her own blanks. Endorsement by a respected ruler or priest helps as well.
The key word, I think, is spiritual. Mythological brands make a spiritual connection with the user, delivering something that we can't find on our own... or, at the very least, giving us a slate we can use to write our own spirituality on.
Granted, Google can "deliver something that I can't find on our own." Not bulky acrylic wool. I actually could have found that on my own. But I probably couldn't have found out that the boy I had a crush on in fifth grade is a potter living in Oregon. That I did need Google for.
I do stumble on the "key word" - spiritual. And that's not the only problem I'm having here. For one thing, myths are stories that have stood the test of time. Maybe in two-thousand years - perhaps when we've circled back to some kind of oral history that will actually be telepathic and not spoken - people will be telling tales of Google and Starbucks. (Come to think of it, Google kind of sounds like it could have been Thor's dog or pesky younger brother.) But we're not going to know that for a while yet, now are we?
And other things cited as mythic in the post, well, I found the going kind of hit or myth. Santa Claus, yes. But Ronald McDonald? And then there's the definition of mythology (lifted, I'll say, from one of Seth's mythic brands: Wikipedia):
The word mythology (Greek: μυθολογία, from μυθος mythos, a story or legend, and λογος logos, an account or speech) literally means the (oral) retelling of myths – stories that a particular culture believes to be true and that use supernatural events or characters to explain the nature of the universe and humanity. In modern usage, mythology is either the body of myths from a particular culture or religion (as in Greek mythology, Egyptian mythology, or Norse mythology) or the branch of knowledge dealing with the collection, study and interpretation of myths.
Here's where I lose Seth. Starbucks, Google, and Ronald McDonald may have plenty to say about our place and time, but I'm hard pressed to see how they help "explain the nature of the universe and humanity."
For that, I think we need to look to philosophy, literature, and - yes indeed - mythology.
But from a marketing perspective, Seth is - as always - on to something, and that's that everyone loves a good story, and if you can build your brand around that good story, the more people will like - or maybe even love - your brand compared to a brand with equivalent products and services, but a not very interesting story to tell. Take creation myth. Wouldn't we rather hear about the two guys who designed the most-important-product-ever on a cocktail napkin...and the very next day, one of them was killed trying to race the idea into an investor...and all that survived the crash was the cocktail napkin...so the surviving partner, who ended up marrying the first guy's beautiful widow......Than listen to some arid story about two MBAs who just wanted to make a buck? Or no story at all?
Wednesday, December 13, 2006
Have you been following the latest fake blog story? This time it's Sony with a PlayStation blog. And it's so mind-numbingly bad that I was convinced at first that the whole thing was a hoax to make Sony looks bad.
Sadly, no. Go look at the blog, if you dare; I will warn you that it's painful. It claims to be the blog of a kid who wants a PlayStation for Christmas; somehow, creating a blog is supposed to make this happen.
It's written in a painful attempt at youth-speak:
so we started clowning with sum not-so-subtle hints to j's parents that a psp would be teh perfect gift. we created this site to spread the luv to those like j who want a psp!
consider us your own personal psp hype machine, here to help you wage a holiday assault on ur parents, girl, granny, boss – whoever – so they know what you really want.
The whole thing has the feeling of 40-something exec loosening his tie and trying to sound like he's down with the young folks. It's just awful.
The whole atrocity was put together by an agency called Zipatoni, who pulled the bright move of leaving their name visibly on the site registration, so people could quickly see the whole thing was a put-on. (For extra fun, check out the agency's site, with its incomprehensible Flash navigation and assorted sounds. Is it 1999 again?)
As AdRants reports, when confronted with this, the imaginary blogger then denied it:
...the blog commenters are not amused and "Charlie's" defense of the blog is even less amusing. In reaction to commenter's complaints, "Charlie" writes, "yo where all u hatas com from... juz cuz you aint feelin the flow of PSP dun mean its sum mad faek website or summ... youall be trippin."
