Saturday, September 29, 2007

The Today Show Presents... Twitter Spam!

My initial reaction to Twitter was, "Gosh, this sounds like the most annoying thing I could imagine." But while I tend to react to these things with an initial sense that they don't make sense (you should have heard me the first time someone said, "camera phone") I do them go check them out. (Now it's, "Camera phone! Yay!") So I have been using Twitter, and you know what? It's fun.

I don't think it's nearly as useful as some people do, or has anywhere near the number of business and marketing applications some people do, but it's fun. Kind of like slow-motion IM with lots of people. (One issue with trying to use it for anything with dollars attached to it, though, is that their infrastructure appears to be melting down; I've experienced all kinds of issues, including the irritating "feature" that un-following people doesn't stop their tweets from showing up, and I've been hearing about all kinds of site performance issues from others. Execution matters!)

For those of you who have not used it: by default, when someone "follows" you (so your tweets will show up in their personal stream of tweets from others), you get an email. This is useful; when someone you know finds you and follows you, you know it, and then you can follow them (or not, if you don't want to). It's a good feature.

Right up until someone figured out: hey, what a great way to tell people we're on Twitter! I've gotten a couple of these from people clearly trolling for lots of followers. But I think I got my first corporate Twitter spam this week:

Todayshow (Todayshow) is now following your updates on Twitter.

Check out Todayshow's profile here:

You may follow Todayshow as well by clicking on the "follow" button.

And yes, it's the big time network TV program, the Today Show. Now, I'd rather tear my eyes out than even watch the Today Show; I'm not a big TV watcher, and this sort of chattery news as entertainment mostly leaves me feeling despair for the human race. So why, I wonder, did the Today Show decide that my updates about what my dog is doing or some glitchy tech issue I think one of my fellow Twitterees might help me with or just my mood as I sip my first morning coffee were so interesting that the Today Show staff needs to read them?

Nothing, of course; nobody at the Today Show is actually "following" me. What they've done is take a feature designed to facilitate social networking and used it to force a message about their marketing efforts into my inbox.

In other words... spam. Matt Lauer, you are a bad, bad man!

I'm sure some people who got these things were fans and are happy to get Today tweets. That's not the point; I'm sure some of those people getting email about V1agra and C1alis want to buy it, too. (They must, or the emails would stop, right?) That doesn't stop it from being spam.

And this, folks, is how a cool social networking tool turns to crap. Email marketing held the promise of highly personalized, relevant communications with customers, and lazy marketers turned into the same old interruption marketing - and consumers started tuning it out.

Twitter stops being fun when it leads to this stuff. I will probably turn off the email notification feature, which is a shame, because many of those emails have told me that someone I know is on Twitter and I've started following them. So to get rid of the annoyance, I have to make Twitter less useful.

The tragedy of the commons, marketing-style - sponsored by the Today Show.

Friday, September 28, 2007

One come on I have known & hated

With all the discussion about interactive marketing, we sometimes forget that there are some marketers who still do things the old fashioned way.

I write, of course, about the Come On, the little enticement that will get you interested in buying something.

Even us B2B marketers indulge occasionally: Fill out this survey, and you can win the iPod. Buy now and get the first year's support free.

But nothing along the lines of the cheesy little postcard I got the other day from the AVC Claims (ahem) Center, which informed me that I "Did Not Pick Up! Parcel #8216C", and that I had but a brief 72 hours in which to call and claim my prize.

Final notice! Final attempt!

You see, I have apparently won one of 4 "guaranteed" prizes:

A new MERCEDES BENZ M-Class, BMW X5, PORSCHE Cayenne or $40,000 CASH, a $1,500 Shopping Spree, Exotic Island Adventure, $806 value or $500 CASH.

Yes, this would be easier to parse out if the "writer" knew anything about semi-colons, but I'm a pretty good guesser, and my pretty good guess is that I haven't won the car, the  spree, or the cash. And all I have to do to win that Exotic Island Adventure is listen to someone's spiel for 90 minutes or so.)

This is, of course, a come on for some seedy, dreary little time sharing "resort." The one in Massachusetts - which I'm presumably targeted for - features an 18 hole mini-golf course, ping pong and board games. (Board games! Wow! I'd never be able to afford board games on my own. Sign me up.) The info on this resort also tells us that it's not far from Tanglewood, where the Boston Symphony Orchestra plays in the summer. If these guys can show me just one Tanglewood attendees who owns a time-share at this joint, I'll eat the little yellow postcard my prize info came on.

Truly, I am amazed that scam artists can continue to send out these misleading little come ons, but I guess they must work.

But wouldn't it be refreshing to actually get one that said:

  • We have a time-sharing resort not far from where you live.
  • If you drive out and listen to our pitch, we'll give you coffee and a donut.
  • And  you could win a prize. 
  • But you probably won't.
  • At least not a prize that won't cost you something to retrieve.

I might not respond to that either, but I sure wouldn't hold the card at arm's length, with my nose pinched to avoid the sulphur wafting from the lies from the pit of hell....

Thursday, September 27, 2007

All Ads, All the Time

When I was young (5 years old) my family moved to Germany. We lived there for two years (and knew it would be that short when we went). We didn't speak German (well, my dad had taken a crash course for work) and I didn't learn it then (though I studied it extensively later); my sister and I went to an American school and generally had a little American bubble around us, though we lived in a small town surrounded by German neighbors.

And we watched German television, though not much. There was children's programming - cartoons and the like - which, though German, was understandable because the humor was visual. There was one striking difference between German television at the time and American TV - the commercials. They didn't interrupt the program every ten or fifteen minutes; you'd watch a program, and then it would be followed by a large block of advertisements.

We watched the ads, partly because it was all the same to us - images and words we didn't understand - and partly because after every couple of ads, there were cartoons featuring a set of repeating charachters - little guys wearing caps who'd do funny thing. (I cannot remember what they were called, and if anybody does, please tell me!) We had little plastic dolls of those characters. They were apparently quite popular. They were the hook to get viewers to sit there and watch ads for toothpaste and detergent. It apparently worked.

I thought about that when I read this post from Joseph Jaffe about Firebrand, which launches next month. From their press release:

Firebrand, the new, opt-in entertainment and marketing destination that gives consumers interactive access to their favorite brands, products and promotions, today announced plans for its October 22nd launch.

Firebrand programs the “coolest” TV commercials the way MTV used to program music videos, creating the first multi-platform network to go “live” simultaneously on TV, the web and mobile.

Firebrand’s "Commercials as Content" programming launches on the ION Television Network, weeknights at 11 pm in 94 million households, as well as 24/7 on the web at and, on hand-held mobile devices, initially through iTunes, and MSN when available.

Advertising is, of course, a bit part of our shared popular culture. That's actually nothing new; look at the the popularity of old ad posters, the number of jingles stored in all of our heads, and so on. When advertising is interesting, entertaining, or artistic, people enjoy it.

At the same time, if you start asking consumers if they like watching ads, I think you'll get a lot of negative responses. That's an unintentional lie, though; people tell you they don't like ads because so many of them are forced on us, and are not very interesting or entertaining.

Firebrand has some big investors (Microsoft, NBC, GE) and is going full-on with the ads-as-content approach; there will be "commercial jockeys" presenting the ads, web tools for users to create playlists of their favorite ads, and so on. And, of course, services for advertisers:

Firebrand will also provide advertisers with the Firebrand Dashboard TM, an innovative diagnostic tool that integrates industry standard television and online response data. For the first time, advertisers can see TV viewing and online clicks side by side, for specific spots and offers, delivering advertisers a meaningful ROI analysis.

The curmudgeon in me sees this as a sign of the death of our culture, but my inner cranky old man is wrong; as I said, commercial content as cultural artifacts is as old as communications itself. But what I do wonder about is the balance here. People like seeing ads, but they don't like being forced to see them. I wonder how they will feel about choosing to go to a destination that promises nothing but ads, versus encountering ads in places they are going for other reasons (a favorite television program, YouTube, and so on).

