Saturday, March 31, 2007

On the Internet, Nobody Knows You're a Dog. Meow!

The other day I came across this:

That's a screen shot from the National Association of Manufacturers site, and it's quite fascinating (and well done).

Note the text under the logo (part of an animated banner with different phrases coming by): "We are the millions of people who make things in America."

Well, not really; NAM is actually the much smaller number of people who own the means of production where those millions of people work. That's not a criticism of NAM, it's just a statement of fact. Of course, NAM is a lobbying group, and that's why you see that statement; the interests of the owners and the interests of the workers do not, even in the most perfect world (never mind ours), always coincide.

But when you're showing your face to the public, those millions of people are far more appealing than the CEOs of their employers, and so we see this interesting tagline.

Note also the name of the blog on that page: Is it about what happens on a shop floor somewhere? No, not really; but again, the image of the shop floor resonates with the public much better than the image of the boardroom, although or would have been a more accurate name for the blog.

I'm not questioning NAM's right to put its agenda out there; I will observe that sometimes that agenda is rather different from what those "millions of people" they claim to be might want. So their terminology is a bit disingenuous... even if you think that NAM's agenda is, in the end, better for the millions as well as their bosses.

But, from a branding point of view, pretty effective. Two morals to this: first, on the web, you can be anybody you want. Second, on the web, be suspicious of who someone claims to be.

Friday, March 30, 2007

dogpile? Is this the worst web site name ever?

Or is it the best web site name ever.

Anyway, I just stepped into something called which claims to be "all the best search engines piled into one."

A name that brings things like smelly yucky sneaker, bad dog, and the urban pooper scooper law, to the personal search engine of my mind is probably not one I'm going to spend a lot of time on unless somebody can prove to me that it's very, very good.

People in Glass Skywalks: Another Look at the Grand Canyon

 As anyone who's driven around some of the farther reaches of this country knows, native Americans got stuck with some pretty darn bleak places when they were put on reservations. So at least the Hualapai Indian Tribe got something scenic. They make their home at the edge of the Grand Canyon.  Unfortunately for the Hualapai, at least in terms of tourist dollars, they're on the other edge of the Canyon, about 90 miles away from Grand Canyon National Park, with it's RVs, postcards, and donkey treks.

And now they're trying to cash in on their location, location, location, by putting up a glass skywalk that juts 70 feet out over the Canyon and let people look down, look way down, look straight down: 4000 feet.

I will not, to put it mildly, be standing in line to get this particular looks. Like a goodly proportion of the population, I have a fear of heights. It's not a stupefying fear: I am generally comfortable in tall buildings, have no fear whatsoever of flying, and don't mind getting up on a ladder (within reason).

However, the thought of walking out on a glass skywalk over the Grand Canyon gives me the complete heebie-jeebies. 

Years ago, my husband and I were in the bar at one or the other of those mammoth Chicago skyscrapers - Sears or Hancock, I forget which one. We sat down and had ordered a drink when I decided it was high time to drink up and leave.  We weren't sitting right up next to a window, but too close for my personal comfort. The windows were all the way down to the floor. Check, please! I decided to use the ladies' room before we left, and I had to walk down a sheer glass corridor to get there.

Climbing up to the top of St. Peter's in Rome, I had a very difficult time on the cat-walk you have to go down to get to the dome of the basilica. I did make it through, but never made it to the top. (My husband suffers from claustrophobia and couldn't stand being in the dome. Probably just as well. If we'd gotten to the top, I'd have had a panic attack.

A couple of years ago, my brother Tom and his wife, who live in Flagstaff Arizona, took me to one of the canyons where you can climb down and see the adobe houses. I took a couple of steps down into the canyon and beat a quick retreat.

Even reading about heights can cause me to feel physical apprehension. Reading about aerialist Philippe Petit's tightrope walk between the Twin Towers caused me to freak out. Thinking about it now still makes me feel a bit queasy.

So, I would not be a candidate for the Hualapai Skywalk.

But just who would be?

Here's how AP writer Chris Kahn described it in an article I saw a week or so ago in the Boston Globe,

The deck is anchored deep into a limestone cliff. As people walk across it, the glass layers creak and the deck wobbles almost imperceptibly...When the wind blows, only the most daring visitors resist grabbing the steel rail to steady their knees...The observation deck has a 3-inch-thick glass bottom and has been equipped with shock absorbers to keep it from bouncing like a diving board as people walk on it.

What a marketer's dream!

Glass layers creaking. Deck wobbling. (Almost imperceptibly: love that qualifier.)

Not surprisingly, the "attraction" was built by one David Jin, a Las Vegas developer who such $30 million in to this,creaking glass and wobbling deck and all, "in hopes of creating a unique attraction on their section of the canyon." And in hopes of cashing in himself.

"The terms are confidential, but David will profit for the next 25 years from the Skywalk," said Steve Beattie, chief financial officer of the Grand Canyon Resort Corp., which oversees the tribe's tourist businesses.

Unique, indeed. One of the few times the word's been used appropriately.

The tribe will include access to the deck in a variety of tour packages ranging from $49.95 to $199.00. They'll allow up to 120 people at a time to look down to the canyon floor more than 4,000 feet below, a vantage point more than twice as high as the world's tallest buildings.

The tribe is, of course, trying to create a little more of a tourist industry for themselves, and you can't blame them, hoping to double their number of visitors to Grand Canyon West. (They currently average around 300,000 visitors.)

Good luck to the Hualapai. Good luck to David Jin - who I think is nuts, but to whom I must wish good luck since that will also translate into good luck for the Hualapai tribe, many of whom live in pretty dire poverty. Good luck to the marketers involved in this.

There are only so many people who are going to be willing to fork over big bucks for a bounce on the Skywalk.

I couldn't find any consistent figures, but I did read somewhere that up to 90% of all people suffer from some form of fear of heights. And I also read that babies develop it by the time their 7 months old. Smart babies! Sensitive babies. (They also develop a fear of men's faces at that same age. I think I grew out of that fear.)

Anyway, as much as I fear heights, I also fear that the Grand Canyon Skywalk marketers have a really hard sell ahead of them.

For starters, they should give their web site an update. Curiously, given that it was supposed to have opened for business the other day, it doesn't appear to have been touched in months. (There is enought there to give you a bit of a hint of what it's going to be like - and maybe give you a little motion sickness, while you're at it.) I propose that they set up a web-cam that lets people look those 4,000 feet down into the belly of the Canyon. On second thought, that might scare some of those all important tourists away. (I sure won't be watching.)

Circuit City: The Rebate Rip-Off Roundabout

I hate rebates. I really, really hate rebates. You see a product advertised at a good price, and then you notice in the fine print that this price is after a rebate. So you have to go and pay more, then fill out forms and photocopy and mail things, and then wait and hope that your check shows up in the mail.

I understand why retailers and manufacturers do it; they know that many people just won't bother. So they can advertise a price of $200 on a $250 product, knowing that the average price people pay will wind up being $230.

I bought a monitor at Circuit City a while back - it feels like ages ago. There was a rebate on it. Now, I'm one of those people who always sends in the rebate forms, and then puts a to-do on his calendar 10 weeks out to check the status of it. (My mom was a major coupon clipper. I don't do that, but I think my rebate process is something I got from her.)

So I sent it my form. 10 weeks later, no check. So I went to the URL on the form to check the status of the rebate, and there was no record of my submission.

These things happen. I clicked the customer service link and filled out a form explaining what happened.

After a few days I got an email asking me to fax the rebate information to them. I did so. I checked a few days later; still nothing in the system. They said it might take a few days to process, so I waited a few more days and checked again. Nothing.

So, I replied to the original email telling me to fax everything in, and asked if they'd received it. No response.

Here's an interesting thing: these emails came from an outfit called Parago, whose business appears to be processing rebates. That's fine; who'd expect Circuit City to do this themselves? They aren't exactly big on responding to people, however, despite the chirpy "Your customers, our priority" copy on their web site. I heard nothing. My rebate never appeared in the system. I sent them a bunch of messages asking what was up (always forwarding the whole message thread, asking, "So, is anybody actually reading these messages?" Yes, at this point it was becoming a game: Let's see just now poor the service from these folks is.

Finally I got a response, telling me that Parago can't help me; I have to write to an email address at Circuit City.

Which I did, and I got a prompt response... from Parago, asking me to refax everything. (Let's play hot potato! "Eww, you talk to the icky customer!" "No, it's your turn!")

Why do I get the feeling that Parago's "service" process is to run people in circles until they give up, and then their client (Circuit City) gets to keep the $30 rebate for themselves?