Just reading it makes me feel like my eyes are bleeding. (I feel like I'm 13 and I'm trying to disappear because my dad is trying to be really cool and relate to my friends, and it's too embarrassing to bear.)
The content is a case study in how to reveal that you're a fake. The blogger is supposed to be some kid, but nearly every post is a music download or interactive feature. (Where is this kid getting this stuff?) I especially like how "he" drops out of his hip hop speak to provide download instructions for both Macs and PCs. (Do teenagers need to be told how to download a music file from a link, anyway?)
And the thing is, it's inexcusable. Blogs are relatively new, but they are not that new, and it's incomprehensible to me that anybody at Sony could have thought this was a good idea. Or that nobody at the agency, which I'm sure was collecting a nice fee to provide Sony with their "expertise," ever said, "Wait, folks; this is not how blogs work, and this is a really bad idea. "
It's even worse coming after the flap about the fake blogs that Edelman created for Wal-Mart; that should have been a warning sign for everybody. But you know what? The Wal-Mart blogs weren't nearly as bad as this. At least Walmart paid actual people to write blogs in their own voices; their sin was hiding the sponsorship.
The PlayStation blog is just a complete fabrication, and a tone-deaf, insulting one at that.
I'm not fond of grandiose statements about how all marketing is changing and traditional marketers are becoming obsolete; I think that the good old basics still are pretty important, particularly if you're a B2B marketer.
But things like this make me think that yes, some traditional marketers are already obsolete. And apparently some of them are responsible for Sony's marketing.
Tuesday, December 12, 2006
(In case you're not aware of this phenomenon: tagging is one of the ways that bloggers keep themselves amused. It works like this: you compose a post according to a formula (what are the last five songs you listened to? what's your favorite book? etc.) and then "tag" other bloggers to do the same thing. And they tag more bloggers, and so on. Kind of like a chain letter, but fun.)
In this case, the tag is "five things you don't know about me." So, let's see.
1. Sometimes I wear a kilt.
2. I once had lunch at the Kennedy compound in Hyannis. (It was an open house for journalists; I wasn't a journalist, but I was the ride for a non-driving journalist friend.) My name tag indicated that I wasn't the press, so I was mostly ignored. Good lobster, though!
3. I have seen every episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer at least once.
4. Earlier this year in Köln (Cologne), my partner and I made the folks at the Roman museum crazy by asking where the remnants of the Roman road were. There is a bit of the original Roman road in Köln's Altstadt, but nobody seems to know it's there. I thought it was cool (although, strewn with trash, a bit sad). Of course, I like old stuff.
5. One of my relatives tutored Lady Di. (At least, that is what my family claims.)
I'm in the middle of reading Citizen Marketers, Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba's new book about content creators unaffiliated with a company and how they're becoming a powerful force, and noticed that so far the book has focused on the positives of understanding these folks. But what, I wondered, are the dangers? Well, here's one. The company in question is Lego.
The links to the fake ads seem to be gone; they showed disaster scenes (like the 9/11 thumbnail that you can see in the Adrants article) with the Lego logo and the tagline, "Rebuild it." (There was a post-tsunami devastationp shot in one of the others.)
Pretty tasteless. In this case the content creators were actually agency employees, though they were working on their own. But it does raise an interesting point. Fans of a product or company who go out and create web sites, videos, and the like about those products and companies are doing so for their own enjoyment. Generally, they love the product and want to promote it.
But their ideas of how to approach that task may differ radically from the company's ideas. Or they may actually want to make fun of an ad campaign or a brand.
What's a marketer to do? I'm not sure. Yes, you can try to crack down on all of this, but that's likely to just create an impression that you're overly controlling.
Just a reminder that when consumers feel ownership of your brand - and they've inexpensive tools to create materials featuring your brand - unexpected things can happen. I haven't finished McConnell and Huba's book yet, and I'm curious to see what they have to say how corporate marketers should engage citizen marketers. (I'll write more about the book when I'm done with it.)
