Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Who Wouldn't Want A Tax Break?

While watching football on Thanksgiving Day, I was surprised by a commercial promoting small businesses in my beloved home of New York State.  The commercial even features a cameo from a regional western New York and personal favorite, Perry's Ice Cream.

Coming from New York State, I've been there to witness firsthand the gradual deportation of jobs and businesses, particularly from the northern and western parts of the Empire State.  So, I was delighted to see a national campaign promoting business growth in my home state.  However, as a marketer, I wonder if the message of incentives and tax breaks is the right one?

Most people think tax breaks are a great thing.  And in an ad directed at businesses for whom most of the other 49 states are also competing for their relocation, touting tax breaks will make New York more appealing, right?

Perhaps.  But I would argue not.  By saying that New York is offering business tax breaks is not to say that taxes are low in New York.  In fact, what they're actually communicating is the opposite message - that taxes are so high in New York that they have to incentivize businesses with special breaks.  Similar to a store running a sale, where the intention is to showcase the items, the message that's received is that no one wanted the stuff earlier.

Unfortunately, publicizing tax breaks to lure businesses to New York is mistakenly communicating the story that the overall economic climate of the state is difficult.  Instead of trying to obfuscate its tax reputation, the ad should promote why the state is actually good for business.

The entire point of the ad should be to explain what will make a business more successful in New York than anywhere else.  Obviously, simple tax breaks isn't it.    

An advertisement that answered this question would make a far more persuasive case for New York State.

One final thought, am I wrong to think that granting special tax breaks for some will only raise taxes on others?

Friday, November 23, 2012

The Complaint Department

I recently purchased a gift for my father's birthday.  The gift was a hard-to-find barbeque sauce that he had really enjoyed once but couldn't find in any grocery store.  So I looked it up and found it at an online food store. Or at least I thought so. What I actually found was a different variety that is made by same company; however, the picture they use in the product listing is for the sauce that I was looking for.  It was through a Google search that I found this similar but ultimately incorrect listing.   

It wasn't until weeks after my father's birthday that he told me I got the wrong sauce.  I contacted the company to share my experience but fully aware that there was likely little they could do.  Still, I wanted them to know I was thrown off by the incorrect picture and possibly get help locating the correct sauce.  I sent this email over a week ago and still have not heard back.

Naturally, any customer would be offended if any issue they care about is disregarded.  Initially, my feelings toward the store were not negative - I too made an error not reading carefully enough. But they certainly are now.

The company had a chance to make a positive impression out of a less than positive first experience and yet they didn't take it. 

Companies don't always get that opportunity either.  Although customer service can often feel like the complaint department, customers don't always give them the opportunity to right a wrong because it's in our nature to silently walk away from the problem.

Despite knowing this, most businesses strangely never take the opportunity to follow up with their customers, instead choosing to dedicate significant resources to passive service departments that wind up stalling/ignoring/pushing back on customer complaints.  This becomes instinctual when service agents must endure a beating from angry customers all day.  Yet, most companies refuse to seek out feedback from customers, possibly because they're afraid of generating more complaints.

Oddly enough, the practice of following up with a customer will immediately alter their feelings toward you in a positive way because your brand demonstrates that it actually cares.  Thus, customer service is transformed into an active marketing activity.

I'm particularly surprised that this isn't common marketing practice for smaller brands.  A genuine follow up is easier for a small brand with fewer customers than a larger one with a lot of customers.  Following up is an obvious strategic advantage they could have over a brand with more customers than they could count but I rarely see this being taken full advantage of.      

Finally, a few more simple complaint department tips in no particular order.
  • Keep your promises.
  • Be prompt with your response.  
  • If you don't have an answer, tell them your working on getting one and will reply immediately.
  • Listen carefully and confirm what you are told.
  • When their is a problem, immediately establish what will make a difference to the customer.
  • For web-based brands, don't expect a lousy FAQ page to do all the work.
  • Similarly for others, don't expect fine print to be read and/or remembered.
  • Show customers that you care by serving in ways they won't expect or are use to.    
Feel free to add to this list as you see fit. Thank you for your attention and generosity in sharing the things you enjoy from this blog.   

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Putting A Price On Employee Happiness

Today, a good friend of mine and I were joking about happiness in the workplace.  During our conversation, he quipped that to the people he works for, his name might just as well be employee number 0155077.

In addition to my conversation today, several stories involving workplace happiness have made headlines recently.  

Recently, John Schnatter, the chief executive at pizza chain Papa John's publicly commented that the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act would raise employee benefit costs and force them to cut employee hours to compensate.  Although Schnatter was making a political statement in advance of the election, I believe that there is something really negative to a CEO telling his employees that he doesn't want the company to participate in providing healthcare for them and cutting their hours to achieve this is a double whammy.     

Also, there is a looming disaster at Wal-Mart this holiday season with employees at the world's largest retailer threatening to strike on Friday, traditionally the largest shopping day of the year.  The employees are continuing to fight the company for higher wages and better working conditions.

Even the headline of the week, the closing of the 85 year-old Hostess bakery, is rooted in a dispute between management and its labor force over wages and pensions.  This negative dynamic helps to explain how a company that made over $2 billion last year is broke and shutting down. 

Unfortunately, each story is an indication that, at least somewhere, a negative culture exists and a clear divide between the goals of the company and its employees.