(Their web site informs me that "Consumer emails are responded to within 24 hours." That's pretty funny.)

I'm going to fax it all again when I get home. I don't ever really expect to get my $30 at this point. But I am set on making sure that dealing with me costs them more than $30.

Needless to say, I won't be buying anything at Circuit City again. Here's the lesson: customers like transparent pricing. If you want to make customer love shopping with you, don't do rebates.

Don't make people fill out forms and photocopy bar codes and stuff things in envelopes and lick stamps. Charge a few dollars more and make it easy. Or do an "instant rebate" and give them the money back at the cash register, so they feel like they saved money, but didn't have to jump through hoops.

They will then have enjoyed shopping with you, and the next time someone (like me) is sitting thinking, "should I turn right and go to Circuit City, or turn left and go to Best Buy," they'll pick you. If people like to buy from you, you don't even have to have the absolute lowest price.

Here's what's really sad: the price of the monitor without the rebate would have been fine. By promising that extra $30 and then failing so miserably at processing the rebate, Circuit City has turned me into an irate customer unlikely to buy from them again.

Many businesses could learn from this: the telecoms, whose prices are all 40% higher than advertised because they add on so many fees and internal costs (I"m waiting to see the "employee coffee service" surcharge on a bill soon). Everyone who sells cars. And anybody who thinks rebates are a good idea.

If I do get that $30 check, I am going to scan it and post it here as a victory sign, though.

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Thursday, March 29, 2007

Pay Per Action: Trouble for Media?

Vario Creative Blog has a nice piece about pay-per-action advertising, which Google is now doing in a beta.

The idea is incredibly appealing for advertisers: instead of paying for an impression, or a click, you pay for a conversion. Since that's really the point of many programs (especially search marketing programs), that's a great thing. (And, as an advertiser, I'm excited about it.)

But... there's a problem here. This requires media to take responsibility for something beyond their control: the ability of your web site to turn visitors into customers.

It will be interesting to see how Google, and others, manage this. It seems to me that there are going to have to be some quality standards for advertisers who want this model - if you can't demonstrate an ability to get conversions, no medium is going to want to put their revenue at risk on you.

Stay turned to see how this turns out... it should be interesting.  

Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Così Fan Tutte: Stop shrinking our daily flatbread

I'm not sure how geographically wide-spread the chain is, but there are a few Cosis in the Boston area, and they are my all time favorite place to grab a lunch salad. For those unfamiliar with Cosi, they sell sandwiches and salads (and, I think but am not sure, breakfast-y type bakery goods), and the place runs as an assembly line. You get in the salad or the sandwich line, at least with the salads, two-three-four employees pass the salad down the line throwing ingredients in and tossing. In preparation for their lunch rush, they also keep a supply of pre-fab Signature Salads ready for you to just grab and go.

The Signature Salad is to die for - the con-yourself virtue of eating a salad, and the complete indulgence of consuming a salad that's got grapes, pistachios, cranberries, and blue cheese in it.

They also have one of those nice buy-9-get-1-free deals going. Nothing tastes better than that got-1-free.

While the place is hectic, they also have a lot of tables so that if you want to have a sit-down lunch with a friend, there's generally room available.

But the absolute best thing about Cosi is their sublime bread - a salted, just out of the oven, pizza-crisp flatbread (white or Tuscan wheat). Yum.

Because of the Signature Salad, the get-1-free, and the manna from heaven bread, I gave Cosi a pass when they switched a few months back from Coke to Pepsi. (I strongly prefer Diet Coke to Diet Pepsi, but you have to give those Pepsi institutional sales guys credit, they know how to close a deal.)

Although I general grab lunch from Cosi once a week, it's been a couple of weeks since last I ate there.

Last Friday, I stopped in for what I've come to think of as my Signature Salad. And a piece of warm, Tuscan wheat flatbread. Which, since last time I stopped in, has shrunken from a generous slab to a far less generous slice.

Were people complaining because the pieces were too big? Did they think we wouldn't notice?

Come on. This is not exactly like shrinking the size of a piece of Wonder Bread. Cosi bread is well worth eating every bit of.

Most likely, some bean-counting efficiency expert decide that they could save $0.0001 per meal if they shrunk the bread.

I HATE things like this. If you're losing money (which I doubt - the place is always mobbed, and if you walk around Boston's financial district at lunch, you have to dodge Cosi delivery people lugging shopping bags full of meeting-lunches) or if you want to pay your generally excellent staff more money (which I doubt - and whatever they do get paid, they should get paid more.)

I suppose it's easier to shrink the goods than raise the prices, but I'd rather see the prices go up.

Now that I think of it, I wonder if they've shrunken the size of the salads, too. I'll have to check next time, although this is more difficult to gauge.

Shrinking the amount is a time-honored practice. Shave off an ounce here, a gram there. It all ads up. Change the 4 for $3 yogurts to 5 for $4 and maybe nobody will notice that the price for each yogurt container just went up a nickel.

The whole thing reminds me of the time at Wang when they unscrewed half of the lightbulbs to save on electricity costs. What had been a dreary and depressing place to work became even drearier and more depressing. Morale was already in the dumps. The unscrewed lightbulbs just made the dumps all the darker.

Nobody likes higher prices. Nobody likes less for more.

Restaurants fan tutte. Restaurants are like that. But I'm hoping the Così changes it mind and gives us more of our daily flatbread.

Before new pricing and slicing schemes are put into effect, marketers need to think long and hard about how these little things can ad up over time and erode the brand experience.

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Traffic's Nice, but Money's Nicer

This piece from OM Strategy on conversion rates nicely illustrates an important idea: the visitor-to-customer funnel on your web site. We often get distracted by site traffic, because it's the easiest thing to measure; but unless you're making money just because somebody visits your site, it's not the whole picture.

More importantly, focusing too much on traffic can make you invest your time and money in the wrong places.

Think of the entire process by which a site visitor becomes a customer. It begins with reaching your site - that coveted hit - but continues as the visitor explores content on your site, and eventually places an order (or, if you don't sell directly on-site, completes an information request or quotation form - whatever your desired final action is).

Obviously, the more traffic you have, the more of those conversions (however you define them) you'll have at the end, all things being equal. But that doesn't mean that more traffic is the key to more sales; in fact, your effort may be better spent on other parts of the process than traffic-building.

The OM Strategy piece gives a simple set of examples; on one extreme, there's a site with 1,000 visitors, a 1% conversion rate, and $1,500 of revenue. On the other extreme is a site with half the traffic but a 3% conversion rate and $2,250 of revenue (on the same hypothetical $150 average order).

The first site owner needs to work on conversion rates, while the third should double his traffic (roughly speaking).

What does this mean for you? It means you need to look at each step of the process. How many people come to your site? Once there, how many pages do they look at? How many make it to the order (or information request) page? How many then place an order, ask for information, or do whatever it is that you call a successful conversion? And, equally importantly, what are the trends over time for all of these things?

If most of your site visitors are abandoning you after viewing one page, you don't need more visitors; that just means more people rejecting you. You need to either find the right visitors through more targeted marketing, or change the content on that first page to keep them interested (or, more likely, both).

If your visitors are spending quite a bit of time on your site, but then not converting, your problem is different. Maybe your price is too high, you're not providing some key piece of information to close the sale, or your shopping cart is just too onerous to deal with. Maybe your information request form is asking for way too much information for a first contact. (Maybe the shopping cart or form is simply broken - sometimes it's embarrassingly mundane things like that which foul things up.)

If you're in the latter situation, though, don't waste your money cranking up your search marketing or running banner ads or the like. You'll get some benefit, but you're really just putting more gas into an inefficient engine. You'll get more for your money by investing a tune-up to get those conversion rates up.

Monday, March 26, 2007

Karcher's unwelcome political endorsement

Most marketers dream of creating a brand that becomes so iconic that it takes on a life of its own. In the wayback, I'm sure that Kimberly Clark,  had no idea when it introduced Kleenex in the 1920's that the product would become the eponym for facial tissue. Coke  - sorry, Pepsi - became synonymous with a cola soda. Years ago, when you ordered a "coke" in Friendly's (a New England ice cream and sandwich shop), they smilingly corrected you by saying "a Friendly cola".

Then there are brands like Harley-Davidson that become an identity not of the product genre, but of the consumer.

Having been (mostly) associated with high-tech in small companies, I've personally missed all this kind of consumer excitement during my career. The closest I came to a campaign that attempted anything to do with brand creation was when I worked at Genuity, and they spent oodles (my my standards, but certainly not by consumer product standards) on trying to make a name for the Black Rocket hosting services. That launch fizzled. I think the spend was $40M or so, and the only market reaction was achieved was "Huh?"

