Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Why Not Charge The Customer?

It was recently reported that Twitter is progressing on its plans to launch advertisements in users' feeds. According to Twitter executive Sean Garret, Twitter has "been talking about Promoted Tweets in the timeline since we launched Promoted Tweets.” And who can really blame them? Something has to keep the lights on at the social network that's home to more than 300 million users. But maybe there is another way to go about making money.

Advertising appears to be the automatic default for monetizing social sites and content-related businesses on the internet; however, I believe that in most cases executing such programs dramatically lowers the users' experience. Perhaps they should approach the problem in a different way, such as charging people who truly value the service for the right to use it.

When a customer is willing to pay for a product or service, they have decided that it has real value to them. It's worth both their time and money, which is always more difficult to part ways with. Oddly enough, a lot of startups have the opposite mindset. They make the service free and completely devalue its worth in order to grow it fast (and flip the company). But this short-term thinking creates a long-term problem. Therefore, paying for Facebook, Twitter, or even the news feels absurd because these organizations have been telling us all along that they provide nothing of value. In the end, the startups bank billions of dollars and then the real problem kicks in when someone is actually charged with making real money.

Instead of trying to reinvent a broken wheel, perhaps marketers should try to improve the user experience even more, giving the services a greater value that they can sell to consumers. Consider the examples of HBO, Sirius, and Pandora Radio as companies who have taken this different approach to their brand's value. Would you consider it worth paying a premium for online news if it respected your time and attention by getting rid of annoying advertisements, stupid keyword links, filtering out irrelevant junk stories, and exceeding today's current standard of news distributors?

Lastly, it may just be me, but I believe this is a much easier and realistic task for marketers to accomplish. It's obvious marketers have become very good at selling premium values for products and services to consumers despite the existence of cheaper alternatives. However, it's becoming just as obvious that marketers are not good at hiding the fact that a product or service has little to no value at all.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Customers Have Credibility. Crowds Don't.

Perhaps you heard, but McDonald's does not charge African-American customers more for their hamburgers. The fast food giant got stuck in the crosshairs of the latest internet firestorm and was forced to repeatedly remind people of this fact through its social media outlets and official press releases that silly sign was a fake. A fake, got it?

I wonder how many "you cannot be seriously asking this" tweets the flacks and social media types at McDonald's had to send out before they reached the most extreme heights of annoyance. Although McDonald's garnered a lot of media praise from the geeks who follow that stuff, siting this as a classic case of how social tools are effective at responding to crisis swiftly and directly. Although, I would offer this counterpoint. I believe that the McDonald's situation is a textbook example for exactly the opposite argument - social media contributes to creating such silliness as much as it's a useful communications tool.

If McDonald's spent even a single minute of their time dealing with upset internet crowds, then it was at least a minute too long. However, not only did McDonald's turn to social media in the wake of it's internet buzz, they turn to it everyday. Companies listen. They monitor sites daily to see what people are saying about them. I believe this is just as wasteful.

I wonder how often they learn something new monitoring Twitter and Facebook. Does monitoring the activity on the internet (and the opinions surrounding their brand) really tell them something they couldn't deduce themselves? Probably not. I'd argue that it's highly likely that the thoughts of consumers will reflect that of its employees. Walk into any workplace meeting. If the employees are visually excited to be at work then it's likely customers will feel the same about spending money there.

Secondly, how does listening to disenchanted customers and responding in an underwhelming manner actually solve the issue at hand? Sure, social media can help in the discovery phase; however, the real work should be directed at resolving the issue that caused the complaint and not just acknowledging it.

Finally, I seriously wonder if a brand can be severely damaged by someone or something which has zero credibility itself. Sure, despite its silliness, there were pockets of people took the altered photo for it's face value. Yet, if the technology is as powerful as it's claimed to be, viral topics become become discussed away from the web. Therefore, shouldn't word spread about how the picture was doctored just as fast?

The notion that brands should constantly listen to and respond to the snap judgments of anonymous crowds is partially responsible for creating these ridiculous weekly internet dust ups. Meanwhile, marketers place little emphasis on preventing even the smallest varieties from occurring in the first place.

This blog post first appeared in a slightly different form on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog.

Saturday, June 18, 2011

The Mentality of a Spammer

Well, since I was talking about hockey, here's another one.

Just minutes after the Boston Bruins finished off the Vancouver Canucks in seven games in the Stanley Cup Finals, I received two emails inviting me to buy Bruins championship memorabilia. The team had barely skated off the ice with the cup.

The organizations that sent the spam, the NHL and NBC Sports, clearly don't know my tastes. Or they don't care. If they did, they would know my distaste for the Bruins? They possess the mentality of a spammer.