On the other hand, both Apple and Microsoft, two very successful companies, have dismissed top managers for their "abrasive" management styles over the past couple of weeks.

I am of the belief that happier employees are more productive.  Having worked in a variety of places, I know that it's easy for an employee to disengage when they're unhappy.  This undoubtedly hurts the company in a number of ways that are not obvious simply by looking at balance sheets.  Therefore, companies that make employee happiness a priority, and who perhaps take on additional costs to do so, will often discover net gains from higher productivity, morale and lower turnover.  Of course, happiness doesn't have to come in the form of higher wages and more benefits.  They're are a lot of little gestures companies can make that make a huge difference to their employees.     

Tony Hsieh, the founder of online retailer Zappos, is a pioneer in maintaining happiness within the workplace.  He's written a fantastic book on the subject and is highly regarded for creating a happy workforce at Zappos.    

Whether big gestures or small ones, what ideas do you have for improving happiness in the workplace? Feel free to share any thoughts or personal stories you have from your job in the comments section.  As always, thank you for reading and sharing.    

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Pie War Follow Up

Tonight, as I ran by the flagship Busken Bakery, I noticed they made a few edits to the Frisch's billboard that rests atop their building. 

Busken physically repositions Frisch's pumpkin pies as second best in the city, editing the tagline from "Hard-to-be-humble-pie."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Fat Blocking Soda

As the soda category erodes, Coke and Pepsi are willing try anything to change people's prevailing perception have that soda is unhealthy.  In Japan, Pepsi is pouring out all the stops and introducing "fat blocking" soda.

Obviously far fetched, soda marketers should probably stick to sweet, fun and delicious as brand sticking points.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Cincinnati's Pie Wars

A couple weeks ago, I noted the marketing savvy of Busken Bakery, a Cincinnati favorite, in regards to capitalizing on the hype of American Presidential elections.  Every four years, Busken customers can elect their candidate by purchasing its candidate cookies as the bakery keeps a close eye on which candidate sells more cookies.

The bakery's marketing is in the news again.  This time its for their ongoing competition over who makes the best pumpkin pie, them or Frisch's Big Boy, a chain famous for its Big Boy burgers and deserts.  The battle began when Frisch's inadvertently put up a billboard over Busken's flagship store and both chains have gone back and fourth ever since.  The pumpkin pie touting competition has produced some clever work and interesting stunts, but I might give a slight edge to Busken after dressing up a Big Boy statue in a Busken bakery apron. 

In terms of sales, both sides are winning.  The competition has elevated the status of pumpkin pie and both companies have benefited. This week, the competition earned national attention on the front page of the Wall Street Journal.  

I've not tried the pies from either Busken or Frisch's.  The Frisch's Big Boy burgers were a college favorite of mine and Busken is a great place to stop in for a late night treat.  However, I really enjoy Busken's advertising.  It's both simple and consistent and often very clever.  So much so that they have even been made into a book, titled Have a Crumby Book. 

Although it's only a small local chain that most people have never experienced, I really admire the branding of Busken Bakery.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Speak Softly

In marketing, the goal is to be seen and heard by customers and prospects - repeatedly. 

But it's important that we don't forget that in the outside world, it's often the case that the people who speak the the loudest usually have the least to say.

Remember your audience and the brand can make a deeper connection. 

Friday, November 2, 2012

A Smart Startegy By Smart Car?

The latest advertisement from Smart car features a terrific visual that really caught my eye.  The visual is a massive Ford Excursion parked on top of the tiny steel frame of a Smart car.  They really nailed it; it's as good as any visual display in an advertisement.  But is it enough to convince motorists of the safety of Smart car and its ability to withstand a serious automobile collision?

The idea that a car so small can also be a safe during an accident with a much larger vehicle defies consumer logic; popular perception and perhaps the laws of physics would suggest that a bigger car will hold up better if the two were ever to meet on the road.

Obviously, the strategy in this latest round of Smart car advertising is to attack their perceived weakness on safety.  But is this a smart strategy by Smart car?

I cannot emphasize the great visual enough; it's truly flawless execution of an ad.  But I wonder if its fundamental message is the correct one.  It actually be might be impossible for Smart car to convince consumers on the safety of their autos at that size.  While I've never driven a smart car, I can imagine the shrinking feeling I'd have when massive sport utility vehicles zipped by.

A smarter strategy would be to focus on the vehicles advantages.  In 1962, Volkswagen and DDB perfected this strategy with an ad to match in their "Think Small" and "Lemon" ads.  Smart car could also use its similar size to their advantage.  It's a brand that pioneered and currently leads the burgeoning electric car category; high fuel economy, low emissions and surprisingly wallet friendly price tag are the obvious advantages of owning a Smart car.

Although I admire the execution of their latest ad and believe that it at least invites the notion for consumers to wonder about the safety of a Smart car.  Yet, despite my meager C+ average in physics class in high school, I can still recall a formula that never fails.  Force is equal to mass times acceleration.  That's one place our eyes won't deceive us.  Even with a sturdy steel frame, the Smart car won't win in a battle of the masses. 

Therefore, despite such a the great ad, I wonder if its message is flawed on a higher strategic level, with the correct strategy being one that positions Smart car as the electric car category leader.