But household names, in general, are looked upon as positive.

So I read a brief article in The Economist (March 17th) on Karcher's brand hijacking situation with interest.

Here's the story:

Although they're used for jobs like cleaning Mt. Rushmore, Karcher is not exactly a household brand in America.

But it's a fairly well known European brand (vacuum cleaners, steam cleaners, pressure washers).

A few months prior to the 2005 rioting in Paris, Nicholas Sarkozy, France's Minister of the Interior - and the center-right candidate in the current French sweepstakes presidential (in what at present looks like a three-way tie) - uttered a promise to "clean up the housing project [where a child had been killed during a gang fight]  with a Karcher."

French ethnic minorities accused Sarkozy of likening them to dirt, and they were off to the races.

The result: the phrase has become part of the French political phrasebook. (Think, "Where's the beef?", "Read my lips," "...and you're no Jack Kennedy.")

None of this, of course, is to Karcher's liking.

So, they're making noises, and have written to the French presidential candidates warning them that they have no right to use the Karcher name, which is exclusively Karcher's.

But there doesn't seem to be much they can do about it.

It seems to me that Karcher has done a pretty good job of branding if their name has such recognition that everyone knows what "clean it up with a Karcher" means. Naturally, they're not thrilled with Sarkozy's having commandeered it for his purposes, but rather than spend one scintilla of energy trying to shut down the use of this phrase, they should just ride it out.  A few years form now, this catch-phrase will be remembered only in the French equivalent of Trivial Pursuit.  After a while, people won't even remember which politician it was even associated with. (Tippecanoe and Tyler, too.)

For now, it's just a name that Sarkozy is appropriating. He is not using their black and yellow color scheme. (As far as I can tell, his is tri-couleur.) Nor does he appear to be using any motto of theirs - at least not one currently being used, as far as my primitive translation skills can tell.

No one likes their good name being expropriated for a reason not to their liking - Philly Blunts is a relatively recent U.S. example.

But unless someone is causing real damage to your brand, is causing confusion in the market place, the best policy is probably just to suck it up. Even if someone is using your good name for a truly heinous purpose, there doesn't seem to be much you can do about it except get over it. This, too, will pass - and would never have happened unless you'd been such a darned good brand to begin with.

(I should live so long.)

Saturday, March 24, 2007

Making it Easy to Leave

I just called Bank of America about a credit card I have with them regarding a question on my account. It was, of course, an adventure in a nest of voice menus... but here's what was kind of interesting.

I went through all of them, being one of the good sheeple they anticipate. I was many menus in before I was actually offered the option of talking to a person. No surprise.

But by the time I got there, I'd been offered the option of closing my account three times. And the recording while I was waiting for a person (before I just gave up) informed me that I could press 4 to cancel my account several more times.

Why would you design a customer service system to encourage people to stop being a customer that way? Why would you make it easier to leave than to get help?

By the time I gave up and hung up because the wait was so long, I was thinking that maybe Bank of America had a good idea with that...

Hi, I'm an Opportunistic Marketer

If your competitor is making a big splash with an ad campaign, sometimes you can ride their coattails for some very cost-effective exposure. For example, these Novell spots for the Linux OS. Thanks to YouTube, they don't even have to pay for media placements.

I think that making Linux a young, non-annoying woman is a great touch to counter Apple's irritating hipster avatar in the original ads.

Via Wired's Cult of Mac blog.  

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Friday, March 23, 2007

Twitter, a New Form of Isolation

This BusinessWeek article identifies one of the most irritating things about Twitter:

Twitter really caught fire, though, at the South by Southwest music and digital conference, held Mar. 9-18 in Austin, Tex. Obvious cleverly prepared the ground, setting up two 51-inch plasma screens next to the conference registration desk and in a hallway where panels let out. As the techie crowd milled around, they began paying attention to the scrolling updates from bloggers about hot parties, panels, and restaurants. "You would go into a panel room and 20% of the people would be staring at their phones, sending out or getting updates," says Narendra Rocherolle, an early Twitter user.

Heaven forbid people should mentally be in the physical space where they are, actually listening to speakers, talking to panelists, and that kind of craziness. They might not know that Bob in at the Cleveland airport eating a cheeseburger.

In a recent blog post, RIP Twitter (2007-2007), Mathieu Balez, a Web entrepreneur, knocked the mundane nature of Twitter posts ("Going to the gym," "Groceries with mother-in-law") and the voyeurism of readers. Twitter will be history by the yearend, abandoned by former fans too tired to keep up with endless streams of quotidian tidbits, he predicted. Balez's blog was soon flooded with comments, pro and con. "Yeah sure," one Twitter supporter replied. "Twitter will die. Just as text messages, mobile phones, blogs, the Internet..."

Oh, my. It's so embarrassing to hear that response. Maybe Balez is wrong and Twitter will become part of our communications toolkit, but it won't be because mobile phones and text messages did. Or because CB radios, home email appliances, and PointCast didn't.

Of course, there's another possibility: that Twitter will begin to provide services that have more obvious value. In different contexts, say among friends or colleagues, knowing that someone is sick or at lunch explains why they aren't returning your call or why they're so cranky, argues Ross Mayfield, chief executive of corporate wiki outfit Socialtext Inc.

This strikes me as yet another silly "Twitter, like sending an email, but intrusive!" or "Twitter, like talking to people, without the people" explanation of it. Do people really need to know that you're at lunch? If someone doesn't return my call, or their mobile phone is off, I assume that they are busy, and will call me when they can talk to me. Are people sitting there thinking, "It's been ten minutes, why hasn't he called me?"

And do all the people not calling them want to know they're at lunch? I don't really care when Maureen is having lunch. If they are cranky, I'll assume they are having a bad day, and that if they feel so inclined, they'll tell me that they're sick, they had a fight with their spouse, the kids are acting up, the dogs ate another remote control, or whatever.

Me. They'll tell me if they want me to know. I think that's what I find so alienating about the whole idea of Twitter - the broadcast nature of it.

Little personal updates from the people in your life are nice... in large part because they are thinking of you when they send them. When my partner is on another continent (which is fairly often) and my phone chirps and there's a text message telling me he's having dinner (while I'm thinking about lunch), I smile. It's a connection across the miles and time zones. It's warm and personal, even though it's just text on a mobile phone screen.

If I thought that text message was going to everyone we know, it would be very different. And rather cold.

And that, to me, is Twitter: another way that people can tune out of their physical environment. A way to strip interactions of their personal flavor. Another way to avoid thinking about the same thing for ten minutes.

But maybe I'm wrong, so just in case: when I finish writing this post, I'm going to clean up the kitchen! Then I'm going to see what came in the mail, have a cup of coffee, and relax a bit before going to have dinner in Montrose with a friend. Then we're going to see Emmylou Harris perform at the Houston Symphony. After that I'll probably finally start packing to leave on a trip tomorrow. There will be folding of laundry involved. I will also pet the cat, take the trash out, and sort the pile of paper on my desk. I'm not sure what the musical background is, and sadly, I don't Twitter, so I can't send you a text message with that later.

I just wanted you - all of you! - to know.

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The Pepsi Re-Generation

Admittedly, I was never much a part of the Pepsi Generation to begin with. And I've so aged out of any demographic that Pepsi appears to be interested in with it's new More Happy campaign, all revolving around re-designs of the Pepsi can. Which are all connected to their very own web-sites and, for lack of better word, philosophies.

You can check all this nonsense out at the Pepsi Gallery, where you'll get "a glimpse into a new world of Pepsi experiences."

This is the beginning. It's for you. Uncover its message. Discover what you've known all along. What does your Pepsi say to you?

Frankly, what Pepsi usually says to me is "You're in a Marriott, so we don't serve Diet Coke." And uncover the message? I've heard about message in a bottle, but message in a Pepsi can? The message in this can takes you to a web-cam of Times Square, where you can watch the electronic billboard of the new Pepsi cans.

The groovy design leads you to, where you can get in your own personal groove with JoJo, Ne-Yo, Mic Pass, and someone called Flyleaf, who is covering a classic: Smell's Like Teen Spirit. I could also play tunes by Justin Timberlake, Ludacris, and My Chemical Romance, which I first read as My Chemical Reaction. Of course, my chemical reaction is, this is all ludicrous. 

Photobooth takes you to a "collage of youth." And "Pepsi celebrating a cool new world of global awareness and personal choice inspired by you." I didn't have the music on for this little trip, but the visuals suggested that this little trip was on acid.