The language of the press release is all about the advertiser, and not the user: "connecting consumers with their favorite brands." I don't think most consumers really want to "connect with brands," though they might enjoy watching ads that are amusing.

If nothing else it will be useful for people like me, who watch very little television and skip ads when they do, to find out what people are talking about when they say, "You know that commercial...." (I finally once had to say, "No. I haven't watched a commercial in several years." Other than for professional reasons.)

And perhaps the "CJs" will take be a bit like those German cartoon characters whose names I'm trying to remember (you know what will be in the back of my mind all day today!).

Will people really want to watch and visit Firebrand? I'm not sure, but it will be interesting to find out.

Side note: Those two years in Germany, young as I was, had a surprising influence on me. Because we didn't watch a lot of television then, I became more verbal than visual and developed my lifelong long of reading; had we been home, I don't know if I'd be the voracious reader I am today. Ours was never a big TV household, and to this day I find a television on somewhere in the house a bit like having a buzzsaw going somewhere in the house; if I'm not watching a specific program that I really want to see, it gives me a headache. My ideal night at home is everyone sitting reading.

It gave me an ear for German, tremendously helpful when I began studying it a few years later. It means I went to a lot of great places that I don't remember well because I was so young; there were many dinner table conversations along the lines of, "Don't you remember when we went to the Alps?" "No, I remember sitting in the car saying, "Are we there yet?" And it gave me a life-long appreciation for Germany, a country where I'd happily live.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

Look before you leap: why getting the marketing strategy straight matters

When people ask me what type of marketing I do, I sometimes answer "black and white," i.e., I focus on those things associated with market research, product and market strategy, positioning. I explain what I do as a product marketer vs. what marcom does - "color marketing." I am a complete, 100% believer that "color marketing" doesn't work unless you get the "black and white marketing" done first, and done right.

I thought of this as I reviewed - not for the first time, not for the last - a most excellent "Pragmatic Marketing Framework" developed by the eponymous Pragmatic Marketing.

The Framework lays out "a market-driven model for managing and marketing technology products", covering all the activities on the strategic-tactical marketing continuum. Other than the fact that they call product management what I would call product marketing, I don't have any quibble with The Framework whatsoever. Other than to wish that I'd come up with it. (Pragmatic Marketing also offers training sessions, one of which I took years ago when I worked at Annuity. It was really, really good. Too bad we ignored everything we learned from it.)

The Framework is accompanied by a list of twenty "Practical Product Management Rules," (many of which I hope to elaborate on over time), but one of the best ones to keep in mind:

Product Management determines the go-to-market strategy; Marcom executes the strategy.

Again, I'd substitute Product Marketing for Product Management here, but that's because I consider myself a product marketer. Over the course of my career, I've done both - as well as Marcom, for that matter. (Heck, in some of the places I've worked, I've worn all three caps simultaneously, sort of like Bartholomew Cubbins, for those of you of a (kids') literary bent.)

This is on my mind these days as I suffer with a client through some throes of agony over why the marketing program they've just completed hasn't worked much magic. After all, they've built a product. And they're smart. And the product's good. So why aren't people learning to love us through the baby-step marketing program(or through osmosis, which is, unfortunately, how most of their marketing occurs) and just call them up and order on the phone.

There are a lot of reasons why this isn't working and, truly, it is too raw and painful for me to get into them right now. I really like these folks. They are smart, hard-working, diligent, and good. It's just that - like a lot of techies - they've gone the if-we-build-it-they-will-come (damn them!) route.

So, we have a sales model that overwhelms the product. A price point that overwhelms the product value. And a product that underwhelms the market.

Don't get me wrong. It's a good product. And it helps solve a real problem. But the problem it solves is relatively small. And the operative word in the statement above is "helps". The product does not, left to its own devices, solve anything. In the hands of a user, it can help solve something. But it doesn't do it on its own.

Unfortunately, the sales and pricing model is geared toward panacea of the century.

If they'd put the upfront work in - and really listened to the market - they wouldn't be finding themselves in the quandary they're in.

There's another Pragmatic Marketing rule: "The answer to most of your questions is not in the building."

I so wish my buddies had thought of this before they'd "gone to market."

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

They Try Harder, Because They Have To

(I'm just back from a quick trip with a nifty airplane-generated sore throat, so today it's a quickie instead of what I'd planned to write about, inspired by... travel!)

In so many industries, it seems like the little guys are the ones who pay attention to customer needs. I suspect it's because they have to.

I fly through Houston's big Intercontinental Airport all the time. It's okay, but not great. The signage in the parking garages and outside the airport is awful (it's okay once you're actually in the terminal). It's got lots of amenities, but nothing special. It doesn't have to be great, because when you're the major airport for a metro area of millions of people that is the world headquarters of the energy industry, lots of folks will fly through no matter what you do.

Consider wifi at the airport. This is a hugely convenient thing for business travelers and very nice for everybody else. And while this wasn't a business trip, when you work for yourself, you're always a business traveler with some email to answer or something to check up on. Houston, like so many big airports, has an overpriced wifi network ($10 to get online) run by Sprint.

My usual pre-flight routine is to find a seat just outside the Continental President's Club and get on their free wifi. (Look, I fly enough damn miles on that airline, I don't feel bad doing this.) I noticed on Saturday morning that in Terminal E, all the seats near the doors of the club seemed to have been removed.

So rather than have a few people sitting outside using wifi, now people in the terminal have fewer places to sit. How... friendly.

My destination airport was Bradley International Airport, a bit north of Hartford, Connecticut, serving Hartford and Springfield, MA. When I got there yesterday (relatively early) I fired up the my laptop and discovered that there's a good free network. No sign in, not even a page to click things saying you're agreeing to their terms. Just turn on your computer and off you go.

I've found the same thing at the airports in Syracuse, NY and West Palm Beach, FL - all small airports.

It's funny that these little airports seem to realize that providing amenities to travelers is a good idea, while the major airports - the ones who ought to be setting the standards for how airports are run - treat amenities as a chance to extract cash from hostages. Hartford is not the closest airport to my hometown in Connecticut, but I tried flying there because I figured that despite the extra miles from home, it would be easier than arriving in one of the New York City airports. It was, and the wifi was just the icing on the cake - if I wind up stuck there, I can be productive without paying $10 an hour to read my email. Next trip, I'd make a point of going via Hartford, even if it's a little more for the ticket.

Maybe they just realize that creating a good experience for travelers is necessary, because people have options. (For Hartford, I'm guessing that there's a segment that could, like me, choose NYC instead; another that might choose Boston instead; and yet others for which Albany or Providence might be an alternatives.)

I wish the folks running Houston's airport would take note.

Monday, September 24, 2007

Remember me? I never really got into a game...

Just when I think I will run out of things to say about marketing, I get a gift from heaven in the form of an e-mail from MLB. (That's Major League Baseball for those of you who aren't frantically looking at the standings and calculating the Magic Number every twenty minutes or so. For the record, the Magic Number for the Red Sox is 6.

MLB is inviting me to:

Become a part of an exclusive group of Major Leaguers and baseball fans by becoming a member of the Major League Baseball Players Alumni Association.

Well, I've heard that "being is becoming". Is this a case of MLB telling me that "becoming is being?"

Now, I am in absolute awe of sports marketers, and their ability to leave no stone unturned when it comes to building brand loyalty and extracting the last dollar out of the average fan wallet with surgical precision. I doff my regulation, authentic, MLB blessed, New Era cap to them.

But this is utterly ridiculous.

Shouldn't the MLB Players Alumni Association have as its members those who actually played major league baseball - at least for a couple of bench-warming innings? Doesn't this group already exist? Isn't it called the MLB Players Association?