They're not alone. I try to avoid it, but I too am just as guilty of it. While spam is synonymous with email, the practice of spamming our networks with an impersonal and irrelevant is ingrained in the culture of social media.

The low social acceptability standard that exists within social media has made us even more indifferent to the mindset of people receiving the message as well as what is the best manner to communicate that message.

Consequently, our filters get stronger. More noise means more gets blocked. And there is less attention that our audience can give for everything - even for the truly relevant and important stuff.

Our instincts to spam our stronger than ever. The technology makes it easy to do and it's become more a socially accepted practice. It takes more work to be personal and relevant - but the extra work will be worth it to your brand.

Help me fight my spammer's mentality. If you believe reading this blog is worth your attention, please subscribe by clicking on the right side of the page.

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Marketing Sense is (un) Common

I'll come right out and say it; people that believe "marketing" is simply common sense stuff are dead wrong. Truly, marketing is a very touchy and counter intuitive discipline. However, it's one that is constantly buried under misinformation and misunderstandings, which lead to misinformed opinions like those which "common sense crowd" hold. Worse yet, they lead to misguided decisions.

I believe that this condition has greatly contributed to a lot of the turmoil that the National Hockey League is currently experiencing. Although the NHL is often praised (and deservedly so) for being a forward-thinking marketers, some critics would argue that its problems are rooted in a decision that was made deep in its past. That decision was to greatly expand the league and to go south and west in order to do so. "Sun Belt Expansion" is phrase strong enough to make die-hard hockey fans from the Canada and the northern United States shiver with cold disgust. For the commissioner who has repeatedly denied it's very existence, the three words likely make his skin crawl as well.

It has been the league's official party line that there was never any direct efforts to expand into the sunny south. Regardless of the league's intentions, arguing over semantics is an absolutely pointless endeavor. Reality tells the only story that matters.

The origins of the sun-soaked expansion plans can be traced to, who else, consultants. A long time ago, the league hired some big name consultancy from New Jersey to analyze the league's business. They drew up what is known as the NHL's "Vision for the 90's." Outlined in the business blueprint is the impetus to expand the league to 30 teams by the end of the decade while making no mention of any specific locals. However, the "vision" plan would recommend expansion into cities that met two rather dumb qualifications; they new markets had to have a strong urban center as well as have municipalities willing to pick up the bill for owners to build new arenas.

Whether or not this implicates expansion into strictly sunny metros, I find it difficult to argue that those two qualifications didn't play right into there hands. What northern city possessed a "strong urban center" without already possessing a hockey team? ... Furthermore, is it making a giant leap to go from "strong urban center" to "growing urban center?" I don't think so. Therefore, anyone with a minor grasp on the population dynamic of America, which had begun shifting south 30 years before the consultants made their recommendation, could decipher what the Vision for the 90's was calling for.

So, logically, the NHL picked up and followed the people who were going south in order to put their product in bigger markets that were growing faster. It's common sense marketing, right?

Or maybe not. Oddly absent from the Vision for the 90's qualifications is a fan base that was thirsty for the game hockey. They neglected that one - instead choosing to force it. Perhaps the NHL was trying to capitalize on the masses of northerners migrating to the south. Although, if brand loyalty is taken into account, fans of those cities aren't as likely to adopt a new team.

Common sensers would argue to market to the biggest group of people; however, marketing sense tells us to target the right group. For the NHL, southerns just aren't that group. The south has unique culture and traditions which don't fit well with the NHL, relegating the sport to oddball status. That's too big of a hurdle for any marketer. In the culture of many northern cities, hockey was already a tradition; and fitting with the culture, where an important custom is they're used to going inside when the weather gets cold.

It's marketing sense that tells us to go for a smaller market and be the only show in town, rather than fight for attention among a larger group. This is the strategy used by Sam Walton, who created the biggest retailer in the world. He don't open his stores in Manhattan. Instead he chose less populated areas, and to be the only store like it for hundreds of miles.

That may finally be the strategy of the NHL again. After struggling for 12 seasons in Atlanta, the franchise is being relocated to the much smaller (and colder) Winnipeg, Manitoba. Interestingly, within 72 hours of tickets being offered, the small town had bought more tickets than the Thrashers would sell all season.

That, along with unending bankruptcy saga of the a hockey franchise in Phoenix Arizona, is providing a bit of vindication to the critics of Sun Belt expansion as well as those who believe in old fashion marketing sensibilities.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

P&G Makes Second Attempt at Social Sales

Procter & Gamble wants to sell its consumer goods through Facebook. According to AdAge, the consumer goods company is calling it "social network selling" and they believe that it can "accelerate their e-commerce growth," an area they aren't particularly known for. That may be for good reason, however. This is P&G's second attempt at trying to convert the social media outlet into a sales channel. The first one failed because of internal concerns of alienating their retail partners as well as technical issues with their product fulfillment partner, Amazon, creating a "poor user experience."

