Monthly Archives: November 2010

‘Tis the Season

Coincidence or synchronicity?  Less than an hour after I published the previous post, I received Internet Retailer’s email newsletter that included an article on Holiday eCommerce .

“For many larger retailers, Black Friday—the traditional start to holiday shopping on the day after Thanksgiving—is beginning to stretch into a full week with preliminary promotions…” 

If you’re interested in the industry’s analysis, it’s definitely worth the few minutes it takes to read the full article.

Bah, Humbug!

I can’t believe I’m writing this post before Thanksgiving!  I already have a monumental case of holiday email marketing fatigue.

My inbox is already so crowded with Black Friday promotions, it takes me twice as long to get through it. Lord only knows what I’ll face over the weekend, when companies ramp up with Cyber Monday offers.

And I’m just talking email. Mobile alerts? I’m going to need a flak jacket.

The conundrum
On one hand, real-time offers are great. On the other hand, way too many businesses still don’t do enough segmentation (matching specific offers to specific recipients) or any at all – so the relevancy of those real-time offers can be pretty low.

According to Pew Research, as of May 2010,  94% of all internet users sent or read email online and 72% bought products online. So far this season, some companies are already behaving as if capturing the sales of the 22% that forms the gap is life or death. With the economy hurting, companies desperate for revenue are already in bombardment mode. Sophisticated, pretty spam; cheap to send and worth it to them if they just hook a few consumer fish.

We’re all becoming pretty adept at scanning through our inboxes to find the things that matter – one person’s prize is another one’s poison – but it still irks me.

What do you think?

I may already be tired of the onslaught, but what about you?

Do you appreciate a deluge of real-time offers? And even more important, do these offers prompt you to buy? Or has your delete button become a constant, somewhat annoying best friend? What is your experience?  Inquiring minds want to know.

Who Represents Your Brand?

I had an interesting experience this weekend that reminded me that sometimes brand experience is as much about the messenger as the message.

Have a Glass of Wine
House guests in tow, we took advantage of a break in the weekend’s storm and went wine-tasting.  El Dorado County is an up and comer, with some very fine wines coming out of some very off-the-beaten path locations, so we sought out a small, well-respected winery at the end of a mountain road. 

Instead of being greeted when we walked in the door, the person behind the tasting bar (we’ll call her “Ms. X”) looked at us and said almost churlishly, “There are 15 wines, what do you want?”  Huh? With such (a lack of) welcome, we almost turned and walked out, but we’d driven somewhat far and the wines have a good reputation, so we stayed.

You’ve Got To Be Kidding
Instead of telling us about the wines as we tasted, Ms. X poured in bored silence. We had to start the conversation – talking about the storm and the low elevation snow that might shut things down.

Having a wine pourer make the statement “All I need is cigarettes and beer, and I’m happy. And I can walk to the store, if I can’t drive.”  was incredibly shocking. Hello? Appropriateness? You’re pouring WINE. You should be talking about the wine! If you’re partial to beer and cigarettes, keep it to yourself.

Ms. X indicated through conversation that she’d worked there for a while and I wondered whether the winemaker has a clue that she is making his business look bad and costing him money? It’s a common understanding that being hospitable translates into bigger sales, particularly in a face-to-face business. We couldn’t wait to get out of there.

This all made me think of how easy it is for a business to shoot itself in the foot. We think someone working for us is on the same page, so we don’t go over specifics about how we want them to behave with customers, or we think visitors to our website are on the same page, so we don’t make sure to make the experience THEIRS, not ours.

Ms. X  really didn’t care if we were there or not. Our experience seemed irrelevant to her.  I’m thinking of calling the winery this week and talking to the winemaker. His wines are pretty good; this is something he needs to know.

Marketing Through Games

I heard Gabe Zicherman present on the Gamification of Marketing yesterday.  It really woke me up! Here’s Gabe giving a similar talk. It’s long, but worth it:

Gabe’s is a very astute analysis of how games will and already have influenced marketing and loyalty landscape, from S&H Green Stamps in the 1950s through Foursquare. Yes, each is just a game.

His excitement about the possibilities of using games for engagement and how they will transform how we all market whatever it is we’re trying to market, is palpable.  He also made it a point to remind us “the house always wins.”

Cool. So what’s the problem?
I’m torn. It’s exciting to see such a powerful tool and imagine the types of game experiences that could generate user delight in service of achieving a marketing or informational goal. And it’s pretty inevitable that I’ll use a game-based technique sometime in the future.

BUT, from an ethical perspective, I’m uncomfortable with what games as marketing represents: manipulation in a very insidious form. Games are a format that some will no doubt, cynically use to encourage (lull?) the participant into doing something that is not in her/his best interest. It’s capitalizing on what makes state lotteries and slot machines so deadly and extending it into a more universal practice.

Whether or not I’m comfortable with the bigger implication, I’ll make sure to understand how games should be done right. This train has already left the station.

But it begs the question of ethics in marketing and the ethics of games in particular. Does the end justify the means? Where do you stand?

Promises, Promises

On Monday, my landline went from static-y to dead. ATT promised they’d be here yesterday (Wednesday) and I changed my schedule so I could be in my home office all day. They never showed up, even though I called in the morning to check.

They didn’t bother to contact me and let me know they wouldn’t show, either. When I called in frustration with an hour left in their “promise” window”,  they “handled” me with excuses: “We have a system that ensures you’ll get a call if we can’t come out. – -Oh, I see you weren’t called.”, a little scripted empathy and finally another promise to be here this morning.  Color me annoyed.

When ATT made a service promise on Monday,  I formed an expectation. They not only broke their promise, but when they didn’t contact me to let me know they wouldn’t be here, they failed to meet another expectation – that they’d keep me informed. Why else would they explicitly ask for a working number at which they could contact me?

By not following through with either the promised service or any basic courtesy, ATT told me exactly how they feel about my value to them as a customer.

This got me to thinking about the promises, tacit and explicit, that are made to customers (or members, if you’re an organization) – from brand promises to specific performance – and the expectations, conscious or unconscious, that customers inevitably form.  How well we meet or exceed these expectations day after day can drive or destroy loyalty.  I’m going to start paying even more attention.

We all make promises to customers daily. How well are you keeping yours?

Learning from Robocalls

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Last night, when the number of political robocalls reached 6 in the space of an hour, we stopped answering our phone. Tomorrow is election day, so we won’t answer our phone tonight, either: the “do not call” list doesn’t apply to political campaigns.
I may not be thrilled when a call from a live campaign volunteer interrupts my dinner, but I’m positively turned off by robocalls. At least when I get a call from a live person, I know that someone cares enough about an issue to volunteer his or her time. It’s part of the democratic process. (Full disclosure: I have been that volunteer in the past.) Volunteer calls at least are a dialogue. But robocalls are just annoying, auditory, time-wasting spam. 
Doing a bit of quick research, I found Politics Magazine’s Political Telemarketing Guide and Local Victory Political Robocalls: Dos and Don’ts. They  resemble CAN-SPAM guidelines and the early email marketing rubric. My favorite paragraph in the Do’s and Don’ts begins:
“Watch out though, some voters get turned off by too many robocalls.  Even if your campaign only does one or two rounds of calls, if your opponents have been bombarding the phone lines with calls, the voters may penalize you when they hear your call.”

Bingo! And this sort of fatigue resonates with what happens when those in the broader world lose sight of the basics: the proverbial blizzard of round after round after round of holiday and annual appeals is right around the corner. Oh, boy!

When companies and organizations stray, their efforts just add to the general noise that leads to overall viewer disaffection. How many times has your company or organization gotten so carried away with an internal viewpoint or become enamored with a technology that the effort ceased to really focus on the audience? Missing the mark on the basics costs time and money, but rarely achieves desired results.

So if you’re turned off by a robocalls or campaign email and literature, take a look at your company’s or organization’s efforts through that same critical lens. 


Almost a year ago, I started this blog and then stopped, cold turkey. Although friends continued to urge me to blog, I needed to sort out where I fit in an already crowded field full of voices. 

In the ensuing year, I haven’t heard my particular point of view out there, so this time I’m in for the long haul. And as I said when I began the first time, it’s the dialog that counts, so I hope you’ll jump in and comment.