I'll give them partial credit for their claim that this is an "exclusive group." If they're talking about ex-players, yep - it's exclusive. If they're talking about fans. Exclusive? Huh?

Basically, MLB is just looking for my $25, which will entitle me to discounts on buying MLB gear. Hmmmm. Could this be why they want me as a member? So that I can pay for a discount that will lure me into buying more junk. That sounds more likely than this lofty statement:

Join us in our mission of promoting the game of baseball, involving our members in community activities, inspiring today's youth through positive sports images and raising funds to support important charitable causes.

All well and good, but joining this organization really doesn't make me an MLB Alumna, does it?

Come on. I don't spit, grab at my crotch, or pat the people I work with on the butt. Nor can I hit a 97 m.p.h. fast ball. Catch a fly ball when 35,000 people are screaming at me. Slide head first - or feet first, for that matter, let alone execute one of those nifty little pop-up slides. I have no baseball card, no stats. At games, I pray that no ball will land anywhere near me. (Since I'm seldom in the kind of seats where a wicked line drive foul can get you, I'm not scared of the ball. I just don't want to get trampled on by fans going after it.) And despite all my best efforts, I still kind of throw like a girl.

And if I'm an MLB Alum, why can't I get Scott Boras, dream agent, to represent me. Scott would laugh himself silly if he knew the paltry per diem I command. If only I had Scott on my team, the two of us could laugh ourselves silly all the way to the bank. (Come on, Scott. How about it?)

No, I'm no major leaguer. I am, however, a member of several non-official baseball alumni clubs, none of them all that exclusive:

  • Fans who saw Ted Williams hit a home run.
  • Fans who saw Maris and Mantle hit back-to-back homers in 1961 (the year Maris broke Babe Ruth's record).
  • Fans who followed the sport before the invention of the pink baseball cap.
  • Fans who rooted for the Red Sox when they were cellar-dwellers.
  • Fans who have never - and will never - watch the 7th game of a World Series in which the Red Sox are playing. (In 1967, I took a walk. In 1975, I stared out the window. In 1986, I took to my bed. Fortunately, in 2004, the Series only went four games and I watched the entire thing.)
  • Fans who think that the fans should sing along with the National Anthem.
  • Fans who think that the words to "Take Me Out to the Ballgame" do NOT need to be displayed on the screen.
  • Fans who know that the seventh inning stretch occurs between the top and the bottom of the seventh, not between the sixth and the seventh.

None of this makes me a professional baseball player. Just a fan.

And I don't need to join this organization in order to get me to promote baseball. In my opinion, it is the most excellent of sports. Unlike most other team sports, which involve running (or skating) up and down a field/court/rink, trying to get some object past a goal, baseball is different. To me, that difference turns into something that makes the game more interesting to me than all others. I even find baseball's boringness interesting. So there.

In any case, this latest promotion from MLB marketing is a stretch. If they want, they can make up an organization called the MLB Players Alumni Association Auxiliary. Non-exclusive; all are welcome. (And all $25 membership fees welcome, of course.)

I seem to recall that this is what veterans organizations did after World War II, i.e., set up parallel organizations for the wives' of veterans.  Veterans joined the VFW and the American Legion; their wives joined the auxiliary. (To those who might be offended by this quaint notion, that's just the way it was.) Women veterans - and there were some, even "then" - had their own alumnae associations. My mother's great friend, Ethel McGinn, a WWII vet, was a member of the WAVEs group.

Joining the MLB Alumni Association is not going to make me an ex-professional baseball player any more than joining the VFW would make me a veteran.

MLB marketers can keep their discount. Time for them to come up with a more honest idea. This one is big league corruption of the notion of alumni. ("Exclusive group", my non-baseball-spike-shod foot.)

Saturday, September 22, 2007

Be What You Are

Over at ZDNet, David Morgenstern writes about Dell's desire to give itself some Apple cool.

But Dell 2.0 wouldn’t be just about efficiency said [new head of marketing Mark] Jarvis, who, chatting with reporters after the event, suggested that his goal is to make the Texas company as sexy as Apple, the company that has arguably become the arbiter of cool in consumer electronics.

“Apple has become the conformist company,” said Jarvis, arguing that it’s now become so established as to demand an opposite. “I want Dell to be the different company,” Jarvis said, and when asked for the how, replied: “Watch this space.”

Consider Dell's history. It's a proud one: Dell rose to the top of PC makers because of operational excellence. They figured out how to put together components more quickly and efficiently than anybody else, making it possible for buyers to order exactly the PC they wanted and get it fast. They cut out the middleman and the markup that comes with retail distribution. It's no small achievement.

It is not, however, remotely like Apple's achievement, which was to use industrial design excellence and product innovation to create a profitable niche, inspire amazing customer loyalty even when they screw up (as they have always done regularly, like most companies), and create a whole cultural identification around their products.

That's the kind of stuff that makes marketers salivate. Because... it's fun. It's fun to do splashy ads that everybody talks about, to have your product launches covered on the nightly news, and to define a whole category the way iPod has.

But I'm trying to imagine someone driving their Prius through my bobo neighborhood with a Dell sticker on the back window, and I just can't see it.

The real kiss of death for this plan is that it's clear that Dell isn't really attempting to reinvent themselves: they want to be the Wal-Mart-esque masters of the supply chain and be Apple cool.

Reinvention alone would be an incredible challenge. Reinvention when you won't give up the past is pretty much a suicide mission.

And, most importantly, Dell's past is a good one. Whatever problems the company has now, there is certainly a role for a super-efficient PC manufacturer. It's just not the "Apple cool" role. Dell, like so many other companies, needs to be what it is and be excellent at it. Trying to be Apple sounds like a disaster in the making.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Swag Off

I went to a trade show last week, wandering around on behalf of a client trying to see whether there was anything of interest. The show was ultra-techie, and was definitely worth the walkthrough, but what really surprised me was the dearth of swag. Have we finally reached a level of trade show maturity - or consciousness about how all this crap is ruining the earth?

Nahhh.  That'll never happen.

Maybe the good stuff was being held back so that you couldn't just dive and grab - you had to actually talk to someone and feign interest in order to get that rubber ducky key chain or lightbulb tension squeeze toy.

In any case, other than a couple of tins of mints, I came away empty-handed. I really don't need any more pens, pads, t-shirts, or ethernet cables, although as usual with a trade show, I'm sure if I'd strolled the exhibit area toward the end of the final day, folks would have been tossing swag out like beads at Mardi Gras. Ain't nobody wants to pack all that junk up.

A couple of the big name companies appeared to be raffling off motorcycles, but I wouldn't know what to do with one if I won it. And, given how trade show drawings typically go, I'm pretty sure that someone walking around with "Marketing Consultant" on her name tag is not exactly going to ride off into the sunset on the grand prize.

Rigging the results is not done universally, however.

I know because one time at Internet World - oh, those were the days of swag - I won a video camera from Global Crossing. Since they were a Genuity competitor, I decided to sit in on their spiel, which included a trivia game. I won for my session - as I recall, I was the only one who knew the name of Cinderella's fairy godmother - and my name got put in the bowl for the "big prize". Which I won.

So, this was actually an equal opportunity drawing - or they just didn't realize that Genuity was a competitor.

Internet World - in "the day" was just insane. Twice a year, NY and LA, and's shooting loot out of cannons at you as you walked by. Nothing good, nothing lasting, of course - although I did wear that t-shirt as a nightie for a good long while - probably well past the demise of LeapFrog. com. (And my apologies if you're still around.)

At a couple of these shows, Hum-Vees were being raffled off.

Genuity wasn't raffling off a Hum-Vee, but at one show, we did give out cool Black Rocket lunch boxes to anyone who sat through our preso. There was nothing that Genuity didn't have in its swage closet: pens, caps, shirts of all kinds, jackets, umbrellas, lava lamps, coffee tables (don't ask), temporary tattoos, lapel pins, statuettes....