There are a lot more choices to look through in the Pepsi gallery, and I was just too exhausted to go through them all looking for a can that looks like it might say "geezer" - maybe an old-timey Pepsi can from 1975 - and leads no where, other than to a message that says "Sometimes people drink soda because they're thirsty."

I cannot imagine how many millions of dollars Pepsi is spending on marketing and production costs to come up with something that innovates around the design of the can. Actually not a redesign of the can - a redesign of what's on the can. Will kids really spend time on all these "cool" Pepsi web sites, that are clearly designed and built by older, fogey-er people. Will kids go out and buy Pepsi because of the can its in?

All I know is that Pepsi is so not talkin' 'bout my generation.

A McRose, by Any Other McName

I'm not surprised that the folks at McDonald's don't like the term "McJob," which refers to a crappy, low-paying job that leads nowhere and from which you can be fired at any moment. But their reaction to it is not smart:

The UK arm of the fast food chain is starting a campaign to get British dictionary publishers to revise their definitions of the word “McJob”, a term the Oxford English Dictionary describes as “an unstimulating, low-paid job with few prospects, esp. one created by the expansion of the service sector”.

The word first emerged in the US in the 1980s to describe low-skilled jobs in the fast food industry but was popularised by the Canadian writer Douglas Coupland, in his 1991 novel Generation X. It appeared in the online version of the OED in March 2001. McDonald’s plans a “high-profile public petition” this year to get it changed.

“We believe that it is out of date, out of touch with reality and most importantly it is insulting to those talented, committed, hard-working people who serve the public every day,” wrote David Fairhurst, chief people officer in northern Europe for McDonald’s, in a letter seen by the Financial Times seeking support for the petition. “It’s time the dictionary definition of “McJob” changed to reflect a job that is stimulating, rewarding and offers genuine opportunities for career progression and skills that last a lifetime.”

None of which is really the problem of the Oxford English Dictionary, whose mission is to provide accurate definitions of words. Ask ten people on the street what a "McJob" is and you can bet that, unless you run into someone from McDonald's PR, nobody is going to tell you that it means a fabulous job that leads to great things. If that's unfair to McDonald's, that's too bad; it's not the dictionary's fault that a word has come into use with a certain meaning. They're recorders of language, not creators of it.

And nothing McDonald's has said suggests that it is unfair:

McDonald’s says it has an excellent record of promoting female workers and entry level staff to senior executive positions. In the UK, half the executive team started on the shop floor and 25 per cent are women.

Its employment record was praised recently when Caterer and Hotelkeeper magazine named it the “best place to work in hospitality”. It was also the first large employer to be accredited under the UK government’s revamped Investors in People scheme. Yet outsiders still think it is a poor employer.

That sounds rather different than the situation here in the United States. And throwing around irrelevant statistics about how many of the executive team came from the front line ranks (that's nice, but that tells us nothing about the likelihood of advancement for the overall front-line workforce) doesn't exactly bolster their case.  

McDonald's is trying to use PR to change a perception... but that really doesn't work well when the perception seems to be accurate. Here's what's missing from their story: what is the average pay of those workers? On average, how much does it increase? How long do they stay? How many get promoted? How many have health insurance (not relevant in the UK but important here)?

If they're not providing these statistics (which should be quite easy for them to produce) it's reasonable to conclude that they don't support their spin - and that's a reality problem, not a perception problem. You don't fix that one with PR.

Asking a dictionary to change a word's definition to reflect what McDonald's wants people to think is just Big Brother-ish, and makes them look even worse.

Thursday, March 22, 2007

Amazing Web Dysfunction at Britain's National Rail

I usually avoid writing a general "wow this site is bad" post, but this is a case where the site is just so bad... and it comes from someone with the resources to do better (as in, have basic functionality work) that I have to point it out.

I'm about to go to London and so today I found myself on the UK National Rail site. Honestly, I haven't seen anything this terrible in years. First, just trying to find a simple train schedule - say, the PDF of what you might get at a station - is apparently impossible (I just gave up after a while). There's a journey planner, which is a fabulous feature; but only if it actually works.

I was trying to find the schedule for Sunday evening from a station outside of London (near where I'll be staying) to Victoria Station (where I plan to meet an old college friend who lives in London now). First, it didn't understand "Victoria" as a station; that's not so bad, because there are other stations in Britain with that name. But when I picked "London Victoria" off the drop-down menu, the next screen informed me that there is no such station.

Except that of course, there is, and it was on their list.

I tried again, and apparently in the last few seconds Victoria Station had returned to existence in our reality... but then I was told that I had timed out of the system. Apparently you have to complete your journey plan within twelve seconds.

I spent about half an hour on the site today, and came to a simple conclusion: I should ask the concierge at my hotel for help, because National Rail certainly won't be providing any. I actually had a much easier time navigating the Paris transit and French national rail sites last year, despite understanding about thirty words of French. (Yes, there are English versions, but there are some features you can only access in French; besides, I was spending enough time there to feel like I should give it a try in French.)

And believe me, as someone with family ties to the UK, it pains to me to say that the French are better at something like a rail web site.

I have heard that Britons are upset about the sad state of their country's rail system these days. If the web site is an indicator of the competence of those running the system, they have good reason to be alarmed.

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Spam or Not Spam? How to Pitch to Bloggers

In a pair of posts, Chris Baggott talks about pitches he gets from PR types looking for him to write about their clients on his blog. (If you're a blogger, you probably have gotten these too.)

In the first there's a bad, bad pitch in which a PR type says, "Go read this blog post!" Chris didn't know her, and there's nothing to tell him why he should care about this particular blog post. Feh.

In the second is a better (but not fabulous) one. It comes from the blog writer (better), mentions that he reads Chris's blog (hope it's true), and simply says, I think you might like my blog, and would be happy to exchange links with you.

That last part does bug me. I don't think you should "exchange" links on a blogroll. You should list blogs you find useful. Maybe they'll link back, and maybe they won't. They might like your blog but have a different set of guidelines for what they blogroll, and you don't fit.

Maybe I just believe in karma too much, but I think you put your material out there, you link to people who you think are doing good things, and then you see what happens. The "exchange" idea bugs me. If this guy thinks Chris's blog is good, he should just put the link there.

What do you think? How do you pick things for your blogroll? What kinds of pitches catch your attention, and what kinds turn you off? (If you send them - what do you find works from you.)

A final note. Our blogroll is really out of date. There are people we should add. Maureen and I have even talked about this, but it hasn't gotten past the "Yeah, we need get on that..." stage. (I suspect we're not the only ones with that issue...)

Wednesday, March 21, 2007

Jitterbugged: a little out of synch

In the latest Atlantic Monthly, I saw an add for a simple cell phone that does nothing more than be itself: a simple cell phone. The phone cum service is called Jitterbug, and I posted on it over at Pink Slip yesterday.

The phone looks like a very nifty idea, especially for the parents of aging Boomers. The simplicity, elder-conscious design, and price point will definitely appeal to Boomers worried about their parents, if not (yet) the Boomers themselves.

A tag line at the bottom of the ad read "Jitterbug: brought to you by firstSTREET...for Boomers and Beyond."

Well, even though they didn't give their URL, the first thing I did - as would any curious Boomer - after reading this ad was boogie on over to firstSTREET. (Naturally, firstSTREET's url was not (which took me to a mortgage refinancing site), but The least you can do if you don't list your url is have it be the same as the name you use!)

At firstSTREET I saw all kinds of help-you-along products for Boomers and their parents, including those must-have-by-the-time-you-pass-45 spectrum lamps, as well as nostalgic stuff like retro clocks and record players. Given how many catalog lists I'm on, it's just amazing that I'm not on theirs.

But I had to look twice -with my rapidly aging eyes -  to see any Home Page reference to the Jitterbug. There it was, a small picture in the corner of a guy holding a Jitterbug under the small headline "Best Sellers." And when you click on Best Sellers, it's not even the featured item. (At least it wasn't the day I looked. The featured item was one of the famous spectrum lamps.)

Maybe firstSTREET runs so many ads that they can't possible feature all the advertised products on their home page.

But I'm guessing that they don't. And I'm also guessing that a 2/3's page, full color ad in The Atlantic Monthly - whether paid for by Jitterbug or not - is pretty darned expensive. Maybe they're assuming that the old fogeys who subscribe to The Atlantic aren't web savvy enough to go to the web. (So insult me some more, why don't you?) It strikes me as a squandered opportunity on their part, however. In my book, one of the first things I would have seen on their web site was the Jitterbug.

