Thursday, May 30, 2013

Dirty Tricks & Tactics

Last week a California court reversed a previous decision and declared that Kohl's could in fact be sued over its questionable discounting practices.  The practice in question is one where the retailer marks up the original price in order to make the advertised discount look better to the shopper.

Regardless of whether the courts consider this to be false advertising or not, it's certainly obfuscating some truth about the product to the consumer and is definitely not a healthy long-term tactic.  Even when their customers end up purchasing a product, they're set up to eventually feel disappointed with their purchase when they discover the true value of the product.  There perception of being a deep discounter will slowly erode.

Kohl's may still win their case versus the plaintiff.  However, this case is a fitting reminder that just because they can do something and get away with it doesn't make it good business.

Monday, May 27, 2013

Free Cookies

During a recent visit to Potbelly sandwich shop, I tried to order an oatmeal cookie with my sandwich.  Unfortunately, the cookie tray at the front of the register was empty. 

So I asked if they had any more oatmeal variety and was told that they would in about 15 minutes.  Absolutely loving the sound of getting a fresh cookie, I bought one then and waited for for them to bring it out.  But, 30 minutes later, still no cookies.   

Having someplace else to get to, I asked about my cookie and was first told it would be about 10 more minutes.  When I explained that I had to run, I was offered two cookies of a different variety.

In this case, the resolution was as easy as a free cookie.  Although many times a resolution toward a customer service issue isn't so simple, the initial (and internal) approach a business takes to solving these customer-related problems can make a world of difference in reaching a resolution.

This Potbelly experience was very different than the one a friend of mine had with a tuxedo shop the day before his wedding.  In this instance, the initial reaction of the shop was almost indifferent after they delivered poor fitting suits that didn't match the original order.  It took an hour of phone calls and arguments before the shop they hired stepped up.  

This recent post by Seth Godin outlines how a successful business might choose to approach these matters to make the process easier.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Asterisk-Free Checking?

I typically just throw junk mail straight into the trash, forever to be unopened.  Although this weekend, in need of a new pizza coupon, I made an exception and quickly went through the bulky Valpak envelope I found in my mailbox.  While doing a quick scan to cherry pick a coupon from our local pizzeria, I was enticed by a different offer from Huntington Bank.

The coupon offers $100 free; just open an "Asterisk-Free" checking account.  I was definitely intrigued.  But before I impulsively grabbed my keys, ran to my car and got to a Huntington Bank, I flipped the card over.

Not surprisingly, their $100 offer isn't as "asterisk-free" as their checking account.  According to the fine print, "to get $100, all you need to do is open an new checking account by 7/31/13 with $100, then either set up an automatic direct deposit of at least $100 into your checking account OR make 10 debit card purchases in 60 days.  Do that, and the $100 bonus will be deposited into your new account within 90 days of account opening.  Remember, for tax purposes you will receive a Form 1099-INT from us for your cash bonus.  Checking account must remain open for a minimum of six months or an Early Account Closing Fee will apply.  Unfortunately, this offer is limited to one per household." 

I think when the average person (the type who would be enticed by a hundred bucks) hears a bank use the words asterisk-free, their default is set to skeptical.  Most people are all too familiar with discovering an unfamiliar deduction from their account and the deflating feeling that comes with those "gotcha" moments.  So even though the ad bold proclaims that asterisk-free accounts have, "No Monthly Checking Maintenance Fee, No Minimum Balance Requirement and No Monthly Debit Card Fee," most people know the asterisks are still in there somewhere.   

Most banks lost the privilege to use this term a long time.  I cannot say that for sure about Huntington.  But I think dangling this type of bait is a clue that we should still be skeptical.

As always, thanks for reading and sharing.  Feel free to add your take by clicking on the comments section below.

Monday, May 13, 2013

Making Things Just A Little Easier

This weekend my parents came to visit from New York.  At dinner on Saturday night, we went to a restaurant that demonstrated they have clearly thought about a small but all too common problem  diners encounter.  

When we arrived at the restaurant, we were told that the wait for a table would be about 40 minutes.  Not a problem, I said that we would wait.  Then they did something different.  They asked for the number to cell phone number.
Then the restaurant sent me text message when our table was ready.  It was so easy.

The benefits to doing it this way are obvious.  Customers waiting to be seated don't have stay hyper-vigilant to a difficult to hear public address system.  And those already seated don't have to be bothered by one during their meal.

Furthermore, this eliminates the need for customers to carry around another device.  Even if it's just a couple minutes, carrying a clunky, coaster-sized pager, is just a hassle.  And it's silly to do when most people are already carrying a phone. 