The second-to-worst swag I was ever personally associated with was the exploding NaviSite pen. The pens were individually wrapped in plastic, and when I went to open the box, I found that about half of them were already leaking ink. Nice little forget me not: put one of these pens in the pocket of your best shirt, and watch the fun begin!

The absolute worst swag was at Softbridge. We had designed a "demo diskette" that ran on a floppy, but we hadn't managed to get them produced before a show that we were doing. So, we asked people to sign up for a "rain check" if they wanted the diskette. People lust after free anything, and we were getting all kinds of people signing up for the demo diskette. My friend Valerie started asking whether people wanted the demo disk or the blank disk. "Oh, the blank diskette," most of them told us. "Thanks for asking."

I don't believe that I have ever laughed so hard while standing in a trade show booth.

Needless to say, most of that swag fulfillment went unfulfilled.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Leaping Into the Void

Over at MarketingProfs Ted Mininni has a piece on Filling the Soda Void. It's a good summary of efforts to convince kids that milk and water are as much fun to drink as soda.

The tactics being used are all sound, it'll probably be successful, and that is of course a good thing. Except... why do marketers need to come to the rescue and get kids to want healthier drinks?

When it comes to kids, there’s a golden opportunity in the marketplace right now. No doubt about it. Several factors have recently converged to create a “perfect storm,” and that always opens the door to new, unprecedented opportunities.

The perfect storm: Childhood obesity has been steeply rising. Obesity rates have more than tripled in kids aged 6-11 over the past 30 years. Carbonated soda and sugary drink machines are being expelled from schools due to public outcry. Parents are pushing for better options to meet their growing children’s nutritional needs.

It's a funny metaphor, because storms are things that happen to us because of nature, outside of our control, and we have to deal with them. This "storm" is, of course, entirely of human origin: kids want to drink soda because we taught them to. Through marketing.

And what about H20? By brand packaging water in unique, rocket ship shaped 11 ounce bottles, and naming it “Aquapod,” Nestle may have hit on something big.

Nestle is clearly committed to this concept, it has allocated serious resources to the launch of Aquapod. Aquapod’s tag line: “A blast of fun” is being utilized in highly animated advertising and deluging Nickelodeon and other popular kids’ channels with spots.

On the company’s own web site, kids are invited to “Pull here for a blast of fun,” enabling them to see an animated storyline and participate in games.

Aquapod ads are full of fun and action, decrying any idea that drinking water is... well, dull. Aquapod’s packaging has been specifically designed to make drinking water cool, enjoyable and fun. This is clearly a take-it-anywhere package, from the ball park to the beach, school lunches and every other venue where kids used to bring soft drinks. Suddenly, it’s cool to be drinking water!

Great. Now, instead of drinking water from the tap like kids used to, the water can be put in expensive, environmentally questionable packaging and then shipped around (using up fuel) so that it's cool enough to drink. Are you feeling proud of your profession right now?

Now, it's still better that kids drink fun bottled water than fun bottled soda. But let's face it - trying to put the slightest "marketers help kids get healthier" spin on this is just an appalling thing. Perhaps "marketers help undo their damage" would be more apt. And too much excitement about "golden opportunities" makes marketers sound like trial lawyers circling the site of a car crash.

If this were a public service, phase two would be "Take your cool AquaPod bottle and refill it at the kitchen sink!" Somehow I'm not expecting that.

Everyone's professional lives are full of ethical gray areas. When your profession is involved in manufacturing demand - especially among children - it's really worth stopping to think about those gray areas. I realize that others might come to different than conclusions than I have. I just wish I had more sense than they'd actually given it much thought in the first place.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

I Heart NY

I know it always seems like a surprise statement coming from a Bostonian, but I'm one Boston girl who actually does love New York City (and New York State which is, after all, what the logo represents). Having spent a recent long (but still too short) weekend in The City, all I can say is: there's no place quite like it.

And if there's another tourism brand/logo/campaign - whatever you want to call it - that has been more enduring, and is more recognizable (and imitated), than "I Love New York"?

Just look at it.

A simple statement, a simple font, a simple color combination.


I think of all those companies in the 90's who went with the then- popular teal and purple look. Or those who come up with an over-designed, unreadable font. Or some "snappy" message that conveys nothing.

Only to throw it out a few years/months/weeks later.

This one's been around for 30 years. It was designed by Milton Glaser who, well into his seventies, is still going strong. (And, by the way, according to Wikipedia, Glaser did this work pro bono.)

When, as marketers, we find ourselves moving down the path of originality for the sake of originality, down the path of tricky, cute, and "more unique," hold up for a moment and meditate for a New York minute on INY.

Brilliant. Simply brilliant.

Tuesday, September 18, 2007

P.S. Nobody Likes You Very Much

Writing from last week's Conversational Marketing Summit in San Francisco, CNET's Elinor Mills asks (and answers), Want to 'converse' with advertisers? Me neither.

"Conversational Marketing is an exciting new practice that engages rather than dictates, invites rather than demands, and listens as much as talks," the Federated Media Guide to the conference states. "Advertising is becoming a three-way conversation, as marketers join readers and authors online. All three parties seek appropriate principles by which to hold these commercial conversations."

Hold on. Who asked marketers to join readers online? I know blog publishers need to make money, and they do earn revenue off regular old text, video and banner ads. But I'm suspicious when the "conversation" is initiated by the marketer and not the consumer.

And what's this with the slogan of the conference--"Brands are conversations"? No, they aren't.

I can't help but view conversational marketing as a thinly veiled attempt by the ad industry to insinuate itself into the popular social media craze. Calling it a "conversation" makes it sound benign and implies that it is consensual. Sure, I don't mind hearing about discounts on products I buy, and between all the outdoor, print, TV, radio and traditional online advertising, it's a safe bet that I will have heard about new products that I might want.

These are the things that marketers hate to hear, but she's got a point. The hurdles to making "conversational marketing" work are high, and chief one is a simple reality: people don't really welcome commercial speech.

They will put up with it, and even enjoy it, when it's done right. But you are always starting from the assumption that you're a marketer, you're a shill, and people would prefer you go away unless you prove that you're entertaining, useful, and worth paying attention to.

Marketers usually fail that test, and at the risk of sounding pessimistic or even cynical, this is exactly what I expect to happen with conversational marketing. For every success story, when a marketer actually engages consumers this way, I'm betting we'll see 100 failures, when "conversation" is thinly veiled traditional marketing.

Just look at "opt -in email." Some marketers have done an excellent job with it, but consumers tune a lot of it out, because far more marketers define "opting in" as "glancing in our direction once," personalization as "well, the email came to your mailbox, right?" and relevance as "We need to sell these things - what else do you want?"

So allow Mills her skepticism; given the track record of our industry, it's well founded. I hope that she and I are both wrong, but I don't see much reason to expect to be.

Monday, September 17, 2007

When Things Break, Don't Be Cute

There's a trend among Web 2.0 sites (in particular) to be cute when things aren't working. You know what? It's obnoxious. This morning, while doing some research (for a client!) I came across a couple of examples of this.

Here's one from Technorati, where frankly, something's always broken. (Here's an opportunity: create a site like Technorati that actually works and you can kick their butts into oblivion, somebody. Are you listening, Google? Add some features to your blog search and Technorati becomes a Web 2.0 footnote, and nobody will shed a tear.)Ha ha. The Technorati monster. Judging from my experience with the site, the Technorati monster has left the building, bought a ticket to Tahiti, and is sitting on the beach with a nice cocktail laughing his monster ass off at you.

And then this one:

Wow, cute and obtuse. So helpful.

Yes, I know that things break. And I know that I'm using free sites and my expectations should be lower.

But I'd like an error message that tells me what the error is and even better, when I might want to try it again. These messages give me the sense that behind the curtain, there are a bunch of 17 year olds giggling and saying, "OMG, Betty spilled her Diet Coke in the server again!"