Tuesday, March 20, 2007

A New Niche in the Home Market

Architects and homebuilders are noticing a new trend in housing: separate bedrooms for couples:

Not since the Victorian age of starched sheets and starchy manners, builders and architects say, have there been so many orders for separate bedrooms. Or separate sleeping nooks. Or his-and-her wings.

In interviews, couples and sociologists say that often it has nothing to do with sex. More likely, it has to do with snoring. Or with children crying. Or with getting up and heading for the gym at 5:30 in the morning. Or with sending e-mail messages until well after midnight.

In a survey in February by the National Association of Home Builders, builders and architects predicted that more than 60 percent of custom houses would have dual master bedrooms by 2015, according to Gopal Ahluwalia, staff vice president of research at the builders association. Some builders say more than a quarter of their new projects already do.

It's an interesting example of careful marketing: how you name these things is important.

In St. Louis, Carol Wall, president of Mitchell Wall Architects, said that three or four years ago her company began “doing a lot of these little rooms off the master bedroom where the snorer would go.” More recently, couples, including some in their 30s, have started asking for two master suites, “and we don’t ask any questions,” Ms. Wall said.

Not everyone wants to talk about it. Many architects and designers say their clients believe there is still a stigma to sleeping separately. Some developers say it is a delicate issue and call the other bedroom a “flex suite” for when the in-laws visit or the children come home from college. Charles Brandt, an interior designer in St. Louis, said, “The builder knows, the architect knows, the cabinet maker knows, but it’s not something they like to advertise because right away people will think something is wrong” with the marriage.

Indeed. We're strangely set in our ways about these things; couples are supposed to sleep in the same bed every night, right? But a lot of couples are apparently finding that they can changing some of these logistics is beneficial to their sleep schedule, and their relationships; and people who market houses are following their lead.

I thought this paragraph was interesting:

“As a social pattern, this could increase,” [University of Michigan sociologist Pamela J. Smock] continued. “A lot of people I know fantasize about living in the same apartment building as their husband — but in a separate apartment. That could be next.”

Actually, it already has; there's been a fair amount written about "Living Apart Together" couples, who have separate households. As half of one such a couple, I understand where the people who feel awkward about explaining their ideal sleeping arrangements; we've endured a surprising number of strange questions about having two houses. And yes, people do assume that it means something is not right, which is irritating (but ultimately not really our problem).

Along with the dual "owner's suites" in new houses, however, I think there's another new kind of room we'll see emerging:

But some of the people he studies still want a place to cuddle. “In my research, couples had separate places for their sleeping arrangements but also had a together place,” [Paul C. Rosenblatt of the University of Minnesota] said. “Some do their cuddling before going their separate ways.”

The "together room" is an important one; there's no rule that says you have to sleep together every night, but shared space is important. And I suspect homebuilders and their marketers will be there with the appropriate style of room when demand grows.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Good Samaritan Marketing

Over on Vario Creative Blog, Mark Cahill has a post that has nothing - and everything - to do with marketing.

Mark's post is ostensibly about his woes in trying to dig up from under the storm that blasted New England this weekend. It was one of those snows-followed-by-rain that turned nice fluffy snow into slush that weighed like cement, which was followed - this being New England - by a freeze that turned the whole mess into something that set like cement.

While Mark struggled to snow-blow his driveway, followed by numerous failed attempts to get a plowboy to help him out (the stuff was destroying snow plows), he did run into some typical small town generosity. Read Mark for the long story, but his Samaritan not only stopped to help, but stopped by again to make sure that Mark was okay.

The result for the service station where the Samaritan worked is a rave reference and very likely a few new customers.

This was not, of course, the reason the Samaritan stopped to help - but it was the result of it.

Mark's post reminded me that service is not just for customers. Sometimes it means telling a prospect that you're not right for them - or that you're too busy - but that you can make a referral for them. Sometimes it means telling a prospect that they don't need what they think they need at all, even when it means lost revenue for you. Sometimes it means giving away an idea that's no use to you, but plenty of use to them, even when you know you're not going to win the business.

I've never been that fond of the saying "what goes around, comes around," but it sure can be true.

Sometimes the best long-run way to help yourself is to help others - without expecting anything in return.

Sunday, March 18, 2007

We Gotta Get Out of This Cell Phone Contract

... if it's the last thing we ever do...

I've been beating up on cable companies this week, but let's look at mobile phones. Here's a thought: if the only way you can keep customers is with handcuffs, something's wrong.  

Cellphone companies do not make it easy to break two-year contracts. But it can be done through shrewd negotiating or by turning to the innovators on the Internet who match contract sellers with people who want to assume the contract.

Early termination fees are intended to compensate phone companies for the discount they gave on the phone upfront. Most mobile phone companies charge the full fee no matter when the contract is scheduled to expire. Verizon Wireless recently decided to prorate the fee, and some of the other companies do that in certain cities.

The companies will waive the early termination fee if you die. Pretending to be dead, however, does not work well as a way to break a contract. Sprint Nextel, Verizon and Cingular, for example, may ask for a death certificate. T-Mobile says it does not. “They want to take people at their word,” said Graham Crow, a spokesman for the company.

Here's a hint: hang on to those contracts!

But then the Verizon service representative threw her a curve ball. They wanted her to fax her contract so they could see the clause she was referring to. She dug through her papers and found an old one — she had been with Verizon almost 10 years — and after a few more transfers to call center supervisors, they let her out. “Obviously, they had a copy of the contract,” Ms. Tremblay said.

I understand mobile operators wanted to be compensated for that discounted telephone they gave you if you want to leave early. But it seems that now your contract is automatically extended every time you change a plan, talk to a sales rep, or pass within 100 feet of one of their stores.

I went through this a few years ago with the old, pre-Cingular, AT&T Wireless. I moved to Texas and changed my number to a Texas number. Nobody mentioned that this meant extending my contract... but a month or so later, I received a notice in the mail asking me to sign a piece of paper acknowledging that it had been extended.

I threw it out and called them and asked when my contract was up. They gave me a date two years in the future. I told them that was wrong. We went back and forth for a while, and I was actually about the cancel the service on principle (and tell them I'd pay the fee when they could send me the new contract I'd signed), but then they got bought by Cingular, I switched to a Cingular plan (much better rates) and wound up with a new contract anyway.

Here's the right way to do it: have a contract to cover the phone costs, and when it's up, there's no more contract. Period. Customers aren't going to change providers frequently just for fun.

If you think you need to bully people to keep them as customers, you have bigger problems to be worrying about.

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Saturday, March 17, 2007

Twitter: The Unbearable Lightness of Being Online

Recently I was talking with someone who's single after more than a decade of marriage and finds herself figuring out how to navigate the dating world of the 21st century. That means, of course, online dating, and she is running into this phenomenon: she chats with someone who seems interesting and compatible online. The discussions (via email or IM) are great. Then it's time to meet for that first coffee or drink, and it's hard to make it happen. Or there is a date or two, but then things stall.

Some of this is, of course, just how things work between people, but I observed that online, it seems worse. Why? Because you get a sense of intimacy and connection from all those emails, which are generally more revealing than the conversation you'd have if you met somebody at the coffee shop or on the train. But it's not really there.

My theory is that these kinds of online contact progress differently than old-fashioned, "First Life" contact. We're trained to meet new people and get to know them at a certain rate and with a certain progression of knowledge; first you find out his name, that he lives in your neighborhood, that he works for that ad agency downtown and seems to like it. You don't find out about the crazy parents or the horrible divorce until you know each other better. And so we're used to peeling the layers off the onion of a new person in a certain way.

But online, it changes, and you learn some personal things early, but some more mundane (but possibly important) details only are revealed later on. It can be challenging.

And, most importantly in the dating world (but perhaps elsewhere too), the online component gives us a feeling of intimacy that sometimes satisfies us just enough, and other things stall out.

I thought about all this as everyone started tweeting about Twitter over the last week or so. (For those not in the know: Twitter is a web service which lets you broadcast brief, IM-like messages out to a group of people (or anyone who cares to look). The basic idea is that you can send a "tweet" ("I'm walking the dogs!") and everyone who is your "friend" on Twitter gets it - via IM, as an SMS on their phone, or however they want it.

When I first heard about it, my reaction was, "Great, another way to stay distracted." That's more or less still how I think about it, but obviously Twitter (and the endless breathy blogging about it) has struck a chord with some people - and a nerve with other.

In the nerve category, there's Kevin Dugan at Strategic Public Relations, whose reaction is, more or less, "Oh, shut up."  