Monday, December 11, 2006
I wrote the other day about how my fax to email provider upset me with "no-reply" emails. Today's experience with them was even worse - so I'm naming names!
I have been using eFax for ages, but when I got an email about a 30% price hike, I decided to investigate alternatives. I discovered that there are lots, and they are all cheaper. So today I set up a new account with another provider and then went to the eFax site to cancel my account.
Of course, they're from the AOL school of "let's make it really, really hard to cancel," so it took me a while to find a page that said how: click a button for live web chat with a service rep who would take care of it.
Except that the chat application doesn't work in either Firefox or Internet Explorer - it just produced an error. So, I clicked the "contact us" link and found an 800 number.
I called that, and jumped through a bunch of voicemail menus, until I got the support option - which was a recording telling me to dial a different Los Angeles phone number.
Grr. So I dialed that number, jumped through more menus, and got to the cancellation option, and got another recording: telling me that the only way to do it was through the web chat application.
Which doesn't work.
I went back to the site and did find a support request form, which I completed explaining everything that had gone wrong, along with the request to cancel the account.
While there I noticed that they have a credit card that expired last month. It's funny; last time a credit card expired, I had all kinds of issues with services billed to it not being able to bill me. This time I got a lot of emails warning me an advance that this would happen, and asking me to provide new billing information. Which seems like a sensible thing; how hard is it to find every customer whose card expires next month and send them an email?
Too hard for eFax apparently. Which is convenient, because I have a feeling that my support request is in some scary limbo where it may never be seen. At least the card information they have isn't valid.
What's really funny: they charge more than all their competitors. Shouldn't that at least come with good service? The difference setting up the account with a new provider was striking; when I wanted to make sure I got a Houston number, I used their (functional) web chat to get someone, who said, "Here's an 800 number, call me and we'll take care of it" - and he did, in minutes. It was a pleasure.
Good riddance to eFax.
I'm always a few steps behind when it comes to TV ads, since I tend to pay no attention to them whatsoever. I probably wouldn't have seen the one for Combos either, if my husband hadn't told me about it. (Jim caught the funny part, but not the product name. He said "they're for some kind of snack called Grumpy's or something".)
But I am completely cracked up by the ad for Combos with the tag, "What your mom would feed you if your mom were a man." If you haven't seen the any Combos' ads, check out one of the earlier ones in this AdWeek article.
I'd be very curious to see whether these ads have been effective, i.e., have Combos' sales increased since they've been running?
Personally, I can't think of anything more disgusting than a pretzel stuffed with cheese-product or pizza-innards. Just looking at a bag of Combos makes me nauseous. But I'm clearly not the demographic they're aiming for. I might watch a game, but I'm sure not going to run out and buy a jumbo bag of Combos to munch on during it.
So, anybody out there know whether the Combos ads are doing their trick?
Whether they are or not, their ads are funny, however retro and sexist them may be. (Hey, I like the "Man-Law" ads, too. Maybe I'm watching too many football games.)
(And props to the ad agency for not giving in to the darker forcers and sticking to correct grammar with the use of "if your mom were a man.")
Sunday, December 10, 2006
I'm working on a data sheet project with the product marketing team at a software company, and they're having a hard time with the designers in marcomm who keep coming up with new design guidelines for them the follow.
No problem with standards and guidelines, and the overall look and feel are fine, but each time they come up with a new design, they shrink the amount of real estate that's dedicated to content.
They've given us a head's up that the next design - coming soon! - is going to allow for even less content. As the designer said when the head of product marketing pushed back, "People can only remember three things anyway."
But since when are people supposed to memorize what's on a data sheet? Last time I looked, the purpose of a data sheet is to provide detail on features and technical requirements. It is not meant to be a take-away that someone needs to remember - which is what you may want out of an ad, a direct marketing campaign, or a presentation. Just the opposite: a data sheet is meant to be a take-away that someone actually reads, that they actually refer to when they want information, that they can pass on to someone else who wants to actually learn something about a product.