No, really, this kind of stuff is the engine of a business revolution. Really. Trust them!

Tagline, you're it!

Many years ago, a marketing consultant proposed that my company dub our products the Final Solution.

I sat there slack jawed, wondering whether this person was completely insane, completely callous, or had just been dozing when they did the chapter on Nazi Germany in World History 101.

I thought of this when I happened to glance at an advertorial for investing in Peru which appeared in a recent Economist.

The header for one of the article's was "Lighting the way ahead." Yes, it was for an energy company, Luz del Sur, so they certainly are lighting the way in Peru. Still, you'd think a company in a country that had been terrorized for years by an organization called "Shining path" could have picked another way to express themselves. (At least they didn't outright say "Luz del Sur: The Shining Path for Peru.)

This triggered some thought about taglines, or corporate mottos, or whatever they're called.

I actually like them. Or, at least, the idea of them.

They may not say all that much about your company or products, but they do provide some insight into how you see yourself. They can be memorable. They look good in ads and/or next to your bare-naked logo.

In any event, it's a warm, late summer/early fall afternoon, so I thought I'd look at a couple of taglines (grabbed from whatever mags I have lying around), just for the heck of it.

Google: Don't be evil. Although it makes me smile a teensy-weensy little bit, I really don't like this one very much. A bit too smug, a bit too faux counter culture. Maybe it's just a bit too Gen-Y for me. (Larry and Sergey: This is your mother, Pollyanna Page-Brin, asking why it couldn't be "Doing good through technology" or "Searching for good." It's not as if I'm asking you to change it to "Be nice.") Mostly, it reminds me of the Grateful Dead's "Mean People Suck," an association that can't possibly be intended.

Accenture: High Performance. Delivered. As long as you know that Accenture is a consultancy, and not, say, a gasoline additive - or whatever it is that STP is or was - this is actually pretty good. I like that period between performance and delivered. Makes the statement nicely emphatic. Having Tiger Woods in the picture certainly helps drive (sorry) the point home, although I do think that TW is getting a wee bit overexposed. (Just don't ask me about the weird little accent mark over the "t" in Accenture. It makes me want to say Ack-sent-TURE. Odd.)

Nokia: Work together. Smarter.There's that period separation again. It must be one of those stylistic things that just sweep through periodically - like the colors blue and brown going together, or the names Emily and Jacob. I still like it, but this doesn't so much do it for me. Yes, it's in an ad about mobile security, so maybe the tag line only refers to that product area. I hope it's not their general tagline, but I'm too lazy to go look.

Fidelity: Smart move. Well, only if you're moving to Fidelity. What about me? I'm already there.


T. Rowe Price: Invest with confidence. Well, not enough to get me to make a move over to T. Rowe Price, however smart that move might be. But it tells me what they do, and how they do it. (Or how they make me about doing it.)

Symantec: Confidence in a connected world. Very nice. Speaks to the world, and Symantec's place in it.

Sony: like. no. other. ARRGGHHHH! The attack of the periods! To me, this doesn't look right or read right. The all lower case doesn't help, either. But mostly it's. the. periods. Like no other use of periods that I've seen. It's a little like naming that kid Jacob Jacob, or Emily Emily, don't you think?

Microsoft. Your potential. Our passion. Is my potential really their passion? Or is making software their passion - which would make sense. Truly, if my potential were really their passion, they'd never have released PowerPoint.

Florida. Innovation Hub of the Americas. Sorry to pick on a state that probably doesn't have a million dollars to spend on coming up with a tagline. (At least for the sake of Floridian tax-payers I hope that's the case.) Yes, I'm sorry, but this one just goes dead in the Gulf of Florida waters for me. Oh, I'm sure that there are all kinds of innovators in Florida. It's a big state. There just have to be. So why is it that the only innovation that comes to mind is the dangling chad......

Well, this one could go on forever.

Got a tagline you love or hate?  Tag. You're it.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Fake Steve on Real Strategy Problems

I started reading The Secret Diary of Steve Jobs because it was a funny parody of the man behind Apple, but I've kept reading it because often skewers the foibles tech industry better than anybody else. If you've ever sat in one of those "here's our new strategy!" meetings at a company that clearly was adrift, as I have, this post is worth a read; I laughed out loud at the chart:

I don't mean to particularly pick on Sun, or even comment on whether this is a fair parody of their recent announcements; it's just that I watched the kind of process that results in this kind of strategy.

It starts with recognition that there's trouble, but nobody seems to quite accept that. Someone has some good ideas about new directions. Somebody points out that there's revenue coming from some older projects that don't fit the new strategy, but you have to talk about them, because there's money. Someone else with the interesting but irrelevant to overall strategy project is politically powerful and so that becomes a bullet point on the PowerPoint slide. (You're summarizing the new strategy in PowerPoint? Oh, you're already in trouble.)

And when all is said and done, nobody really understands the new strategy, and nobody does much differently.

Not that any of this is easy, particularly at a large company. I remember watching the weird double-think in action at one former job, a large international telecom that had decided that it was an internet company, dammit. Everything you did had to be justified in terms of that new direction. If you were getting approval to reprint brochures, you had to fill out a line on a form that explained how this supported the new strategy. If you wanted a travel approval, you had to explain it.

We got very good at inserting something into every document that paid homage to the new strategy, eve when we were doing something that had nothing to do with it (but that might be a smart thing to do).

Changes in strategy, when seriously implemented, often include hard decisions. They also often mean the delicate juggling act of continuing to do things that provide you with cash but that aren't your future, and figuring out how to support those activities without letting them distract you. I have empathy for the people at Sun figuring this stuff out.

But the chart is still awfully funny after reading some of the coverage of Sun's announcements. And awfully familiar.

Friday, September 14, 2007

Will Drive Cleaner Just Cease and Desist?

I was innocently going about my innocent Internet business - reading up on why the Yankees hate Kevin Youkilis; scanning for news on Tom Brady's baby daddy or daddy baby or whatever the right term is; checking out  a right-wing Catholic blog I look at just to drive myself nuts; and, in my spare time, doing some market research for a customer.

Up pops a message from an outfit called "Drive Cleaner", warning me that all the porn sites I was traveling to was going to catch up to me, and I would be in danger of losing my marriage.


Personally, I've been on two porn-ish sites in my life: once, during the Clinton Administration, when I typed in "" rather than ""  The second was when I worked at Genuity (1999-2002) and I was doing my regular, lunch-time check of a site called "f'd company" to see what the latest line was on GENU. I obviously typed the f-word in correctly, but got something else wrong. My screen just exploded with all sorts of X-rated images I had no interest in viewing. I had to unplug my PC to stop the flow.

So, just what porn and adult sites is "Drive Cleaner" warning me about?

No matter.

Hearing from them did drive me to look at their site, where we're warned:

You are Not Safe!

What evidence does your computer have?

Private companies are tracking the ISPs to record your Internet behavior and downloads for evidence. Simply deleting these files does not get rid of the evidence. Many times you are not even aware of the files that get installed by themselves and could compromise your career, your marriage or your overall status quo.

Personally, I'm not concerned about compromising my career, marriage, or "overall status quo"  - whatever that is.  (It will be no surprise to my husband that I do a lot of time-wasting on line. So does he. Let him hang out on Frequent Flyer and prostate info sites, while I graze whatever pops into my mind at the moment. And let Drive Cleaner keep to themselves.)

There are plenty of people with plenty to say about Drive Cleaner's marketing tactic, but PC Hell said it best.

Drive Cleaner uses blatant scare tactics to try to get users to purchase their product. I'm not against using programs such as Drive Cleaner to clean up your computer, but I am against the tactics used to promote it.

Most marketers at some time or another do a bit of FUD (Fear, Uncertainty,and Doubt) marketing. But the "scare tactics" used by Drive Cleaner are odious.