In the chord category, there's David Armano at Logic + Emotion:

If you are interested about marketing, conversations and the ways which we communicate with each other (and how this is changing and evolving), you should at least investigate what the hoopla is all about.  My recent experiences with Twitter tell me that the service is morphing due to how users want to use it.  What was once initially designed to answer the question "what are you doing?", has turned into a free-form communications service where people are having burts of shorthand conversations, sharing links and information in rapid-fire fashion.

The case study I offer for this is the SXSW conference which is currently wrapping up.  I observed (and to some extent participated) in some of the back and forth communications and even got some gems out of it like this link to Kathy Sierra's keynote.  I've also been reminded via someone's Twitter about daylight savings which I've made a tradition out of missing every year (except for this one).  And here, Leisa shares how she would have missed her flight to SXSW if it were not for Twitter.

I see David's point... sort of. I've yet to see anything that Twitter that we're not doing already, often more efficiently. One example that David gives that sounds great is this: "Twapper as well as a application which puts you in touch with people who are using the service and are in close proximity to you locally."

Except, of course, that I remember exactly the same thing going on at SXSW in 2005 with Bonjour messaging on iChat.

The Twitter as blog replacement idea is the strangest of these. If your blog posts could be replaced by a tweet,

Twitter sounds mostly like a harmless irritation to me, a flavor of the month that will probably fade out. That fade out could be hastened by marketers figuring out how to use it.

And my gut rejection of it is a personal thing: the idea of getting what amounts to an instant messaging status line as SMS messages just annoys me. I feel like my email is giving me ADD some days - I need this stuff to follow me to the gloriously wifi-free Cafe Brasil when I escape to sit on the patio and have lunch? No thanks.

But there's also, I think, a dark side to this. Many of the comments I've heard about the wonders of Twitter are from people who are somewhat isolated at work - home office workers who like seeing what their friends are up to, because they feel a bit less alone.

I'm one of those solitary workers; with nobody but a cat to keep me company by day, I find myself sometimes longing for human contact. And yes, my partner and I sometimes exchange quick little "what's up" emails or IMs through the day, which I suppose are very Twitter-like.

But it's not contact, not really. And Twitter in a way is worse; if I get a two line email that says nothing more than "Crazy day!" it is, at least, something that was written for me, with me in mind - not a random brain fart for anybody who cares to tune in.

And so on a personal level, the idea of Twitter as human contact makes me very, very sad. On those days that the office feels amazingly lonely, I try to take half an hour to go to the deli up the street, have a sandwich, chitchat with the owner about the neighborhood goings-on, observe the people strolling down the street, and spend time among actual living human beings.

Try it - it's quite wonderful.

I make no predictions about what Twitter will or will not be. It is, after all, just a communications technology, and there may be some great use for it out there.

I just haven't seen any sign of it yet.

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Friday, March 16, 2007

Irritation du jour

It started with Google sticking "Beta" next to the names of its services - which was at best a bad joke (everyone's using Gmail, but it's beta?) or a warning ("Millions rely on us, but we're not really gonna support it.")

Then everyone started doing it, perhaps hoping they'd have a Googlicious IPO as a results - Alpha and Beta started popping up on web banners everwhere.

Just now I visited a web site and next to its name was the word "Gamma."

Just stop it, okay? "Alpha" and "Beta" mean something, even when Google is abusing the words. But this has just gotten silly. Whenever I see one of these labels, I think, "They think they are really cool, but that their service isn't ready for prime time."

This is not a good thing.

The Marketing o' the Green

Whether it's aimed at pushing merchandise directly tied to the holiday, or just dressing up the message with related images and references, I actually don't mind holiday-related marketing. And that includes marketing related to St. Patrick's Day.

Here in Boston, which has a pretty high percentage of people of Irish heritage, it's no surprise that we see more than a wee bit of marketing o' the green.

St. Patrick's is, in fact, a day off here - schools and government offices are closed. It's nominally (wink, wink) Evacuation Day, the day the British - of all things - evacuated the city of Boston during the American Revolution. These days, the only evacuating is the 20-somethings leaving their downtown offices at 11:30 "for lunch."

So we definitely "do" St. Patrick's Day here.

You can guarantee that, come the first of March, shamrocks, leprechauns, and cartoon Irishmen will start appearing in local ads (paper and TV).

Every day florists (and grocery stores) will make sure that they have dyed green carnations or dyed green alstrameria in supply. More upscale florists will push Bells of Ireland, which are quite lovely, but may have no more association with Ireland than do green carnations or alstrameria. Not that I've looked, but I don't recall ever seeing a Bell of Ireland growing there.

The card stores in Boston all carry St. Patrick's Day cards, at least half of which are about drinking.

I was picking up a few cards the other day, and grabbed one that at first glance looked like it had the standard "May the Road Rise Up to Meet You" Irish blessing on it. Good thing I looked at it a bit more carefully before mailing it off to my 82 year old Aunt Mary: it was all about getting falling-down drunk.

There's always at least one card that will set my teeth on edge by calling the day "St. Patty's Day." No, no, no. If you're going to use a nick name, it's Paddy, not Patty. (From the Irish Padraic, which is actually pronounced Paw-rick. Go figure.)

Souvenir stores here all have hideous, Kelly green "stuff" for people to wear while celebrating, parading, or reeling around: boas, scarves, fools-caps, hats - all made out of material that looks so combustible, I sure wouldn't wear it anywhere near a turf fire or a clay pipe.

We are blessed in this area with a number of excellent Irish bakeries, but this time of year grocery store bakeries are pushing soda bread that I can guarantee is nowhere near as good as my Aunt Margaret's recipe. I haven't baked any this year, but I do have in my freezer a loaf of Irish brown bread I brought back last September. My mouth is watering at the thought of thawing it out and having a slice (slathered with butter), and a cup of Barry's tea.  Sounds perfect for tomorrow, when we're expecting our first real snow storm of what's been a largely non-white winter.

Supermarkets in these parts also have their big displays of veggies for boiled dinner: cabbage, carrots, turnips, potatoes, which all goes in the vat with corned beef. Apparently - other than the praties and other root vegetables - this dish has nothing whatsoever to do with Ireland. Even around here it's generally known as New England boiled dinner. Somewhere along the line it got to be the thing to eat of St. Patrick's Day. (It may sound ghastly, but corned beef and cabbage isn't bad if you ignore the turnip and the slimy fat in the pot. Just make sure there's enough corned beef and potatoes left over for hash.)

There's no end to the number of Irish pubs in this area, and they, of course, go to town this time of year. There's been a major change in what constitutes an Irish bar or pub over the years. In the good old days, it used to be any tavern with an Irish last name over the door and a neon shamrock in the window. Now, they're a lot more authentic, generally owned and staffed by immigrants. And many of which have great traditional Irish music sessions - not schlocky bands that specialize in The Black Velvet Band type of songs. (Not that these bands can't be great fun, and not that you'll never hear TBVB in pubs in Ireland.) 

We also have some real-fake Irish pubs, which may have sprung out of a Guinness related business I read about years ago in the Aer Lingus in-flight mag, and which you can read about here (a site which, weirdly, you must be 21 years of age to enter; have they figured out a way to download a pint over the net?).

But the best marketing-of-St.Patrick's-Day anything I've seen comes from Ireland, of all places. It's SEO maven Liam Morrison's post on how Irish-related web sites should expect a boost in traffic as St. Patrick Day approaches. Here's your man:

Search boost ahead.

On one day of the year, each year, the Irish rule the world.  St. Patrick's Day. It's pretty unique for a country with such a small population to grab such a level of attention globally for one day. 

Its also a pretty unique search marketing opportunity for marketeers of all things Irish related.  Why?  Because the volume of searches  of many Irish and Irish related keyword phrases explodes for about one week in March. 

For those who are prepared and ready, it  can be a very profitable time.  While the searches for many Irish and Celtic related keyword phrases will see an increase, the number of searches for certain keywords jumps dramatically.

His post includes some charts from Google Trends on searches for Irish food, pubs, music, Guinness, drinking songs, and craic (pronounced crack - it's Irish for fun-at-the-pub). Great fun. If you want to do something Irish on St. Patrick's Day that doesn't involve hoisting a pint of stout, give Liam's blog a look.

I've been to Ireland many times, but I've never been there on St. Patrick's Day. I understand that, over the years, there's been a reverse influence going on, and what used to be a Holy Day (Mass, family meals) has now become something that more closely resembles St. Patrick's Day in the States. (Sure, the Yank tourists are expecting it.) If you've got it, flaunt it. Isn't that a lot about what marketing's about?