This process is easy for everyone too.  When the hostess at the Silver Spring House took my phone number, I watched her type it into into an iPad.  I don't know which app they use; but, it looks like solving this problem comes with a choice.  

Thursday, May 9, 2013

Brutal Honesty From Abercrombie

 Abercrombie & Fitch is not for everyone.

As a marketer, I really respect this about their brand.  I absolutely love that they're fanatical about keeping a strict focus on their youthful target in order to preserve the strength of its brand, something that would certainly be compromised if old dudes like myself were comfortable walking the streets in Abercrombie gear.        

However, as a human being, I think it kind of sucks.  It has been a little more than a decade, but I can still remember being your average scrawny, awkward, high school kid.  I still remember shopping trips to Abercrombie, in search of clothes that come with cool points from my classmates, and feeling ignored by the employees.  I can still see the expression on the face of the prepped-out employee at the register as I checked out and they refused to make eye contact.

Strategically, Abercrombie is right to focus on a select few.  Their Busey-esque CEO Michael Jeffries hits the nail on the head when he says "those companies that are in trouble are trying to target everybody: young, old, fat, skinny. But then you become totally vanilla. You don’t alienate anybody, but you don’t excite anybody, either."

Still, it's impossible to deny the collateral damage that can result from Abercrombie & Fitch's execution of this strategy.  Since A&F's target audience is smack-dab in their most formative years, only offering up to a size 10 in women's pants is an extremely dangerous example to set for a demographic that naturally struggles with their body image, identities and self-worth.

It's interesting to hear a CEO candidly speak about excluding certain demographics, as opposed to the traditional framing of this brand picture, only in terms of who the target audience is.  But this is something of a tell by Jeffries.   

An admission that Abercrombie would prefer that the fat, the ugly and the uncool wear another brand of clothes is also testimony to what drives the brand; not superior product design, raw materials or construction, but perceived qualities about people who wear it.  It's an admission that the real value delivered by the Abercrombie brand is a mirage; dependent upon what one chooses to see, not what they actually can.

But it's easy for a self-assured adult recognize this; they're not a scrawny, awkward high school kid.

As always, thanks for reading and sharing.  Bonus cool points for checking out the 2006 Salon Magazine article by Benoit Denizet Lewis.  

Monday, May 6, 2013

The Company We Keep

It was a busy week for marketing controversies.

Mountain Dew pleaded guilty to using battered woman imagery and a racial stereotype to sell its neon green soda.

Hyundai pleaded guilty to dramatizing suicide while trying to demonstrate the value of clean air.

Actually, their pleas were guilty by association.

Mountain Dew, who cozied up with Tyler the Creator to gain access and credibility among his youthful following, happened to get a taste of that youth.  They learned that even though Mountain Dew was willing to let Tyler the Creator speak on behalf of the brand, in his youth he still viewed it as an opportunity to tell a "admittedly absurd story that was never meant to be taken seriously." Meanwhile, when Hyundai's distasteful car ad reached the light of day, they explained that the people they thought they trusted with their advertising acted “without Hyundai’s request or approval" and that the message this partner created runs counter to the values of their company.

These gaffes are often viewed under the same lens; nothing more than attention craving brands who desire fame but will might happily settle for infamy. People file under the "controversial marketing" category and everyone moves on.

However, a different story, unfolding halfway around the world, suggests that companies use more discretion in selecting the people they choose to associate with.     

The epicenter of that lesson is Sahar, Bangladesh.  Last week the death toll was confirmed to surpass 600 lives after the collapse of the Rana Plaza garment factory.  Bangladesh is the world’s second-largest apparel exporter after China, with 80 percent of those exports coming to the United States and the European Union.  Recently, Pope Francis weighed in on the wages paid to those workers, equating them to "slave labor."

Disney understood that they were the company they kept.  Therefore, after a factory fire in Tazreen claimed 112 lives, they took measures to cut ties with partners who could not meet their standards and ultimately banned production of their products in 43 countries, including Bangladesh.

But not all companies have the sensibilities of Disney.  After the 2011 fire in Tazreen, Wal-Mart, who annually purchases more than $1 billion in apparel from Bangladesh, had an influential role in blocking efforts to improve the safety conditions in factories there, citing the financial feasibility of those upgrades.

We are the company we keep.  And that might just say about who we are than our market capitalization does. 

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

An Old Fashion Approach

Don't underestimate the impact a little index card can make.  Tossing one in with a purchase will reach a captive audience that's either already familiar with or currently forming an opinion of your brand, so what better way to share something about yourself.