Not to mention that, when I tried to get rid of their pop-up, they dropped something onto my computer that had to be cleaned out by Norton! And they keep dropping it back in. Over and over.(Thanks for that little bit of Computer Transmitted Disease, pal.)

I occasionally clear out the cookies I accumulate in my travels, but I am really and truly not worried about anyone subpoenaing my laptop and examining my drive for "evidence."

Evidence of time wasting, drifting around, and doing more reading about celebrities than I'd like to admit - certainly there'd be plenty of that. I just can't imagine anyone using it against me in any court of law.

I'll take care of my own status quo, thank you.

Drive Cleaner should just cease and desist its obnoxious marketing. All it's gotten me to do is think about buying Window Washer.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Clarity is Everything

The New York Times ran a story about iPhone owners being hit with unexpected data charges after taking their phones outside the US - to the tune of $3,000 in one case. While I'm not overwhelmed with sympathy for anybody here, I do think it's ultimately in AT&T's best interest to have customers not hate them, though they do seem to always be trying to achieve just that. And often clarity about charges is more important to customer satisfaction than the charges themselves.

In some cases, the problem was that when you turn on your iPhone after getting off the plane for your fabulous trip to Paris, it starts checking for email a couple of times an hour - incurring a roaming data charge each time. I would never have thought of that - not having set up an iPhone, I don't know how obvious it is that this is what's going on. Still, it seems that it would be pretty simple to have your phone beep at your and warn you when it finds itself away from its home network, so you could tell it whether it should be continuing to check for mail as if you were in the US.

(As an aside, though, do people really like that feature? I got a Samsung Blackjack this year, and I consciously chose not to use its email capabilities. I want to be able to check that when I want to see my mailbox, and I do that via webmail (through Google, optimized for a mobile device). And when I don't want to look at my email, I want it to leave me alone. The idea of my phone letting me know I have email every ten minutes seems incredibly irritating to me, not to mention a high-speed ticket to becoming a Crackberry sociopath no one can stand to have lunch with.)

Some of the unhappy customers, however, were just upset by how international roaming is priced:

Dave Stolte did that before taking his iPhone with him on a two-week trip to Ireland and England in July. He signed up for a roaming plan, but he said the customer service representative’s explanation of the charges was unclear. His bill was $3,000.

When he was offered a $100 credit, Mr. Stolte said he felt insulted, and he sent letters to the chief executives of AT&T and Apple. The story of his bill quickly spread around the Internet. Before long, he was given a full credit.

“I can’t imagine AT&T would expect all their customers to be technicians and say, ‘O.K., if I go to use Google maps, how many kilobytes am I transferring?’ ” asked Mr. Stolte, a Web designer who lives in Temecula, Calif.

I share his frustration; AT&T's international roaming rates are exorbitant, and the "roaming plans" just give you a small discount that makes them slightly less of a rip-off. And, as his comment points out, the whole model is flawed; most people will have some sense of how many minutes they've talked, but how much data they've downloaded? Who really knows?

AT&T profits from this confusion, of course, unless customers go out of their way to find alternatives. (Because I spent a lot of time in Europe last year, I got my phone unlocked and bought a French prepaid SIM card, giving me a French mobile number and reasonable rates for calling within Europe. And, in fact, for calling home; it was cheaper to call home on my French phone than to put the US SIM back in the phone and use my AT&T account. But it was a pain, and I would happily have paid AT&T a bit more than I wound up paying to Orange to keep recharging my account for the benefit of simply using my own phone and having my own US number. Not to mention not having to navigate a French voicemail system.

So there's AT&T's approach, which is make pricing as unclear as possible so that customers wind up paying you more than they thought they would - minus, of course, the refunds you give to the loudest complainers who get their story picked up on the web. But what if they tried the alternate approach - created an international package that customers could easily sign up for, perhaps for just a month for a planned trip, that might not be the best bargain but that would let them head overseas knowing what using the phone would cost them?

I think you'd have happy customers, and until other carriers followed suit you'd have a chance to become the preferred mobile carrier of the traveling set. Your customers would be happy with you and appreciate the simple billing. And I'm sure you could price it to be profitable - perhaps not as profitable per minute as the "confuse 'em and reach for the wallet" strategy, of course. But looking at the lifetime value of customers, perhaps it would actually be a better for the bottom line, as well.

I'm not holding my breath; AT&T's merely the worst offender in an industry where opaque billing practices and confusion charges are written into corporate DNA. But perhaps some upstart will come along and upset the mobile telecom balance, to the benefit of traveling Americans.

Wednesday, September 12, 2007

SEO: There's no such thing as an original idea

The other day, I was talking to a client about doing some Google Ad Words, and the general topic of driving traffic to our site came up.

The company in question has B2B software as service in a not particularly scintillating business area. The application is good, it solves a real problem, but it's not all that exciting. And the market for it is just getting made, so a lot of folks don't even know they need it yet.

"I know," I told my client, "Let's put some stuff out there that associates us with what people are really searching for on the web. It may not drive business, but it will sure drive traffic."

We sat there for a couple of minutes coming up with our traffic-driving headlines:

"Alberto Gonzales may join Acme Software."

"Lindsay Lohan enters rehab; Acme announces new product."

"Is Jessica Simpson endorsing Acme Software?"

"Kevin Federline refuses custody of Acme Software release."

Well, a week or so ago, along with every other politically minded person in the country with a few idle minutes and an interest in what's new, I googled "Larry Craig."

And I thought I was being so original...

Off to the right, didn't one of the little ad word ads pop up with the name "Larry Craig" and some security software.

Can there really be something there?

So I clicked through.

I refuse to give them the benefit of the clickthrough by passing on their name and number, but there was indeed a real company with a real product offer behind the ad. Nothing to do with Larry Craig, of course, but I'll be curious to see what other "names in the news" these guys use.

Will they get any business out of this tactic?

I'm guessing that they will.

If only a fraction of the gazillion folks who searched for Larry Craig last week check them out, and only a fraction of them make a purchase, well...that ad word more than paid for itself.

My client will not, of course, be doing this. It really does make the company doing it look more than a little stupid.

But I am thinking of how we could tie current events in our market space - and there do tend to be some - to an ad word campaign. It just won't be current events of the Hollywood or D.C. variety.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Poetry-Slam PowerPoint

From Daniel Pink, a short article on pecha-kucha, an approach to PowerPoint created by two architects in Tokyo. The idea is simple: Use 20 slides. Each one can be displayed for 20 seconds. That's all. Make your point in 6 minutes and 40 seconds, and you're done.

Now, in business settings this isn't always possible. But we've all sat through 40-slide, 1.5 hour presentations that could have been shorter. An explicit goal like the ideal presentation is less than seven minutes long can create an incentive to be as efficient with time and images as possible.

From Pink's article:

Let us now bullet-point our praise for Mark Dytham and Astrid Klein, two Tokyo-based architects who have turned PowerPoint, that fixture of cubicle life, into both art form and competitive sport. Their innovation, dubbed pecha-kucha (Japanese for "chatter"), applies a simple set of rules to presentations: exactly 20 slides displayed for 20 seconds each. That's it. Say what you need to say in six minutes and 40 seconds of exquisitely matched words and images and then sit the hell down. The result, in the hands of masters of the form, combines business meeting and poetry slam to transform corporate cliché into surprisingly compelling beat-the-clock performance art.

It's an intriguing idea, and it's fun to see PowerPoint used as a vehicle for art and performance instead of sedating business audiences into compliance. While there are good reasons that many presentations are longer than this, I do think that almost every presentation has buried within in a short summary designed to persuade that's what you'd show the big boss who walks into the meeting and says, "I have ten minutes. What's up?"

Extract that from your presentation and lead with it, then use the rest to elaborate for the people who want more details, and you might be more able to persuade.

There's more about pecha-kucha in Tokyo, as well as a list of other cities with pecha-kucha nights, here.