Anyway, Happy St. Patrick's Day to yez all.

Sex Doesn't Sell

That's kind of a "man bites dog" headline, but it's what researchers at University College London found, according to this report in the Economist:

Sexual allure is often hinted as being the prize for buying this or that. Yet advertising wares during commercial breaks in programmes with an erotic theme can be tricky: the minds of viewers tend to be preoccupied with what they have just seen and the advertisement is ignored. New research now suggests that even if the commercial is made sexually enticing, people still fail to remember it.

Ellie Parker and Adrian Furnham of University College London devised an experiment to test three ideas. The first was to confirm that men and women alike would struggle to remember the brand of a product that was advertised during a break in a programme that contained sex. The second was that commercials that had an erotic element would be recalled more readily than those that did not. Finally they wanted to know whether people would remember the advertisement more easily if its theme contrasted with the programme into which it had been inserted.

The article describes the experiment, and its findings: sex doesn't seem to really make people remember ads, and therefore, we might assume, it doesn't sell much. Unless, I suppose, you're selling something like condoms. And they tend to be advertised with images like walking on a beach.

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Thursday, March 15, 2007

Cable Broadband: "All You Can Eat" means "All We Want You To Eat"

Broadband providers promote their services by telling you about how great it is to be online all the time, uploading and downloading large files without headaches, getting music and video online, chatting in fabulous clear video with your pals in Tokyo (you do have pals in Tokyo, don't you?) and so on. Cable providers, in particular, emphasize how much better their bandwidth is than DSL.

What they don't say: just don't do too much of that, okay?

Amanda Lee of Cambridge received a call from Comcast Corp. in December ordering her to curtail her Web use or lose her high-speed Internet connection for a year.

Lee, who said she had been using the same broadband connection for years without a problem, was taken aback. But when she asked what the download limit was, she was told there was no limit, that she was just downloading too much.

Then in mid-February, her Internet service was cut off without further warning.

Let's be clear about two things: first, this doesn't affect many people; in the Boston Globe article quoted above, a Comcast spokeswoman says that only 0.01% of their household customers fall into the troublesome heavy user category. Second, it's a legitimate concern: providers design their pricing models and infrastructure plans around expected usage, and people using more can cause them trouble.

But... is it too much to expect to know what the limits are? Apparently so:

Feddeman declined to say where Comcast draws the line on too much Internet usage, instead saying the amount of data that could trigger a warning call would be roughly the equivalent of 13 million e-mail messages or 256,000 photos a month. Although those files vary in size, a typical photo file size is 1 to 2 megabytes, meaning that excessive users are downloading hundreds of gigabytes per month.

It's not hard to understand why Comcast is keeping quiet about the real limits. While the obvious solution to this is tiers of service with extra charges for heavier use, that would require something they don't seem to have: a good system for measuring it all that ties into the billing system. Billing systems are the back-office nightmare of telecom; creating such a system is a significant investment.

So, if they tell people what the limits are, they need to measure and bill appropriately, and frankly, it's cheaper to just go after a tiny number of heavy users.

Not smarter, of course; these are excellent customers from whom a provider could make money. But after being threatened and cut off, even if Comcast figures out how to offer tiers of broadband service, I doubt Ms. Lee will be signing up with them.

(I can't help but wonder if, as cable operators start providing mobile phone service, if the same principle will apply to free nights and weekend. "Sorry, they're not that free!")

USA Today on Apple: What's Success Got to Do with It?

This rather fawning piece on Apple's marketing left me wondering what the writer, Jefferson Graham, would pick as a metric for marketing success. Call me old-fashioned, but I think selling products should fit in the definition somewhere.

Apple's marketing machine has done it again.

While the biggest names in tech were in Las Vegas at the Consumer Electronics Show in January showing off new gadgets and gizmos, Apple gambled it could extract attention in San Francisco for a sneak-peek debut of the iPhone, the combination music player/cellphone and Internet device.

Apple CEO Steve Jobs' bet paid off like a gushing Vegas jackpot. The avalanche of headlines and TV news stories about the iPhone — which hits the market in June — already have generated $400 million in free publicity, says Harvard Business School professor David Yoffie. "No other company has ever received that kind of attention for a product launch," Yoffie says. "It's unprecedented."

Windows 95 or XP, anybody? Even Graham seems to realize that this doesn't add up.

Apple's arsenal of attention-getting tools holds lessons for any company: design cool, innovative products. Have a streamlined product line. Invest in memorable ads. Work your customer base to make customers feel special and create word-of-mouth agents. Most important: keep the world and media surprised, to generate gobs of attention.

The company's masterful buzz machine has helped generate record profits (thanks to the worldwide digital music cultural icon, the iPod), but it's barely nudged Apple's computer market share. Apple executives declined comment for this story.

The iPod has done great things for Apple's financials, and they do a good job of mining their niche in the PC industry, but the idea that this is a model for other companies is kind of odd, unless you imagine people sitting around doing the business plan for their new start-up saying, "Guys, some day we'll have 3% market share, too!"

Graham claims that Apple's "success" demonstrates that everyone should design incredibly innovative products and simplify their product line. The logical question would be, then why does Gateway have double Apple's market share despite being regarded as something of a disaster? That strategy is a good one for some products in some markets, but the idea that it's a universal approach is pretty idiotic.

The iPhone is getting its share of buzz, and the ads are cool, but... nobody's actually bought one yet, so it's a bit early to be congratulating Apple for its success. (I'm not making any prediction other than nobody's $500 phone that's available from only one mobile carrier is going to sell in enormous quantities. And I'm sure Apple knows that.)

Graham also does the obligatory nod to Apple's advertising. That advertising is amazing simply because it shows that you can spend a lot of money on creative, a lot of money on media, and have something really cool that's so off-message that you wind up with declining market share. (Do people really think the Mac Guy in those ads is more appealing than the PC Guy, by the way? I always think of the Mac Guy as the most irritating hipster at the coffee shop.)

It would be nice to see marketing covered in mainstream business press by people who seemed to actually know something about marketing, and didn't write like they were channeling one of Apple's PR people.

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Wednesday, March 14, 2007

Jargon Monoxide (It's Polly Labarre's term - sure wish I'd thought of it.)

Bob Sutton had a post the other day about a guest appearance that Polly Labarre, co-author of Mavericks at Work, made to his Stanford Organizational Development class.  Here's Bob:

 One of the points that [Polly Labarre] made especially well was that mavericks are so effective at inspiring innovation partly because they use authentic and compelling language, not hollow business language.  She pointed out that, in too many cases, the language used by executives in one company is completely interchangeable with the language used by another; and hollow and meaningless in every place it used. The class just cracked-up when she called this "Jargon monoxide." Now that is great language!   

Jargon monoxide! Don't you wish you'd come up with that term?

Bob contributes a few terms - "value added," "competitive advantage," "distinctive competence,"  and "monetize" - and directs us to Office Life, which contains a long and wonderful dictionary of business jargon a combination of in-use words likely to be familiar to everyone, and words that appear to be new - "made-up" coinages that struck me as more witty than jargon-esque. I didn't make it through the entire alphabet, but did like "bangalored", "blamestorming," and "clocksucker" (nonproductive employee).

Commenter Ann Michael, of Manage to Change, contributed "synergy," "incentivize", and "solution based" - and suggested a look at Huh, a hilarious take-off on a marketing consulting site. I haven't done a "drill-down" yet on Huh (or on its companion tech-inspired Duh), but it also promises to be a true mother lode of marketing-speak. One word that caught my eye: eSavvy.

John Chennavasin contributed a link to a very funny BS phrase generator on Click and, voila: innovate open-source convergence; reinvent end-to-end niches.

I'm sure that we all have our favorites - and I'm so enamored of the term "Jargon Monoxide" that I'm bound to post on it again.

But, seriously, folks, fun as this all is, from a marketing perspective there's a serious point to be made here. And that's the cold hard fact that we need to avoid that interchangeable, hollow, meaningless language that extremely to use. How often do you go to a web-site to learn about their products and find yourself at a loss trying to figure out exactly what it is that those products do and who they are for?

In the tech world, business application software tends to be a pretty egregious offender. (Hardware does a better job: a router is a router. So does techie software: a compiler is a compiler.)

But because we've swallowed the Kool-Aid that business purchasers are only interested in benefits, we sometimes avoid anything that smacks at all of features - right down to even letting folks know what we have to offer.