I'm not really looking forward to the new design. We're already struggling to accommodate the current excess-of-white-space-and-graphic-elements template we were given last fall.
This is a classic case of function being made to follow form, of the dictatorship of design.
If data sheets are going to shrink down to three-bullet content limitations, we might as well print the bullet points up on business cards and leave it at that.
If you're going to have a blog, you might as well write it in a way that gets lots of search engine traffic. Robert Scoble offers up some good tips to do just that (while simultaneously dinging a San Jose Mercury News blogger for getting it wrong). Yes, his ego is large, but he knows this stuff; worth a look if you want to beef up your blog's search engine hits.
Friday, December 08, 2006
By now you've probably read about the ban on artificial trans fats in food that was just passed in New York City. Never mind whether it's a good idea or not - one paragraph of the CNN story was quite interesting:
McDonalds Corp. has been experimenting with healthier oil blends but has not committed to a full switch yet, though it has said it will be ready for a New York City ban. Wendy's International Inc. introduced a zero-trans fat oil in August and Yum Brands Inc.'s KFC and Taco Bell said they also will cut trans fats from their kitchens.
You'd expect the fast food giants to be howling about this the loudest, but it turns out that they've all been thinking about the issue already?
Why? Probably because the content of their food has come under all kinds of criticism in the last few years. Consumers are more conscious now of what they are eating; the fast food companies saw this, recognized it as a market shift, and are trying to improve their product.
It's the smart thing to do when you see such a shift coming. It's a dramatic contrast to, for example, the auto industry, which claims every new safety device will destroy their industry until they're forced to adopt them and start featuring them in their ads.
The muted response from McDonalds and friends actually relates to an interesting thing about this law; while it's been discussed as an example of nanny state legislation that assumes that New Yorkers can't make their own food decisions, that's not quite accurate. The ban came about, I think, because of a market failure: the artificial fats are so widely used that it's hard to find quick food without them (or often, to even know if you're getting them). There was a market opportunity here (healthier food without the artificial fats) that nobody filled fast enough, and so the law moved out in front of the market.
Thursday, December 07, 2006
The other day, while doing some competitive research for a client, I came across a company that described their product as a "simplistic solution." Since they are direct competitors of ours, I sure do hope that their solution is simplistic! Both our products are trying to solve an expensive, complex, and - dare I say - "mission critical" problem. Using a product that oversimplifies the problem just won't cut it.
Of course, before I started carping, I mean blogging, on this topic, I got me to the dictionary to make sure that simplistic does indeed mean what I think it does: OVERSIMPLE.
InfoPlease (online) and American Heritage agree. InfoPlease goes so far as to use the word in its definition of pablum. And American Heritage lists it as the adjective form of a wonderful word I've never heard - simplism, which is defined as:
The tendency to oversimplify an issue or problem by ignoring complexities or complications.
I tried to do a bit of further heavy lifting, craning my Oxford English Dictionary out of its casing, but I couldn't find the magnifying glass that goes with it and so had to give up on the eye-straining effort to read through the etymology of the word "simples."
Only Merriam-Webster (online) seemed to give any nod to simplistic as a synonym for simple.
But I'm guessing the marketing person who defined a solution as "simplistic" wasn't consulting a dictionary. My guess: someone was trying to fancy-up a product description and thought "simplistic" sounded more elegant than plain, old simple.
Bottom line: sometimes plain is better than fancy.
And here's a little something for below the bottom line. I live in the same block as the bar/restaurant that inspired the TV series Cheers. I rarely go there, but the other evening we had an out-of-town friend who "kinda" wanted to see it and we obliged. Here's a howler I found on their menu: "Please Visit the Authentic Replica of the Cheers Hollywood Set in Faneuil Hall Marketplace." Don't know where to begin except by asking just what an "authentic replica" is that a "replica" isn't. And to offer that, before it was the Cheers Bar it was the Bull and Finch Pub, which didn't look all that much like the Cheers Bar (and the bartender didn't look like Sam Malone) which sort of makes the Hollywood set a "fake replica" to begin with.