Monday, September 10, 2007

NFL Logos: the good, the bad, the truly awful

Recently, I've been working with a client on a logo project. They're replacing a home-made (or, as restaurant menus now seem to call it "house-made"), type-only logo with something that's a lot sharper and more interesting. They now look more like a "real" company, with a logo that's equivalent to those of their competition.

Logos aren't the be-all and end-all, but they're important. If you're selling in Fortune 1000 firms, having a professionally wrought logo certainly makes you look more like an established player.

So logos have been on my mind lately.

And although I'm not a huge football fan, football's been on my mind, too.

That's because the other night I caught a bit of a Patriots' pre-season game, and the announcers mentioned that their next televised game was of the Oakland Raiders.

Now if ever there were a terrible logo, this has got to be it.

Maybe there's something about the pirate motif. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have an awful logo, too. So, for that matter, do the Portland Pirates in the American Hockey League.

(Block those pirate logos! Block those pirate logos!)

A lot of the NFL logos are kind of blah, but the highest marks for blah have to go to the Cleveland Browns. When the earlier edition of the Browns fled to Baltimore to become the Ravens, did they decide to blah-out, or was their logo always this dull? Surely, Browns fans deserve better than this.

Type-only logo props go the New York Giants. Very nice. (I'd give second place to the Bengals.)

The only really dopey animal-based logo is Miami. Let's face it, a dolphin in a football helmet is just plain lame. Most of the animal motif logos are pretty good - if predictable.
The Seattle Seahawks do a nice job introducing a totem-pole look that ties to their region. The Atlanta Falcons logo is pretty sharp. But my two favorites have to be the Houston Texans and the Buffalo Bills. Very nice design - The Bills are a little old-fashioned, the Texans are happenin' - although a Texan is not synonymous with a head of cattle, is it?

So, play ball - or whatever the operative word is in football.

As for the home-town team, I'm not wild about the Patriots spaceman-Elvis look, but I'd put it in the middle of the pack in terms of logo design. And as for me, interesting as these logos are, I plan to be avidly watching baseball until the end of October, or the first of November or whenever the World Series is going to end this year. Then maybe there'll be time to actually watch a football game.

Saturday, September 08, 2007

Social Media Q&A

If the array of new social media sites leaves you dizzy - and, more importantly, thining, "OK, how does this fit into my marketing mix" - have a look at this MarketingProfs Q&A with Josh Hallett of Hyku. Josh is one of the smart people in social media, who avoids getting so caught up the excitement that he loses track of business reality. The focus of the piece is blogging, but if you're just getting going with social media, that's where you probably want to start.

(It's Saturday after a trying week, folks, that's all I've got!)

Friday, September 07, 2007

Get Rich Quick Spam

I got my first text message spam the other day.

Thanks for approving that loan and everything, but I didn't really ask you to. And, P.S., I do not love you, Mike. Never have, never will.  (Naturally, when I called the number just to see what the name of this jerk-of-a-company was, there was no answer.)

I hope I don't get too many more of these, because the text messages will cost me money. Talk about thanks but no thanks.

At least e-mail spams are free to the send-ee.

Which leads me to a recent e-mail spam scam that I just got, letting me know that I can "make money with just a dollar."

This is, of course, a chain letter of the sorts that circulated when I was a kid and which, we were told, were mortally sinful to participate in. Well, maybe not mortally sinful, but sinfully stupid - if you thought you were going to get anything out of it. The ones I got as a kid, however, did not typically involve money - they just involved "passing the chain on" or suffering some dire consequence or ill luck. I never passed any of them on. Cursed by my name, I was a chain-breaker then and I am now.

What I'm passing on these days is the chance to make "almost $100,000 dollars in a month," by sending a buck to the five names on my list, taking number one off, and adding my name to the bottom.

So, apologies to "R Fields of Val Paraiso IN" and "D Fields of Mulga AL." Any relation? I'm sure they are.  My apologies, too, to the Passmores - C & D - of Bessemer, Alabama. I wonder if Bessemer is anywhere near Mulga. I'll have to check my map.

No, none of you will be making a dime off of my largesse, let alone a dollar.

Unlike the sender, you will not make "enough to pay for college instead of dancing."

I will not be quickly compiling "a mailing list and then selling it to a company for their mailing list. (When you receive you dollar add that name and address to your mailing list and once you get about 100 names, you can search for companies willing to buy them."

Well, as a marketer, I have sure purchased some mailing lists that didn't turn out to be worth a damn.

But is there a marketer on the face of the earth that is so brain-dead that they'll purchase a 100 names begotten by a chain letter?

Thursday, September 06, 2007

Anecdotes vs Action Items

Over at Church of the Customer Blog, Jackie Huba writes about Capt. Denny Flanagan, the United Airlines pilot who makes a great impression on his passengers. Jackie runs through some of the fantastic personal touches Flanagan adds to his flights, and Flanagan explains:

"I just treat everyone like it's the first flight they've ever flown," the very smart captain told the WSJ in a highly valuable front-page story. "The customer deserves a good travel experience."

With airline service at frustratingly low levels, Flanagan's work easily creates word of mouth during and after the flight.

I'm sure it does, and I'd love Flanagan to the pilot on my next flight. (I live in Houston and am always on Continental, so it's not going to happen. I should also note that I am generally pretty pleased with the value and experience I get as a frequent Continental passenger.)

The post is titled "How to Create a WOM-Worthy Airline" (WOM=Word of Mouth) and that's where I think things get a little rocky. Flanagan is definitely creating a WOM-worthy flight experience for his passengers. The tougher nut to crack, though, is how you make that part of the overall airline experience.

The reason why Capt. Flanagan is a rogue is because his work isn't the result of formal training. I'll bet his techniques make some colleagues uneasy or nervous. Even United's "Chief Customer Officer" isn't quite sure what to do with him other than "hope" Flanagan's techniques rub off on other pilots.

Flanagan is, clearly, a natural at this. The problem is, many others aren't. When his flight is delayed or diverted, Flanagan orders up McDonald's burgers and fries for everybody. So could United make that a standard procedure?

Here's how I see it playing out: at first people think it's nice. Then on a really terrible day, the burgers are deposited in the gate area by a stressed-out gate agent whose attitude screams, "Here are your goddamn burgers, I want to go home." As this becomes routine, passengers start to say, "But I'm a vegan!" At some point everyone's used to it, it's meaningless, the burgers are cold half the time, and then somebody in finance realized that you can save a little bit by cutting the burgers.

Maybe I'm a cynic. I think what Flanagan does is awesome, and certainly any airline should be looking someone who's a complete outlier and figuring out how to make those touches part of their regular experience.

But turning the instincts of a customer-oriented maverick like Flanagan into corporate policy - making what happens on his flights more than great anecdotes about how it should be, but how things really are - is not a simple process.

Jackie has a great suggestion:

If I were in charge of United for a day (a scary thought, I know), I would make Flanagan's techniques part of a pilot's regular training schedule. I would invite Flanagan to design the course and teach the first class.

And to cement my reputation as a great, one-day CEO, I'd appoint Flanagan the Chief Customer Officer after he reaches mandatory retirement age for flying.

That could certainly unleash the latent customer-friendly person lurking within some of the employees. I'm not sure how much it would change the culture, though. I would love to see some case studies of companies who have successfully harnessed the power of a maverick like Flanagan.


One little nit - Jackie mentions Southwest as an example of an airline that's done well through word of mouth. Well... I'm not so sure about that. They do indeed have good word of mouth. It also helps, though, that they are the official bus system of Texas - our state doesn't really invest in any kind of transportation infrastructure that's not a highway, preferably privatized and with tolls, so Southwest has a profitable niche running business travelers between Houston, Dallas, Austin, San Antonio, Laredo, Midland, Odessa, and so on - places bigger airlines don't pay attention to. (If there was ever a train between Houston and Dallas - yes, that's right, you cannot get on a train in either city and step off at the other end without going to San Antonio and spending 12 hours to go 240 miles - I think Southwest would see a lot passengers leave. Their small airport niche is key - they're the best way to get from Houston Hobby to Dallas Love Field, instead of dealing with the giant airports in far-flung suburbs. And their easy, no-fee flight change policy is a godsend to anybody thinking their plans might change.