Instead of "we sell accounting software", you find "we provide customer-centric solutions that increase employee productivity."  Instead of "HR uses our software to track employee vacations", you're told that "we provide customer-centric solutions that increase employee productivity." Instead of "our software monitors marketing messages for symptoms of jargon monoxide", you read "we provide customer-centric solutions that increase employee productivity."

What's the solution?

For starters, we can stop our over-reliance on the word solution.

What's wrong with using one of the other perfectly good s-words: software, systems, services.

Then start stripping away at all modifiers that don't really say anything. I don't know how many times I've thrown the word 'robust' in front of a product.

What exactly was I trying to say?

Sometimes I was trying to convey that this application won't fall apart if you blow on it. Sometimes I was trying to get the point across that the product was expensive. Sometimes I was using it as code for hard-to-use.

But basically, robust was pretty darn meaningless.

I may not be willing to make a pledge not to use the word again, but I will vow that I'll at least think through my motivations and intent each time I do use it. And at least admit to myself those times when all I really want is a third adjective and robust is as good as any.

As marketers, we need to hold all of our messaging up to the cold clear light of day and do some brutally honest, and - dare I say - robust thinking about it. If what we're saying about our product could be used for just about everything, it's time to get out the eraser and start sharpening the pencil. Remember, our job is to communicate, not just fill up white space.

Fighting Spam the Web 0.0 Way

I can't blame people for using spam-fighting tools, but there's one particularly annoying that is, sadly, not yet dead: those "challenge" systems that require an email recipient to approve you as a sender. I sent an email to about ten people this morning (a "reply all" to a group of people on a committee of a non-profit organization whose board I'm on) and promptly got this irritating Earthlink-generated "I'm sorry, but you must be approved to send me email, please feel out this form!" (complete with a captcha field).

My first thought was, "You're just not important enough to have to fill out a form because you're cc'ed on an email, buddy." 

I find these things seriously annoying. They popped up a few years ago but I rarely see them anymore. Part of the reasons for that, I suspect, is that they make you lose email you really want (order confirmation, newsletters, etc.) which you might have asked for, but are sent by automated systems that are not going to fill out your form.

It's a bit like having the mailman turn up at your door holding a birthday card you sent telling you, "I'm sorry, but we won't deliver this unless you show us an ID."

Let's hope they vanish completely soon.

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Tuesday, March 13, 2007

Cable and Wireless

I once worked for the big British telecom with that name; our running joke was that we were Cable and Wireless and we didn't do either of those things. US cable companies, however, want to do wireless, just as telecoms want to do television. The whole merging of all of these companies into similar providers of a broad range of services leaves me thinking... "Why?"

Consider this story on cable companies entering the wireless market by reselling what's already available from wireless providers:

Branded cell phone service is the latest attempt by cable operators to compete with — and swipe customers from — traditional phone companies that themselves are invading cable's turf by offering TV service. Each side wants all of the consumer's communications business and each has plans to make the technologies complement each other.

Cox is one of four top cable companies hoping to attract more customers like Poteet as they roll out mobile phone service this year with Sprint Nextel Corp. in New York. The cell service is powered entirely by Sprint, but the cable operators do their own marketing and take over the customer service.

The cable operators will handle the customer service. That's a scary thought; can you find anyone in the United States who'll tell you about the great service their cable company provides?

And what are the benefits of this bundling for consumers?

To lure consumers, cable is not only touting the convenience of paying your communications costs on one bill and cable e-mail access, but also free calls to the cable landline phone, streaming TV shows to the handset and later, remote DVR programming and other perks.

This is pretty thin stuff. And, as the article notes, by buying through the cable company instead of the actual wireless provider, customers lose options:

But it may be an uphill battle to get consumers to think of cable companies as cell phone providers, in part because it still doesn't have the depth of offerings available from other wireless carriers. Cable also has to overcome a reputation for higher annual price hikes than the phone companies.

Sam Gonzales, a 28-year-old marketing manager from Gaithersburg, Md., isn't attracted to cable cell phones because of the slim pickings.

"The only partnership they have is with Sprint," he said. "It was only four handsets they were going to offer. It limits you to a lot of things."

Cable and telecom companies are some of the most-loathed businesses in the country. We love to hate them because they are virtual monopolies, their bills are filled with strange taxes and extra fees, and their customer service is generally mediocre. It's hard to imagine that the thrill of getting one bill instead of two will convince that many people that this is a good idea.

I don't really want to hear from Time Warner about a mobile phone until they figure out how to keep my cable internet connection stable for more than 24 hours at a time, or stop charging me a couple of dollars a month for my "free" cable modem.

This all does make sense from the providers' point of view: they want create stickier relationships with customers by signing them up for more services. I have a feeling, though, that being more stuck with the cable company is the last thing many people want.

Flying Fur: Van Messaging

The van was a couple of lanes over, but I saw the name on the side as they flew by, Flying Fur. Pet grooming, I told myself. Great name! (I like cute.) Sure enough, when I caught up with the van at the Weston tolls, Flying Fur is a mobile pet grooming service. The one in Massachusetts is not unique - there's one in New Jersey, too. (that has some pictures of some really weird looking dogs on its home page - I think they're big-hair poodles. And no comments about Jersey girls.)

But I love the fact that you can tell by their name - and by looking at their van - just what they do.

That's the thing about vans: you can usually get the message and understand right off the bat what product or service they provide.

My historic favorite is "We Clean Blinds", which I used to see on Route 128 every once in a while.

Yep. I know what they do.

Today I noticed The Pie Guy, and a van that said "Pool Covering." Last week in Syracuse, it was Gianelli Sausage (with its mildly obscene dancing pigs in tutus).

Sure, you have life easier if you have a readily understandable product (sausages) or service (pet grooming).

B2B is harder. Tech2Tech is harder.

Our products are complex. Our companies do a lot of things, so we can't have a name like Acme Steel. We need a name like Acstellent Enterprise.

But all marketers - before they lard on the fancy, abstract messaging - should lay out what it is that their products and services do in crystal clear, side-of-the-van language.

The GORB: Bathroom Wall 2.0

It's rare that I have as visceral a negative reaction to an idea for a web site as what I felt when I read about the GORB.

The site is, essentially, a giant bathroom wall on which you can scrawl anonymous comments about people. Okay, that's not how they'd describe themselves; they say it's a place to post your opinions, good or bad, about people.


All you need in order to post is a person's email address. So, anyone who knows my email address could go and post a note saying that I'm a brilliant marketer, a loser who should never be hired, borderline psychotic, or a really good golfer. (I'm not a good golfer.) Or anything at all.

The site claims that this will lead to real, honest feedback that's constructive and intelligent. (Because that's our experience with online communities, isn't it: complete anonymity leads to lots of constructive feedback!)

As a special plus, you can send anonymous notes to people to make absolutely sure they hear what you want to say, but lack the balls to just tell them.

Oh, and if you get GORBed, you can't do anything about it:

Can I choose not to be rated?

No, as in the real world, you do not opt-in or opt-out of your reputation. Anybody can enter your email address and get your page started. But don't be afraid, the truth is that all of us will have some negative information (like on your credit bureau) and so what? What are we supposed to be perfect or something? Let's listen to the truth about us. Let's learn and grow with this information.

Not happy with what's being said? Well...

I believe I am being unfairly rated; what can I do?

Just like in real life some of us have people who do not have our best interest at heart. The GORB gives you the information so that you can be aware of what other are doing to your reputation. These people are doing this whether The GORB is around or not. We recommend you counter these bad ratings with your allies, friends and people who you consider to have a good perception of what you do. Ask them to GORB you. The GORB allows for the community to reject an opinion, just like in real life your friends should come to your defense.

In other words: help us build our site traffic!

I have no doubt that someone will have an alternate plan: sue the GORB's owners. (The business owners don't think so, according to this item from ZDNet blogger David Berlind.)

Also at ZDNet, Andrew Keen offers a rather blunt explanation of why this is a horrible idea, and notes that the people behind the site did not identify themselves. So much for opening ourselves up to scrutiny by our peers! (The site now does list names; I'm guessing they noticed Keen's comments.)

The material on the site makes it clear that they have a problem with things like LinkedIn, where the only feedback on users comes in the form of recommendations... because who, after all, is going to publish criticisms on a networking site? They've got a point, but come on - everybody understands this, and nobody's taking these recommendations as anything but some extra information about a person.

The good news: everyone knows the value of an anonymous opinion, and that's likely to keep most people from ever caring about the GORB at all. It's easier and more entertaining to just read the bathroom wall at your local pub... plus you can have a beer while you're at it.

(And the name... I have no idea where it came from. It makes me think of an alien race from Babylon 5, though.)

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