In Mississippi, an ad shop (the Cirlot Agency) has created a series of PSAs promoting the state. They're interesting; rather than do some bland stuff about the state's positives, they go right for the common negative perceptions the rest of the country has about Mississippi and tackles them. The campaign is called Mississippi, Believe It! and MSNBC recently wrote about it.
The ads are pretty good. The approach reminds me of our local Houston, It's Worth It campaign (also designed by a local creative shop) and as a resident of a place that's perceived negatively elsewhere, I'm sympathetic to what they're doing.
It's also a good business move, I think; potential clients in Mississippi not only get to see the agency's chops, but they will probably appreciate someone doing something good for the state.
That said... there's a problem with the ads.
Take a look at the "Yes, We Can Read" ad. It's a reference to the appallingly low literacy late in Mississippi. The ad points out that Mississippi writers have made great contributions to American literature. But most of the writers are from the past... and Mississippi has the highest rate of illiteracy in the nation. It's nice that the state produced Tennessee Williams, Eudora Welty, and William Faulkner, but if I need to hire a capable workforce there, what good does that do me?
Another ad is about health care, and points out that the first heart transplant took place in Mississippi. Something to be proud of, true... unlike the state's highest-in-the-US infant mortality rate.
The problem here, I think, is that they are highlighting things that have little impact on a business in Mississippi or a person who might consider living there. It's not an unreasonable approach, because hard data suggests that Mississippi is not an easy product to sell; it's a poor state with an uneducated work force.
But maybe there was a better way. I'll point to the "Houston, It's Worth It" campaign again (for the record, I played no part in creating it). It doesn't talk about NASA or the oil industry or famous people from Houston. The centerpiece is ordinary Houstonians talking about why they love calling this sprawling, sweaty town swathed in concrete, with its flying roaches the size of hamsters and polluted air, home.
I'm sure that there are Mississippians who love their state and could bend our ears telling us why. And what they have to say might be more convincing for people thinking of living or investing in the state. If we were hearing from them, a good campaign might have been great.
Wednesday, December 06, 2006
(Joining us as a guest blogger today is Brian Hoke, Principal of Bentley & Hoke, a web development and internet consulting firm in Syracuse, New York. His topic: using Google sitemaps to help search engines find the content on your site. Thanks to Brian for the contribution. -John Whiteside)
Google and other search engines rely on spidering – automated searches of your site by Google servers – to update their stored copy of your page's content. A Google search for "The Opinionated Marketers", for instance, returns a #1 ranking in part because yesterday Google's spiders crawled this blog, found the phrase "The Opinionated Marketers", stored it in their servers, and matched it with my search just now. Other factors play a role here (most notably the number of links from other sites to the page in question) but making sure Google has spidered your pages is key to being found.
Hopefully other pages (lots of other pages) link to all of the pages on your site, but that's almost certainly not 100% true. One way to ensure that Google's spiders will find all of the pages on your site, including the ones you just put up last night, is to include an XML sitemap. Fashioned in a format dictated by Google, this file offers Google a directory of all of the pages on your site - a friendly invitation to drop by each of the pages you want found. Optionally, you can include extra info for each page: date of last modification, how often the page changes, and the relative importance of the page compared to the rest of your site.
Here's an example from my Google sitemap file:
Submitting this file to Google tells the search engine that this page of my site was last modified on Novemeber 14th, changes on a weekly basis, and is (at 0.9 out of a possible 1.0) among the most important pages on my site.
Many web authoring systems (blog software, content-management systems, and the like) make easy the process of creating a sitemap file. There are free sites which will do this for you. And you can always do it yourself, by hand or programmatically: the sitemap file I built for my site populates the listing of pages from the database in which I store page content. Periodically - after each content update - I'll resubmit the sitemap to Google using their webmaster tools.
A few weeks ago, Google, Yahoo, and MSN all agreed on a common format for sitemaps - Google's format. Microsoft says they will implement this in 2007; Yahoo and Google have already implemented it. This is good news (and less work) for those of us already using sitemap files.