The second time around, they believe they have corrected all the pitfalls. Since its relaunch, their own ecommerce site handles fulfillment. Meanwhile, P&G is working with their traditional retail partners like Walmart to join in the effort as alternatives for the consumer to choose from. While P&G may have corrected the technical problems with its ecommerce initiative on Facebook, I don't believe they corrected the real issue that caused it to fail. There are fundamental problems with the strategy of selling via Facebook commerce, the true reason for its failure.

A lot of it has to do with how marketers frame their challenges. My guess is, the marketers at P&G began with the problem of how the company can leverage the social media platform to drive sales further. However, the real questions that needed to answered are: What benefit does the new channel give to the customer? Why go to Facebook for my P&G stuff and go elsewhere to buy everything all at once? Especially since "elsewhere" is a place many people already buy that stuff at anyhow? But Facebook is not that place. It was built for social stuff and has always been driven by things like party pictures and relationship statuses, not shopping carts and order confirmations.

Whether marketers like it or not, the true social experiences are going to continue to be the reason for the new media, which is a fact that isn't going to change anytime soon. Facebook commerce might as well be a square peg going into a round hole.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

How I Know My Bank Doesn't Care

At my youthful age of 26, I have closed three bank accounts out of frustration, anger, or flat-out indifference. I learned long ago on that my bank doesn't care about me; at least not to the degree that June Gregg's bank cares for her. Gregg, a 100-year-old woman from Chillicothe, Ohio, has had the same savings account since her birth, when her father opened it for her and deposited $6.11. Without question, Gregg's story says a lot about her brand loyalty to her bank; she's also been very blessed to live a long enough life to accomplish such an interesting feat. Yet, I cannot help but wonder if there is a marketing lesson somewhere within our very different banking habits.

After reflecting on our stories, I think that lesson to learn is that banks don't care about people. They're inherently incapable of it. Every single one. In fact, every corporation is. The reason for this? They actually cannot because they don't really exist. But what does exist are a group of people, the actual guts of a corporation, who are very capable of caring. Not surprisingly, I couldn't give you the name of one person at my bank; however I'd bet that June Gregg could if asked. They cared.

Only real humans are capable of being accountable and working hard to deliver happiness to their customers while getting the most out of their jobs. But, if it sounds so easy, why doesn't everyone love their bank or their financial planner or their mechanic like June does her bank?

I think the reason it's difficult for workers to be caring is because we often don't work like humans should. Punch that clock and we sometimes become a different species. I think it comes from a combination of settling for less and being forced to at the same time. Some "people inc." settle into a pattern of manuals, standard protocols, hierarchies, timesheets, departments, seminars, passwords, fineprint, efficiency methods, and logistical processes, thus making life way more difficult than they need to be and also less enjoyable.

For a brand to actually care, it must hire people that do. Even harder, it must let them behave, and subsequently care, as a human would.

This post also appeared on Talent Zoo Media's Beneath the Brand blog. Also, please enjoy some bonus bank brand content below. It's an alexander-branding.com exclusive!

Without question, my nearly four-year "relationship" with Chase bank has included some tumultuous moments. They main reason I haven't left them is probably that I'm close to indifferent at this point. I guess I like them enough to keep them around because their is a branch close to my house.

Regardless, I recently read an article that demonstrates the degree to which Chase is out of touch with their consumers. In an article published on AdAge.com, the CEO of Chase's consumer bank Ryan McInerney said of their new title sponsorship with Madison Square Garden, "This whole partnership is really about our customers," and he added that a goal of Chase bank is to "continuing to provide our customers preferred access to events and unique experiences."

Really, "access to events" is a goal of my bank? Okay, I refuse to actually believe that access to events at MSG is a mission of Chase bank. However, I do think the ridiculousness of that quote makes a strong statement about the real value of a sponsorship and naming rights as part of their marketing mix. Is that really the only thing that the CEO can muster about it's value to the brand for industry trade news? Well, people seem to like it, so we don't mind writing the huge check and hanging our name on everything. Does that really make people better of Chase?

Please use the comments section to actually tell these banks what they could really do to make you happier or how they could connect with a customer better?

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Pay Per Tweet?

If you had to pay to tweet or use Facebook, would your brand still use them? If not, what does that say about the value of the service?

But perhaps your message does have some real value to it. The unfortunate part of a free medium is that it will likely alter how people perceive its value because of the other noise they attract.