The word of mouth certainly helps, but there are a lot of factors tied to nuts and bolts travel requirements that I think mean they'd do pretty well even if they stuck needles in their customers' eyes.

Wednesday, September 05, 2007

Just be thankful you don't work for Mattel

Not often, but every once in a while, I've felt a little career twinge of regret that I never got any experience doing consumer marketing.

I never walked into anyone's house and found "my" product on the coffee table or on the shelf. Never actually used any of the products I've marketed. Never saw people line up in the cold and dark to get a chance to buy any of "my" stuff. Never heard anyone hum "my" jingle. (That would have been the day.)

No, I never had anything to do with the products that become the object of desire, that make anyone's heart go pitter-pat.

Just as well.

With another recall of lead-coated toys scheduled for today, I sure wouldn't want to be in marketing at Mattel today.

Or anywhere at Mattel, for that matter.

How do you spin this one up?

For the third - or is it fourth? - time since the beginning of August, they've had to come forth and announce that certain of their toys may pose some danger to kids if the kids actually put the toys in their mouths. Not that this happens very often.....

One of the toys being recalled is something called the Bongo Band set, which carries the words "It's a Big, Big World".

It may be a big, big world, but it must feel small, small for Mattel - nowhere to run, nowhere to ride.

So what do Mattel marketers do this Christmas season?

  • Keep up their unrelenting, super-saturation ads aimed at kids?
  • Make sure that they label all the toys they've tested and found safe - with prominent LABELs for the readers in the family?
  • Offer up a ton of promotions to get people to buy Mattel and Fisher Price?
  • Ignore it, it will go away.

Whatever they're going to be doing, I'm sure that they're already feverishly cooking it on on their Easy Bake Ovens.

If you look at Mattel's web site today, you won't see their toys featured very prominently. It's all about the Voluntary Recall, corporate philanthropy, and good global citizenship, including their manufacturing principles. It's certainly clear that they put a lot of time and effort into making safe products, but with all of today's arm's length from an arm's length manufacturing, they'll just have to try harder.

Maybe they need to put a little more time and effort - and dollars - into production, and a little less into marketing to two year olds.

No twinges today about never having done any consumer marketing. "My" products may not have been very exciting, and they certainly weren't household words, but no kid ever got brain damage by putting one of them in his mouth.

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Quechup, 57 Varieties of Bad

By now you might have heard about the unpleasant surprise people had over the last few days when they checked out Quechup, a new social networking site which looks like it brings nothing new to the table - the same basic features as every other site, warmed over with a dating-oriented sauce applied. Yawn. But it turns out that there is something new: if you do the typical networking site action of letting it scan your address book to see if people you know are using it, it also - without asking - sends a "personal invitation" to join the site to all of them, in your name.

Without asking. Hope your mom is interested in social networking!

Here's a weekend warning about it from Dwight Silverman at the Houston Chronicle.

But I can't help but think that while what Quechup is doing is sleazy and inappropriate - period - it's a form of sleazy and inappropriate that relies on bad judgment by users to work. Moreover, it's a kind of bad judgment that speaks directly to an issue with online social networking in general.

(First, though... why would you let a site you've known for minutes look at your address book? Isn't that highly personal and personally valuable information? Sorry, no web site gets to scan that in my world. What are people thinking?)

My address book (and, I suspect, yours) contains an awful lot of people, and most of them are people I'd never look for or invite to a social networking site. My insurance agent? The guy who scoops dog poop off the lawn for me? My cleaning lady? My parents? Somebody I worked with five years ago and haven't exchanged more than two emails with since? I don't think so.

We've all gotten the spamvitations - from people we know (maybe) but people we would never think would approach us to say, "Hey, John, I think you'd really find this site useful." We know what they're doing; they've uploaded an address book to LinkedIn or some other networking site and said, "Invite everybody!" Because it sure is nice to look at the screen and see that you have 1.567 connections. Even if only 15 of them are people you'd really ask for anything.

When I get one of those obviously canned invitations, I don't think, "Well, if Frank thinks this is good, I should check it out." I think, "Whatever," and delete it.

Now, if Frank sent me a real email and said, "Hey John, long time no talk, but I thought of you when I found this online service because..." I'd stop and read it, I might check out the site, and I also might re-connect with Frank.

That called networking. Sending everyone in your address book an invitation is not.

So yes, Quechup did a very bad thing, but it required users to do something not terribly useful in order to work.

Trust is the big issue in these networks. All of your connections are not equal, and some are barely connections. And if you want people to trust you, you need to use your ability to recommend and communicate wisey - so when people hear from you, it's worth something.

Otherwise you'll have thousands of "friends" and "contacts," but you won't actually have a network.

Monday, September 03, 2007

Labor Day, 2007

Labor Day, and this Opinionated Marketer is taking the day off.

We may not make the products out there, but we do have a lot to do with getting the word out about them, and - in general - making those products easier to buy and easier to sell.  So we deserve a day off.

Back to marketing tomorrow.

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Escaping Physical Reality

This article about laptops and other gadgets at meetings brought up so many conflicting thoughts. On the one hand, we've all sat in meetings where someone seemed more engaged in what was happening on their laptop screen than in the room - and that's not just rude, it's unproductive. On the other hand, we've all been in meetings so tedious and pointless that having such as escape is a welcome thing.

Dean Hachamovitch raises some good points about he benefits of being connected during a meeting - somebody can look something up, send a quick email with a question to someone that might get answered during the course of the meeting, and so on. On the other hand, he raises some issues that I've seen happen:

Laptops in meetings can be discouraging if the most senior people in the room are frequently looking down at their laptops or, worse yet, typing for an extended time.

That reminded me of a meeting from my dot com days, in which a senior VP sat in the room thoroughly engaged in IM, chuckling, typing responses, and clearly was only with us in body, not mind. It was horribly inappropriate, and noticed by everyone in the room (including people many levels down the org chart), who were probably thinking - as I was - "if this meeting is that pointless, why are we all here?" It didn't help that she was a VP of Big Abstract Thoughts or something like that, and nobody was really sure what she did.

And of course laptops in meetings are just one manifestation of a larger trend, one that makes me nuts - the people who live in another dimension. The guy in front of you in line at Starbucks who's engrossed in his phone call while the person behind the counter says, "Sir? Sir? Can I help you, Sir?" The person at the grocery store whose cart is blocking your far and who is furiously texting as you keep repeating, "excuse me" and trying to wriggle past. The students in the lecture hall who are busy IMing and texting one another and the lecturer speaks into the great emptiness where there bodies are stored. And now, of course, the Twitterers twittering about what a great time they're having hanging out with somebody (while said somebody, I suppose, either sits waiting for them to look up from their mobile phones or is also busy twittering someone else about how much fun it is to breathe the same air as the others while doing something else).

Maybe I'm hopelessly forty-plus here, but I hate it, all of it. If I am going to have a meeting, it's because I think we should sit and talk about something. If someone says, "Hey, I think I have an email about that, let me check," and turns to her laptop, that's great. If it's an electronic engagement going on, then I'm inclined to say, "Should we reschedule?"

We all spend so much of our day looking at the screen connecting with each other electronically. When we decide to actually have meetings, we should make sure that there is a reason - and that the reason is valuable enough for us all to turn away from the screen, re-enter our corporeal bodies, and pay attention to the people around us.

I am on the board of a non-profit, and our monthly meetings being with the president reminding us to turn our cell phones off or to silent. We then spend an hour or so talking about all the business at hand. It's old fashioned, utterly 20th century, and quite refreshing.