Will adding an XML sitemap file to your site dramatically boost search engine rankings? Certainly not. But Google's sitemap is one more tool to help ensure that the content you want found gets found.
The other day, a friend and I were discussing "the competition," with our conversation revolving around non-profits. Claire offered the notion that your competitor is not just - and maybe not even primarily - the non-profits that are providing services in your space. According to a theory that had been suggested to her, a non-profit's real competition is other charitable sectors. In other words, social service agencies don't compete with other social services agencies so much as they compete with medical, arts, educational, environmental, etc. causes. Under this theory, when you compete as a non-profit, you shouldn't makethe case that compares you to others in your "space", since this just cannibalizes giving for something you care passionately about. Instead, you should go after the money that's going to the other guys. Here's why homelessness is more important than ballet...Here's why wiping out children's cancer is more worthwhile than animal rescue....Here's why almost anything is better than donating to the Harvard Business School.*
I don't buy this argument 100% (nor does Claire), but it got me thinking about competition in general. As with most marketing issues, what applies to a non-profit typically applies to the business world, as well.
I spent many years in the "development tools" space, and a few more with tech services providers. In both cases, we competed both with products and services that directly and similarly filled a need. In a larger sense, we also competed for a piece of the larger technology budget dollar, and were thus competing against any software, hardware, networking, etc. purchase. In an even larger sense, we were competing against any corporate spending that was not IT-related (new laptops are more important than new chairs).
It's useful to think through the competition this way, but it's obviously easier to compete against another product than it is to compete against another line item or general area - especially when that line item is owned by someone else, and you're bound to create friction and enmity as you go along.
But when I looked back on all the competitive situations I've been in, all those win-loss analyses, the biggest competitor has been "no decision," "do nothing," "business as usual." (Which, not incidentally, is the biggest competitor in the non-profit world as well.)
For marketing, that means being table to demonstrate how your product or service is going to save time, save money, or make money (or in non-profit terms, do good). And when you're competing against "do nothing", you need to be able to talk to people realistically and convincingly (without scaring them half to death) about what the costs are of transitioning from the current state they're in - which may not be optimal, but which is known and comfortable - to the nirvana that can be theirs with your product or service.
"No Decision." "Do Nothing." "Business as Usual."
It's either because there's no budget. Or no real need. Or because there's political wrangling going on that you're not party to (and may not want to be). But it may also be because you haven't really made your case, or our sponsor doesn't have the goods to sell the deal internally. Marketing needs to have the tools in place that make a compelling case for your product or service, and give your sponsor the support he/she needs. Or those W-L tables will keep showing "No Decision" where there could be "W's".
*This one is courtesy of my brother-in-law, an exceedingly generous man who for years answered the shakedown request from an HBS classmate who is also a close friend of his, by saying "If you can name me one charity less deserving that Harvard Business School, I'll make a donation." After years of coming up empty, the friend finally had an answer: Harvard Law School. That year, Rick wrote HBS a check.
Yesterday I wrote about an email I received from my fax-to-email provider about a price increase. I didn't mention that I replied to the email to let them know why I was unhappy with their steep price hike. That got this response:
We're sorry, but you've reached an automated message.
The e-mail address pricechange@___.com is used solely for the sending of price-change notifications to ____ subscribers. Any replies sent to pricechange@___.com trigger this automated reply and are NOT READ by our Customer Service team.
We would still like to hear from you.
No you wouldn't.
I know that this is a common practice: companies large and small send email to customers from addresses that do not accept replies all the time.
It's a horrible practice, and I consider it completely unacceptable.
The email above told me that I could click a link, log in, and navigate through a bunch of screens on their web site to talk to them. Well, I'm sorry, but it's not my job to jump through that many hoops to let them know why they are losing a customer.
Email is a two-way medium. When you use it this way, you're showing incredible disrespect for your customer. It's like calling them, telling them something, and then hanging up before they have a chance to respond.
