DMA webinar: Swing for the fences – 8/10


Go global with your marketing – I am speaking at this FREE DMA webinar on 8/10 http://t.co/nXHUEoK

Fueling the Army of Stupid


The 24 hour news cycle was first popularized on television and led to the creation of a multitude of “news” shows and channels.  This conditioned consumers into believing that all of this “news” was actually “news” worthy and hence, needed to be consumed.   The internet has exploited this human condition and is continuing to spiral out of control with the online media outlets and social networks enabling the masses to share, tweet, like, +1, or worse yet, comment on these largely sensationalized and manufactured news stories – resulting in the current real-time news cycle.

This is all well and good if those that are most “engaged” are not members of the Army of Stupid.  So who exactly pledges allegiance to this flag of ignorance?

My totally unscientific study concludes that approximately 75% of internet users who comment on articles, stories, and other postings, suffer from a debilitating symptom of the “real-time” news cycle.  Stupidity.  These consumers share no common demographic or geographic traits (unlike a closely related faction, UFO abductees) other than a narcissistic belief that a) they are right, and b) someone cares.  Not to be confused with ignorance, which is somewhat excusable and even curable, this condition can be best summed up by the great Ron White – “You Can’t Fix Stupid“.

Let me offer three recent maddening observations:

The Casey Anthony verdict – If you were not a) a jury member, b) an observer in the courtroom, c) a lawyer with access to all of the evidence, or d) a Kardashian, please don’t clog up the social sphere with your opinions.  It’s pretty bad when national TV networks and the plethora of cable news channels are streaming tweets and comments across the screen – since when does “Joe”, a plumber from Des Moines, have a newsworthy opinion on a criminal court case?  And don’t get me started on the “legal” media figures propagating and rewarding this behavior, ahem, Nancy Grace, you know who you are.

Facebook’s integration with Skype / Launch of Google +1 – I have been in or on the periphery of the technology industry for about 20 years, and it still amazes me how polarizing technology can be, with legions of (blind) followers on each side of the proverbial fence accusing the [insert favorite tech giant] of “copying” [insert hated tech giant].  IBM vs Apple, Apple vs Microsoft, AOL vs Compuserve, Yahoo vs Google, Google vs Microsoft, Microsoft vs Yahoo, Google vs Apple, and so on – bottom line is that once you become “giant” the innovation largely stops – they just keep repackaging the same stuff with improvements to design and functionality – appealing to the audience of the moment.  Video chat is not new, nor is social networking – and frankly, the combination of the two isn’t new either.  No one accused Mercedes of copying BMW when they added Bluetooth as an option, right?

The belief that [insert favorite tech giant] is infallible – While many believe that the likes of Google, Facebook, Amazon, and Apple will never be anything but dominate in their pursuits, one doesn’t have to look too far back to see former darlings reduced to rubble (AOL, Netscape), slowly plodding along with little growth (Microsoft, Cisco) or even fighting to hang on (Nokia, RIM).  There will always be something newer, shinier, better, cheaper, and faster around the corner – companies were not made to last forever and the giants of today will eventually be displaced.  So save your “so-and-so is the greatest” and “so-and-so sux” (the ending in “x” is another greater marker for stupidity) comments to yourself unless you can back it up with some sound supporting evidence.

Anyone out there suffer from Marketing Withdrawal?


It has been said that on a daily basis, American exposure rates to advertising and marketing messages in ranges from as low (low?) of 500 to several thousand and beyond depending on the source.  Most Americans have tuned out buzz and as a result most marketing messages are wasted.  However, in my case, as Marketer I pride myself on trying to be exposed to even more than the average bear so I can continue to build my body of knowledge and understanding of what is working and what is not.  I quickly, but carefully, look at each email, direct mail piece and banner ad presented to me.  I’m the kind of nerd that  likes sorting and taking inventory of my direct mail mail at home; this enables me to create an index or barometer of sorts in my mind about the state of marketing and more specifically consumer targeting and relevance in my small part of the world and for my “peeps” who share my demographic category – we typically receive multiple pieces for each category below in either CRM or prospecting efforts on a weekly basis:

  • financial services
  • automotive dealers and manufacturers
  • insurance companies
  • credit card offers
  • cable and satellite TV
  • real estate
  • travel
  • education and seminars
  • pool cleaners, landscapers
  • local restaurants and shops
  • home improvement mag-a-logs
  • mail order catalogs

You name it, we get it; the volume of mail ebbs and flows to a cadence I quickly would recognize.  I gleefully open and devour each one, thinking about the relevance, the creative and the offer presented.   Now that I have moved to a new house, our mailbox is very empty these days.   Since much of this mail is not sent First Class, it is not forwarded by the post office, and the mailer will have to wait until they process their file through the NCOA process to discover that I have moved.  The fact is, moving in to a new house costs money and advertisers are missing a key behavioral cue – when you move you need things and you are eager to spend on building the nest.  We also need to know who delivers take-out food here, where is the closest grocery, and where I will get my dry cleaning done.

You may have read on this blog the on-going saga related to my recent residential move and the customer service challenges we have faced with the various service providers for [Satellite TV] [DSL Internet] – the DSL situation was never resolved and I have since cancelled the service.  In trying to place an order for Cable Internet service there seems to be some complications there as well – more to come.  I thought we were becoming a service economy?  If so what happened to service? 

Anyway, as a result of no direct mail and no internet access at home (for nearly a month now) I must say that I am suffering from Marketing Withdrawal.  As a Marketer, I feed on marketing and rely on it to spark new ideas and thoughts.  Has anyone else suffered this condition?

You want it by when? OR Free beer tomorrow?


Recently I wrote about my experience [Spray and Pray is not a Customer Contact Strategy] when moving across town to a new house and the moving service provided by my satellite television company.  Now I am going to tell you a tale that will certainly shock and awe the reader…

You want it by when?

One week prior to moving day, I contacted my DSL provider to inform them of the new address and request a move of my service. At that time, I was told that “because of the various switches and networks in my city” that they could not simply move my service, rather they needed to disconnect at my current service address and then re-establish service at my new address.  As a former network engineer this seemed plausible (they recently merged/acquired a provider in my area), although in my opinion highly inexplicable, in today’s “wired world”.  I was given a date that the new service would be active and was instructed to call back if there were any issues on that date.   The date given was more than 2 weeks away.  Dumbfounded why it would take so long, I begrudgingly said thanks and decided to wait it out.  While I was away in Hong Kong  [Fortune Cookies],  my wife was in touch with the provider when the service did not work on the date promised.  This also meant no “iPhone FaceTime” while I was away which did not make my wife too happy.  We are now approaching 4 weeks without internet service at home and they have no-showed for each appointment (8 to noon window) we have been given on successive days going back to last week.  Have you ever seen a sign hanging over a bar that says “Free Beer Tomorrow”?  Yeah – it kinda feels like that.

The Silver Lining

Throughout this ordeal, we have had an outstanding customer service agent who has been chasing down supervisors, dispatchers, and installers to escalate my issue and try to get it resolved – so much so, that she provided her personal cell phone number so that we can reach her and keep her abreast of what is not happening.  She has provided a stellar example of how to be a customer advocate – too bad her company is failing her.  She is the only reason I am seeing this through and have not defected (yet).

So what is the moral of the story?

  1. Setting customer expectations then exceeding them should be your goal.
  2. Being responsive doesn’t mean making promises you can’t keep.
  3. Own your customer’s issues.
  4. Be a Customer Advocate and make every attempt to create a happy customer.

Tell me about your experience with customer service (good or bad) – Zappos and Apple aside, is great customer service really a thing of the past?

 

Fortune Cookies = Source of Great Advice For Business Developers


I recently returned home following a week in Hong Kong working with a new client.  While “that” part of the world is typically very different from what U.S. marketers are accustomed to, I was subtly reminded at the conclusion of a fantastic traditional dinner at The China Club that the philosophical waxings of fortune cookies are truly universal and still a great source of advice…

China Club, Hong Kong - Fortune Cookie

Image Property of Mark Donatelli - Taken with an iPhone 4

Spray and Pray is NOT a Customer Contact Strategy


My family and I recently moved  into a new house, and in the process I utilized the “moving” services offered by Big Satellite Company [name changed to protect the guilty].  I was a little perturbed when I was unable to coordinate the moving service online, but that’s another topic.  Anyway, all went well and the move went great – they even threw in some free premium channels for free as a “value add” to using the service.  Great way to protect against attrition to competing companies or, god-forbid, cable.

Here’s the kicker – a day later I received an email from Big Satellite Company asking me “Did you know that you can manage your account online?”.  My first inclination was to reply and ask them “Do you know that I had been doing so for my 10+ years as a customer?  Not to mention that the account service I most recently used was not accessible online?”.

Obviously there is a business rule trigger that sent me the email, likely because I called in to the service center to request the moving service, but the automation rules failed to recognize the fact that:

  1. I am frequent user of their online system for account changes.
  2. The service most recently used in not available online.

To borrow from the ESPN crew, C’mon MAN!

I know this is probably rocket-science to some, but companies can do better!

Spray and Pray is not a Customer Contact Strategy – by this I mean that automating communications with your customers should not be done simply for the sake of doing it, and furthermore, not all customers are created equal.   A sound Customer Contact Strategy should span each and every potential interaction a company could have with a customer regardless of contact or delivery channel.  And, these contacts should be well thought out, situational, and personalized to maximize relevance to the customer.  This results in improving sentiment towards your brand with the big payoff being not only the retention of customers, but perhaps more important, the recommendation of your product or service to the customer’s extended “network” of friends, family, and colleagues via social networks .  This is often exacerbated by the  interactions being handled through different software platforms and the wide spread practice of outsourcing portions of CRM processes to different companies (or handled internally by different teams)  as well as the proliferation of subcontracted delivery channels – but trust me when I say that it can be done!

Ask me how…

If the World is Flat, why do you need a Sherpa?


Flat Earth Sherpa

By now, I am sure you all have read The World Is Flat: A Brief History of the Twenty-First Century by Thomas Friedman?  If you haven’t read this book yet, I highly recommend you read it right away – it will change the way you think about the future that is already here.  With that said, the basic premise that I took away from the book in a single sentence is that technology has essentially “flattened” the  Earth by enabling real-time collaboration on a global basis. The concept of a small manufacturer in India, sourcing raw materials in China, perhaps on Alibaba, with funding via micro loan from the UK, and selling finished goods on eBay to an American consumer is now a reality.

This is where the irony enters.

This new flat Earth has been a tremendous enabler for small and medium-sized businesses, but has muddied the waters for much larger companies.  I spend a great deal of my time consulting with some of the world’s largest and most recognizable consumer brands, and for the most part these companies recognize and are actively trying to exploit this new flat Earth, but frankly they have no idea how to choose the best countries for expansion, how to maximize growth for those countries they are already in, and in either case, how to navigate the myriad of technology, data, cultural, legal and consumer privacy challenges.

Hence, the need for a Sherpa (hint: ME).

If your company or if you have a client that is facing these types of Global Expansion challenges in this new flat earth, please let me know – I can lead the way.

It has been a while since I have posted an article, and I certainly have no shortage of topics to write about; the fact remains that  I simply do not have enough time in the day.  And to add insult to injury, my travel schedule and client load keeps me flush with article ideas, but  no time to write about them.  I actually did some of the final editing for this post on my new iPhone 4 (more on that in future articles) while my son drank his milk and watched Little Einsteins from my lap!

Anyway, thanks for stopping by and keep your eyes open for a few rapid-fire posts over the next week or so – having not written in a while, they will be based on my travels and observations over the last couple of months.  Don’t forget to leave your comments and provide feedback.

Thank you for reading and Happy Hunting!

Restoring Faith in the Universe!


EarbudsEveryone has heard the expression “bad things happen to good people” and for about the millionth time in my life, I was thinking it to myself last week.  I was traveling on business (again) and in my typical, helpful fashion I was assisting an older woman lift her “way-too-large-to-be-a-carry-on” bag into the overhead compartment, and painfully watched in slow motion as one of the ear buds on my BlackBerry headset launched into the air and tumbled end-over-end into the darkness between 2 very large passengers seated below.  Rather than put myself in the middle of that mess and and hold up my fellow boarding passengers, I simply moved on, mumbling under my breath.  This meant that a) my in-flight music would not be in stereo  and b) the client call I had planned during my trek through the Atlanta airport would now carry a higher degree of difficulty given the background noise that can only be produced on a weekday morning in that mammoth airport.

Upon arriving in Atlanta, I made a beeline for one of those airport kiosks for a replacement, and found that the gentleman wanted $8.99 for a set of 5 pairs of different ear buds in multiple sizes, shapes and colors.  I told the guy I’d pass, and as I started to walk towards the newly opened Blackberry store across the way,  he called me back.  What happened next might go down in history as a business traveler miracle – wait for it – he reached into a drawer and pulled out a single pair of replacement ear buds, shrink-wrapped oem-style, and handed them to me with a smile and a Merry Christmas.  I patted his shoulder and said Merry Christmas to you too.

So carry on good people of the world – give and you shall receive!

So what does this have to do with marketing?

Take your pick – whether it is asking for permission to market to your customers or resolving client complaints without them going ape-crazy on you first – do the right thing and it comes back to you!  I promise.

What do you think?

 

What’s worse? ‘Kids Today’ or Client Expectations?


 

Little Rock Arkansas

Image compliments of Little Rock Beautiful Comission

 

I know I have not posted lately, but I have been traveling a lot.  As a matter of fact, I just returned home from Little Rock, Arkansas and my trip, as well as a brief conversation with some strangers on the last night, were the catalysts I needed to write this! 

My last night in town it was raining, and as I made way back to The Peabody,  I was ducking (no pun intended) under storefront awnings and doorways to avoid getting drenched.  I was half way to the hotel and as I popped into a doorway, there were a couple of “dudes” in their early twenties standing there.   Small talk ensued, mostly with the shorter one.  They appeared to be a gang of two; the shorter one did all of the talking and the other always looked at the leader before speaking when he did.  The leader asked me what I did for a living.  At the risk of confusing them (sometimes it is not crystal clear even to me), I simply said ‘I’m a consultant”.  He followed with “What’s that?” and I told him “I give people my opinion”.   Now the quiet one pipes up and asks “You can get paid for that?!” with his eyes wide open.  Now the simple conversation turned into more of a Magic 8 Ball session – they asked me about all of the secrets of the universe, as if I were the Dhali Lamba himself.  The last question came – “How much money can you make buying stocks?” he asks.  I tried to explain it was a matter of the amount invested, the stock, and the time period – but mostly luck.  The short one said “How much can I make if I buy $1,000 in stock?” – “It depends” I say, “But it wouldn’t be hard to get 10% in return over some time period”.  He then asks “How much is that?”. 

As I dash into the rain, running from the fear that I would get dumber if I stood there any longer, I was thinking to myself what every generation before me has thought, “What is it with kids today?”.  

This brings me to wondering what’s worse – “kids today” or client expectations?  Let me explain. 

Stethoscope

Image compliments of the Fordham University Blog

 

On a regular basis, I work with many of the most sophisticated and successful companies in the world, and I am amazed at how often they come to my company with a sincere desire to improve what they’re doing, yet when we ask them direct questions about their business challenges and other details that are variables that will dramatically affect our ability to help them, not to mention our price, they refuse to answer.  They just keep asking us “When can you provide a solution and how much will it cost?”  That’s like going to a doctor and telling her you that don’t feel well, but then not answering any of her questions about your symptoms or letting her examine you.

How can we prescribe a solution if you don’t describe the symptom?

Not sure which is worse – what do you think?

If it’s worth doing, it’s worth doing RIGHT…


We’ve all heard variations of this sentiment – many credit it’s creation to Hunter S. Thompson in his epic adventure “Fear & Loathing in Las Vegas” (yes I called it epic).  Having spent nearly 7 years in the Army, I vehemently subscribe to this train of thought and often find myself discouraged when business owners and marketers take short cuts to save a buck now, when in reality they could be costing themselves more in the long run. 
Here are 2 recent “personalization” experiences that illustrate the point (I have changed the names to protect the guilty).  In both cases, these prestigious, national brands are applying technology to reach consumers with personalized communications, but the effort is lackluster at best due to some shortcomings on the data side:
 
I am a subscriber to the print edition of Super Cool Business Magazine, although I have not activated or created an online profile with the companion website.  My subscription to the magazine was offered to me via direct mail, and I responded (and paid) via the web, and this is not the only title from the publisher to which I subscribe.  So – let’s recap.  The publisher has my name and postal address, as well as information about other magazine titles they offer to which I also subscribe.  They have my personal email address derived from the online subscription activation/payment as well as online profiles associated with other titles
 
Herein lies the rub – over the last month or 2, my wife has been receiving emails from Super Cool Business Magazine and “trusted partners” personalized to me (“Dear Mark”).  Obviously they have performed some sort of email address append to their file and/or performed some data massaging to “household” my record – the result is that my wife’s personal email address is associated with my name and postal information.  I say to her – “No problem – just forward me the email, and I will go online and update my communication preferences to include my email address instead of yours”.  Easier said than done.  When I clicked the link in the email to make changes to my profile, the only option was to completely unsubscribe.  So I did – too bad for this publisher – now their database is short one email address and who knows how many others experienced the same thing?  All of this results from having the right intentions (combination of marketing + technology) but with poor execution. 
 
My second example comes to us from a respected German automaker; my wife and I both drive cars from this brand and we loyaly use the local dealership for our maintenance and repair needs.  Our vehicles are both model year 2004 sedans, but different models.  The dealership’s use of email as a CRM extension and marketing tool has been sporadic at best.  The various emails we receive related to marketing promotions, coupons, and service appt reminders all seem to be coming from different systems – to the point that the email templates (colors, logos, fonts) seem to have no cohesive design elements connecting them. 
 
Herein lies the rub – the dealership cannot seem to get my email address associated with me and my vehicle, and my wife’s email address associated with her and her vehicle.  They will personalize a marketing message with “Dear Mark”   and reference my Model/VIN# in an email to my wife and vice-versa.  Sometimes, the emails will have her name and my VIN# to my email address.  There does not seem to be any rhyme or reason.  To add insult to injury, there is no way to go online and self-police the data in a communication preference center – again, the only option is to unsubcribe, and the unsubscribe page for each email is different.  We have even made calls to the dealership providing updated information to no avail – it appears that the dealer marketing system, the dealer service scheduling system, and the corporate marketing database are not synchronized. 
 
So what’s the lesson?  Don’t take shortcuts and make sure your data is in order before personalizing communications or at least offer a 2-way dialogue that enables consumers to contribute to the conversation.  Here is a great article on personalizing email communications from MediaPost:
 
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