Happy Holidays from Marketing: A Chocolate Box of LIES

You know what frosts my cookies: when what you see isn’t what you get. grrr..

Oh what webs we weave, when marketing to deceive

  • Click bait.
  • Fake out.
  • Bait and switch.
  • Pull the rug.

If there’s one thing we hate more than being disappointed, it’s being tricked.

Thinking something is worth our time, getting excited only to see a tired old post from 2 years ago. Those pandering book jacket blurbs or movie trailer quotes promising one thing, delivering schlock. It’s the holiday exchange gift of a beautifully wrapped package with one of those you have to spend money to ‘save’ money restaurant ‘coupons’ inside.

The other day, I saw what looked like a nice an office gift – a GIGANORMOUS box of chocolate. From a national brand. Only it wasn’t.

It was the basic one pound box of chocolate, disguised to be something much more ‘impressive.’ Seriously this thing was 10 pounds of packaging in a 20 lb. box!

Never mind how environmentally unfriendly to waste that much packaging, it’s the worst fake out. See also: that showy giant check to show a $200 donation; that huge gift basket that’s one small box of crackers, 3 apples and 34 pounds of tinsel straw that makes a big mess.

Be Better, Do Better

This is what I don’t like about [so-called] PR “stunts.” This is what I don’t like about hype and buzz and other forms of marketing bullshit.

This is what grates my cheese about managed ‘thought leader’ personas – there’s no there there. Nothing.

It’s not real. It’s not genuine. It’s an empty shell that unfortunately fools people into thinking they’re legit – making it that harder for the rest of us. I am more than the sum of the lines on my resume, plenty that don’t see – but let me assure you: WYSIWHG. Ahem.

So that’s my holiday rant – yes the wrapping makes it special, festive and fun. But much like a pretty logo won’t fix a brand, it’s what’s inside that pretty ‘package’ that matters most.

Happy Holidays everyone, here’s to no talking fish and easy returns. :-)

Video credit: a version of that commercial runs on the radio here in Atlanta, cracks me up. 
No comments | Trackback

Thanksgiving for the Memories

Times are tough, for some much more than words can express. And yet this it’s exactly at these moments we stop and remember what we do have.

We’re thankful for our health, the time we have with friends and family. We’re grateful for our jobs, the roofs over our heads and the food about to go in our stomachs. We can appreciate these connected, social times as best we can.

And we can be thankful for television and movies, making our holiday gatherings seem almost tame and functional by comparison. With that, a few of my favorite episodic and cinematic Thanksgiving moments:

The West Wing: Double Feature. Granted “Indians in the Lobby” isn’t up there with “Shibboleth” with its schlock and (another) Butterball brand placement, I still remember both quite fondly. When that show was good, it was damn good; episodes like Shibboleth showed how well it balanced serious moments, like Charlie and President Bartlet and the knife, with lightness such as C.J. getting a 2nd turkey pardoned.

Adamms Family Values: a modern day classic I suppose. The clip speaks for itself.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer: I’ve used “Pangs” before, because ‘ritual sacrifice. with pie‘ is still one of my favorite lines. And because I couldn’t help appreciate Spike’s politically incorrect speech and the wonderful Whedon dark humor of it all.

Honorable mention: The O.C. 

You? The Ice Harvest, Scent of a Woman or maybe Charlie Brown? What’s your favorite Hollywood turkeyfest? Happy Holidays everyone.

No comments | Trackback

Apple, U2 and the Terrible, Horrible, Very Bad Good Idea

How’s that for a click bait headline?!

Apple Makes News

The reason business movers and shakers follow Apple – and especially small business – is because they make news. More than a story teller, Apple is a story maker. It’s the best litmus test for any press release or store opening or sales pitch.. if you’re not Apple, then try again until you’ve got real news.

The news these days: new iToys, new iOS, more moves towards global consumer domination and one really bad PR move.

The Little Things are HUGE

As a free gift with purchase, Apple decided to give every iTunes account bearing human – approximately 1 out of every 8 people who call Earth home – the newest U2 album. For free.

Sounds great right, free music so what could go wrong? It’s such a little thing, I mean .. not like it was Nickelback or Bieber (and yes I know I’m not the only one to crack that joke).

Oh so very wrong. From the moment Apple pushed U2 onto people’s accounts, sans their consent, many decried the brand overstepped. It was such an unpopular move, they had to release a U2-B-Gone tool.

Bonus: a few of my favorite #FirstWorldProblem Apple U2 Tweets.. the tamer ones at least. That last guy had a ton. heh.

Respect Your Customer. It’s Their Choice.

We hate spam. We had interruptions and noise and anything we didn’t ask for. If we want it, we’ll subscribe, we’ll opt-in.

Had Apple had pitched this idea to me, my advice would have been: give people a choice. Give them the album as a code or credit to their iTunes account, and if they buy U2 so be it. If not, let them buy whatever the hell they want. Done.

How different would the story have been? How much PR goodwill would have been earned? Hell, how much money would have been made from people who might have bought the U2 album and more?

People like free. We like bonuses and extras. Except when we don’t. That’s our choice.

You? Did you download or delete? What were your favorite tweets? 

Comments (4) | Trackback

Caught in the Act: Turning Negative Into Positive

This is a “please read” love letter to every business out there, large and small, to owners and marketing managers, to communications directors and CEOs. This is customer service, this is HR and well trained employees, this is public relations and social media. This is good business.

Sh*@ Happens.
Did I tell y’all the broken luggage story yet? (Nope.. blog idea captured but languishing in digital purgatory.) Anyhow..

Reader’s Digest Condensed Version: instead of proactively handling the situation, Carnival made us do all the work (which came out ok in the end), they missed the boat – PUN! – on turning a problem into customer service gold.

A couple weeks ago, I went to TomatoJam at South City Kitchen Vinings and our appetizers took too long. Which we barely noticed. Yes it was a long time but not crazy, we were sipping our wine and chatting, generally enjoying the evening.

The server apologized. The manager did. We never complained. Then gave us soups to tide us over until the apps were done. Then comped said apps. The manager kept up with us the rest of the night. As did the chef, to once again apologize for our wait.

All initiated by THEM with nary a prompt or complaint from us. Negative turned positive, done.

This is how a loyal brand advocate is born.

This is what gets them followed and liked.
This is why I always buy their promo deals.
Because of their generosity, we upped our order, spent more money.
Because of their commitment to service, I’ll not only return — I’ll recommend them to others.

Just a quick (yay! for once!) post to show I wasn’t so dumb after all as I’ve blogged before about the PR, social media, customer service connection.

It’s not the mistakes. Often it’s what you do NEXT, it’s what comes after the mistake that matters most.

Fixing the problem. Offering a solution; brownie points if you do so before being asked. Learning from the mistake, then applying that knowledge. Something we all gotta do when we find ourselves thinking more of the same will result in change, or trying new ways to make the same old failures. Got the bruises, the headaches, the ‘need wine now!” to show for that one myself. (In this case, the chef at SCKV talked about better scheduling around large party orders.)

Putting customer service first – from the front line all the way to the top of the executive food chain – is how a company can “cement a customer for life.” How a business handles mistakes is what can turn a deal breaker into difference maker.

Ever had a business or brand screw up the right way? Do Tell. 

Photo credit: So many memes, so much time wasted on the Internet picking one. :-)

Comments (6) | Trackback

Unpopular Changes vs Customer Expectations: Lose-Lose?

So I follow Carnival, no big secret. It’s something I enjoy, cruising; and fun to watch a brand I like do some things right (and wrong) in the webosphere of PR, social media-ness.

Us. Them. The Silent Minority?

This week’s news is the forthcoming change to Carnival’s smoking policy. To sum up: Balcony cabins are going non-smoking. If guests smoke, they’ll pay a cleaning fee and risk being asked to leave, per violation of the microscopic legal gobbledygook in the contract.

Well the people are speaking to Carnival. A review of the posts to their Facebook page, this change is getting mixed reactions to say the least. customercaredemotivator

  • Yay! Plenty of people would prefer ocean breeze to second hand Marlboro when they enjoy their balcony cabins, so they’re happy.
  • Boo! Hiss! Plenty of people seem upset, ranging from “I’ll still cruise but shame on you” to “NEVER. AGAIN. $*^@*&(# Carnival!
  • Smart Feedback. And questionable advice.
    • Speak with your wallet. Cancel bookings. Switch to other cruise lines.
      • These excellent suggestions have been appreciated by almost all, with various “Amen!” or “Good Riddance!” comments.
    • Define “majority.” More than a few ‘loud minority’ suggestions that it’s only a few who so strongly dislike the smoke that they avoid the cabins, casinos or cruise line all together.
    • Other smart commenters know it’s all about the money: If the ‘majority’ really wants that, do it. Then see how it impacts alcohol sales and gaming revenues, not to mention duty-free cigarettes profits.
    • Run the risk. Can’t say this ‘live dangerously’ attitude is wise, risking the cleaning fee or being kicked off the ship.
    • Make one side balconies smoking. They charge by location anyway, only catch is how to price and arrange the non-smokers around the smokers. It makes some sense but then, that’s gonna require selecting a smoking or non cabin at booking, more work for the hotel operations.
    • Manage Your Expectations. They really can’t please everyone, so stop asking.
      • Why not a booze free ship, for people who don’t like loud drunks? If that was me, my bad.
      • Why not a kid free ship, for people who’d prefer an adult getaway? I did that in April, sailing when almost every kid on the planet was in school. An adult-only pool .. that’s spot-on.
      • Why not a rain free vacation, for people allergic to common sense on how weather works? Even the Disney bubble breaks sometimes.

Get Your Messages Straight.

Quick sidebar. While the language suggests this change is to placate guests per customer feedback, other comments refer to the important fire safety issue. Hard to sell customers on an unpopular idea with mixed messages.

See also, oblique references to upgrades the public spaces reserved for smokers. Taking away without giving, not usually a smart move.

Their ‘unofficial’ social guy John Heald doth attest that TPTB really do take heed of feedback. Doing his best, he’s engaged about as much as he can on this issue. Alas the official engagement from Carnival has been limited, and what I’ve read has that icky ‘copy and paste’ vibe to it.

Data mining social media.

One of the biggest mistakes any company – global brand or small business – can make: ignoring what others are saying about them online.

Comments and feedback can offer great insight, let a brand know what’s working and what’s not, provide suggestions for improvement. Even more so as I’ve shown here, they can answer the most important questions, those qualitative X factors you can’t automate: WHY. WIIFM.

WIIFM to stick with one brand over the other? WHY do people upgrade to balcony cabins? Reviewing the comments (possibly reflecting a noisy minority), one big reason: to smoke. If that’s the case, it’s a major revenue stream and hate to say it, the half/half ship idea isn’t a bad one.

My takesocial, ‘crisis’ or marketing-proof. I hate that I keep coming back to that but – there it is. When people start comparing other cruise lines, other inclusive vacation alternatives my bet it is that many will be back and in the end, Carnival will gain more than it loses.

Your take: How do you announce a big change? What’s the best way to sell an idea that’s sure to be unpopular with some of your most loyal customers? At what point do you bow out gracefully, let the discussion die?

Photo credit: the smart folks at Despair totally get it. 

Comments (6) | Trackback

PR, Marketing, More: Observations from the Lido Deck

Here’s the problem with vacation: my brain goes with me.

Oh to be on a cruise

Once again my vacation of choice this year was a Carnival cruise. Snorkeling, cocktails, sun, sleep, food, fun, reading, napping.. the usual suspects all present and accounted for. Also in attendance, my communications consultant brain always seeing and thinking “oh they could do this, that business should try that.”

Difference makers. First time on a ‘Conquest’ class ship and while bigger may be better, it’s the Fun 2.0 features that really upgrade this cruise experience. I’ve done more cruises without those extra touches than with and all things the same, that’s the cruise that’s worth it. The Value is there; in the extra eateries and entertainment options, and across the board those ships, those crews, the food, the fun.. everything seems stepped up to the next level.

Know Your Customer. This was both hit and miss.

  • The miss: many of my favorite experiences were scheduled during my getting ready for/eating dinner time. I know the cruise director was working around having only two sea days and yet, I can’t help but think – and wasn’t the only one to notice – that many of the popular activities were geared towards for the early seating. Balance for everyone, please.
  • The hit: the redesigned, ‘upgraded’ dinner menus. Upgrade in quotes because in a brilliant stroke of branding and design smarts, Carnival fooled a lot of repeat guests into thinking it’s a ‘new’ menu. While some selections were new and truly improved, it’s also a lot of the same – simply repackaged. What was once the kitschy ‘didja’ as in ‘did ya ever want to try…’ is now labeled a ‘rare find,’ the ‘always available’ is the new ‘from the grill’ section, what was the ‘Caribbean’ inspired fare du jour has been dubbed ‘port of call’ to honor the journey. Same food, different labeling, pretty typesetting .. and voila everyone’s impressed.
    • Near miss or almost hit. The pasta with the mushroom cream sauce doesn’t hold a candle to Maggiano’s Rigatoni D. Ergo changing a logo won’t fix the brand, a pretty menu with flowery marketing descriptions doesn’t improve the food. I’ve always thought Carnival made a mistake by cooking down to its guests; the ‘new’ menus aren’t a perfect fix but certainly another step – in line with the very good Blue Iguana Cantina and Guy Fieri’s burgers – in the right direction.

IMG_1204Keep it Simple. Much like when you go to Disney World, you’re not going for themes and rides – you’re there for the experience. People pay very good money for those family trips, those shared moments and memories.

Same with cruising; it’s a no worries, little bit of everything for everyone kind of vacation. To that end, I loved the cruise-ship owned ‘private’ island; it’s a nice lazy beach day, where they do all the work and planning for you and it’s included without an excursion expense.

Service + Value = The Trick. The Liberty crew did a great job but always room for improvement. Been in food service enough to know it’s hard to serve that many people and yet, with all their practice, you’d think I’d get better than lukewarm pancakes.

Then there are the various daily specials the spa runs. So while marketing gets the win, PR takes the loss as the nice woman I met who paid more than $100 bucks for her facial kinda felt she got hosed when they broadcast the $39 deal over the intercom. And a cheapskate like myself learns to never pay full price, wait for the promo sale and get that ‘value.’

Lagniappe. AKA random thoughts.

  • Many ports and places kinda marketing proof; Grand Turk is such a small island, there’s little competition on beach clubs or diving operators — you pretty much have to take what you can get.
  • That said, I repeated the exact excursion – a sail and turtle snorkel – I’d done a few years ago in St. Thomas, I thought so much of the service, experience and value.
  • Comedians make brilliant sociologists, anthropologists. They relate to people – the why of what makes us tick – so they can tell jokes we’ll get. Dan Gabriel – “Going on Facebook is the life equivalent of looking in the fridge when you’re not hungry.” (Tweet This.) So spot-on I wrote it down. Makes me think PR turned comedian Shane Rhyne has a real chance.

Ok folks – books, gossip rags, a few too many drinks at the bar – how does one turn their brain off and just be away? Tell me your secret. P.S. Love it when a monster long blog post writes itself!

 Photo Credit: No silly meme this time, just lovely blue water taken by yours truly. Because I’m mean like that.
Comments (4) | Trackback

Meme Me and other bad Social Media ideas

I interrupt my blog procrastination to state the obvious: if you’re going to DO social, then you should actually BE social. Or at least you – or your paid PR team – should have have a passing understanding of how SM and the Interwebs work.

The Social Media Train Wreck of the Week award goes to Bill Cosby.

ICYMI: Bill Cosby asked the denizens of the Twitters, Reddits and Internets to ‘meme’ him. As anyone whose spent more than 10 minutes online knew, that was terribly bad dumb idea because it immediately went predictably wrong.

This wasn’t trolling. This was open season on stupidity of the “you’re getting everything you asked for, now let’s see if you really want what you’re getting” variety. Needless to type, TPTB have put this fail out of our misery.

Social Media 101 for those who try to MAKE it happen.

STOP. Stop asking for trouble. If you think you can use Facebook or Twitter to your own ends without any backlash or counter punches, think again.

  • Get your house in order, check yourself before you wreck yourself.
  • You can’t force ‘viral.’ And FWIW a million hits on something that has global brand recognition isn’t what I consider viral.
  • Memes are forces unto themselves. A cool picture makes its way online and the PEOPLE – not the brands – make it happen; plenty of lessons learned from Alex from Target.
  • Social networks have their own way, the culture of G+ is different from Facebook which is different from LinkedIn. “The problem is that most brands are trying to simply sell into the culture, without being a part of it,” Mitch Joel on part of what’s wrong with marketing today.
  • People WILL call you on your bullshit, whether you’re a celeb reposting other people’s jokes without credit or a lame marketing agency trying to take credit for something you didn’t do.

For any business or brand looking at what social media can do for them, it’s a lot. Yet even those who do ‘get it’ realize it’s a crapton of hard work, the risks not always worth the reward.

Public relations, social media, branding, content, design .. those are the ‘what’ of what I do as a business communicator. My job isn’t to rev up your email funnel, it’s not to ‘fix’ your company’s bad online reviews or to build a better Facebook page. My job, the ‘why’ of what I do is to help you build a better company.

You tell me: Besides Oreo during the SuperBowl, last time you saw a good social share or hashtag campaign? When is the reward worth the risk?

Photo credit: One of my favorites of the Business Baby meme, via Reddit.
Comments (4) | Trackback