I understand the reason for it; if you accept replies, you have to look at them and perhaps act on them, and if you're sending 500,000 messages, that's a lot of potential replies.
But that a lousy excuse. It's not that hard to get software that will sort through the replies to identify those that contain actual messages (instead of just bounces and the like) and report back on them.
And when a company is telling me that they're going to charge me 30% more for a commodity service, but can't be bothered to read an email from me, my decision to end the relationship becomes that much easier.
Tuesday, December 05, 2006
When you raise your prices, you create an opportunity for customer defections. I'm experiencing that at the moment with my fax to email service, and it's made me think about how you can minimize the risks.
I got an email from the service telling me that my monthly rate was going up by 30%. That's a pretty hefty increase, although the actual dollar amount is low. Here's what's puzzling to me about it: I'm fairly sure that the costs of this service (servers, telecom, bandwidth) are not going up - in fact they have declined over time.
I can keep my old rate by prepaying a year in advance. But because of the size of the price increase, I spent five minutes searching for alternative providers - and discovered that the going rate for this service is now 30% to 60% of what I'm now paying, before the price increase.
Since it's about time to reprint business cards anyway, I'll be changing providers. The thing is, because fax to email is not something I give much thought to, I probably would have happily kept paying the high current price indefinitely.
Here's what my current provider did wrong:
- They don't seem to understand their market. They sell a commodity service, and their price is high.
- The email telling me about the price hike didn't tell me what they are doing differently that makes their service worth the extra fee. Since we're talking about the cost of a latte or two a month, it wouldn't have taken much to make me stay with them.
- They're trying to get me to commit to a year of service,paid in advance, with a stick, not a carrot.
- They're raising the price too much at once; a series of smaller increases would be much more palatable that what they're doing.
- To keep my old rate, I have ten days to switch to the prepaid one year plan. That's not enough notice.
Sometimes you need to increase your prices. But if you don't want to lose too many customers along the way, you'd better make sure you explain yourself to them properly.
Holiday party time, that is, when businesses throw their annual bashes. Sometimes they are strictly employee events - rewarding everyone for their hard work by taking up some of their leisure time during an especially busy time of year. Sometimes they are also intended to impress the customers and potential customers.
That's fairly common in the ad world. And of course when you're an agency, you need to demonstrate your communications and savvy and coolness with a great invitation and hot party.
Of course, you might decide to be edgy. That can result in stuff like this video from TBWA\Chiat\Day NY (what is with those stupid backslashes in their name?). I've linked to a description of it, not the actual video, because you might not want to watch it, given the prominence of projectile vomiting as a theme.
Does this make anybody want to spend money with these folks? Or even stop by for a cocktail?
Maybe I've just become an old man at last. I look at their name, and think something sarcastic about how if you have to use weird punctuation to be distinctive you're probably running on E in the creative department already... and then I watched the video and thought, "I wouldn't want to be stuck in an elevator with these folks."
Maybe I'm just missing the joke here.
Sunday, December 03, 2006
Friday, December 01, 2006
We marketers just love to make new logos. It's fun! It's refreshing! Liven up an old brand!
Sometimes it works quite well, actually, but after reading about the demise of the old Civil Defense logo, my reaction is a heart-felt "eh." Here are the old and new logos:
The old logo was getting a bit long in the tooth:
The CD insignia, which the association called “a relic from the cold war,” was eulogized by Richard Grefé, the executive director of the American Institute of Graphic Arts.
“The old mark fits in the same category of simplicity and impact occupied by the London Underground map,” Mr. Grefé said.
And now it's not "civil defense," it's "emergency management." You can see both logos in the Times article that I linked to above.
I would have liked to have seen something simpler and perhaps an homage to the old logo. The new one suffers from "tart it up" syndrome, with its perky stars and dangling tagline: "Public Safety [another star!] Public Trust."
It seems like a bit of an aspirational tagline; I wonder how it will be received in New Orleans. Though the stars a bit reminiscent of the Crescent City's crescent and star symbol: