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? 

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ICYMI: My Content, Elsewhere

This blog is my home base, the hub of the social empire of made up of me, my Mickey Mouse pen holder and those of rare few of exceptional taste (i.e. you).

Truth be typed I spend much more of my time elsewhere on the Interwebs: on various social networks, on news and media sites, on your blogs. I watch, I read, I comment, I share.

Unless you’re stalking my every move – let me save you some time, don’t; I’m really boring – there’s no way to catch it all. In that spirit, every few weeks I’ll recap what I think readers may enjoy and what I consider worth a second look.

In Case You Missed It:

Suing customers for posting accurate, unfavorable reviews is a thing now as vendors and service providers are banning (negative) reviews in their contracts. Thoughts:

  • Some companies live or die by reviews, that’s business. Have a good product, offer good services and people will say so via likes, stars, comments, testimonials.
  • Businesses need to take ownership of their brand, manage their online reputation, respond to the bad and do what it takes to fix the problems (not just the reviews).
  • Manage expectations. It’s a ridiculous standard to expect a business to have nothing but glowing raves; ‘perfection’ at half price isn’t the only measure of a job well done. There are those times that.. the customer isn’t always right; they tend to misplace their blame and negate their own.

I understand a business’s need to protect itself. But if a provider isn’t willing to stand behind their service to the point they’ll sue me for posting an honest, negative review they won’t win my trust nor earn my business.

Comments Closed.

As I indicated on Google+, this WILL be blogged in detail here at some point. Many others were right on Copyblogger’s move to close comments, so for now let me direct you to their posts that, as fate would have it, have some pretty smart comments (and also, mine):

Gini Dietrich explains why she won’t close blog comments, and I was like yeah, ‘comments are work.’ Next I had to buy Mark Schaefer a Coke, as he was spot-on with the economics behind ending blog comments. Marcus Sheridan said Good for Copyblogger, their blog, their rules, their choice. To which I said sure – and by the same logic, so too everyone complaining about the move; their comments, their opinions, their choice.

Everyone is free to do what works best for them in this ever-changing social experiment. Some sites, comments don’t make sense. For my style of blogging, they do.

Generic Brand Video.

This collaboration is scary smart, as Dissolve took the pithy smarts of a McSweeney’s post and added it to their stock footage for something both hilarious and spot-on.

It’s a pretty sharp commentary on business communications, on PR – and a clever piece of marketing content for themselves.

Watching the news or TV golf, I promise you’ll never look at those ads – about absolutely nothing – the same way.

Many of us have content that’s elsewhere. What’s a better, easier way to curate that, to repurpose it into something new? Do share.

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Disaster? Crisis? End of the World? Nah, just a bad tweet.

I’ll skip the ranting about what a ‘real’ crisis is (see also: Carnival, a brand I still like). Instead read Tegan Ford, whose ambitious thesis tries to make sense of how social media  impacts a public relations crisis.

PR crises .. we’ve already forgotten?

Maybe not forgotten, but certainly not hot topics any more. Most of these things have a short shelf life, relegated to a few back links when the pundits dredge it up when hyping their latest brand “disaster” click bait story. That has no customers leaving, no stocks tanking, no mass exodus of employees. Ahem.

Pace. This fake Twitter fight of comic vs. automated responses barely qualifies as a blip in my book. Moving on.

Lesson: Nothing new – if you’re going to brand and market on Twitter, know what you’re doing and be prepared for anything, including having your brand jacked into a hoax.

Chick-fil-A. Atlanta is the backyard of this company and no one stopped going. No one. A blip on the 2012 radar, mentioned in context of activist groups lobbying against certain brands. I don’t recall any mass of franchisees leaving or customers permanently boycotting. It’s a product [some] people like, sold by a company [some] people respect and by all accounts, still thriving.

Lesson: Reputation. Values. Quality. Service. Start

Paula Deen. During the height of this I joined eavesdropped a conversation of several women, most of them of color. The general consensus – surprising to me – was 1) she’s a different era blah blah 2) media needs to let it go and give her a break, giving the ‘victim’ claim legs and 3) they know if their sense of racial justice has been offended or not, so the press and pundits should stop telling them how they need to feel and think. The biggest concern: get to Walmart before they sell out of gooey cakes.

Plenty of advice out there, on what Paula Deen could do. Given the givens, I’d say Ms. Deen is a tell-all book, a ‘kiss and cry’ apology tour away from some type of comeback. She’s a known name, a brand; she probably won’t rebuild the full empire, but if Martha Stewart can do it I don’t see why not.

Lesson: Hire smarter; communication strategy is better when the legal, PR teams work together.

Home Depot. Bad joke, stupid tweet. Ugh. This one annoyed me for many reasons. I never heard one whiff of complaint from a ‘real’ not media/marketing person. Home Depot pulled the crappy “aim, point finger, fired!” excuse as they blamed their SM agency. Like so many other blink-and-you-miss-it mistakes, I neither saw nor read one story about a lasting negative impact.

Lesson: Crisis or marketing proof perhaps? They’re a giant brand and if they sell what people need cheaper than the competition, the cash registers will keep ringing.

Duck Dynasty. Are people still fuming or reverse fuming at Cracker Barrel? Not the first time that brand has caught media ire, but I hadn’t caught anything about them lately and the bruhaha about this show seems to barely have carried over to 2014. Or I just stopped paying it any attention.

While they get royalties from product licensing, A&E is in the business of making money by producing TV shows that sells cable TV ads. If they have enough of a target audience for marketers, and those marketers think they’ll gain more than they’ll lose, the show and advertising will go on – though with lower ratings.

Lesson: Media training. Know your audience, know your customers. No such thing as bad publicity – except when there is.

It’s not a mistake so long as you, me.. someone learns from it.

I suppose I came down too hard on PR smartie Gini Dietrich — sorry my friend, really was not my intention — when discussing the Home Depot crisis du jour. (FWIW it was so fly by night, I had to go back and look up what we were discussing.)

She’s right – the big lesson is that there ARE lessons we can learn from these events and that a well-written blog post or case study can help others avoid these kind of mistakes.

  • It is helpful to study and follow these cases – with a qualified, critical eye.
  • It’s important to understand the nature of the issues; look past the hype to properly gauge impact and access damage to the brand.
  • Don’t make matters worse by over – or under – reacting; have strategy for a proportional response.
  • Accept responsibility; don’t throw people – the ones you vetted and hired to do a job – under the bus.
  • Apologize, be genuine, make amends, move on. Putting it on autopilot, copy and pasting the same apology, treating public relations and social media as ‘set and forget’ marketing – that’s asking for trouble.
  • PR 101: Don’t screw up in the first place. But when you do, a foundation built of quality products and services, a carefully crafted reputation that comes from being a good company – makes it that much easier to weather any storm.

What’d I miss? Sure there were other flaps and foibles, other gaffs and mistakes. Please remind me – and what we can learn from them.

 Photo credit: not hard to find many funny and many offensive memes for this post, that one from RollingOut

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Three Thoughts for Thursday

Along the lines of inspiration coming from anywhere, a post can come from a beer tasting and a movie. Kinda freeform ideas, FWIW:

3 thoughts on business: 

1. Innovation. Went to the Red Brick Brewing for a beer tasting was a special night – the Employee brew off.

  • This was open to all employees, not just the ‘beer’ guys, because this company is all about the love of beer, not just profit. Loves me some smart HR.
  • The marketing manager explained that THIS was their focus, this is how they learn from their customers what to offer and sell, by giving folks an open invitation to come and try. competition

2. Competition. The night being young and all, I went to see the movie RUSH, based on a rivalry of two Formula One drivers.

  • While I’m not a huge racing fan it goes to show what sports can do – tell a compelling story. (And not for nothing, the players in this had some smart, entertaining media savvy.)
  • More importantly, it shows the power and NEED for healthy competition. Just like the rivalries we follow in sports, so too are they important in business. Easiest example of that now – the Tech Wars. Apple and Google, Apple and Samsung, Apple and Microsoft – yes, I overdose on the Apple, but it’s hard to miss my point: all these VS. of the tech giants against each other, they all DRIVE each other to do better, offer more, try harder. And we as the consumer tend to win.

3. Differentiation. Back to the brewery for this one.

  • It’s not meaningless attempt to revolutionize a product or market sector. Cars have four wheels and probably will for some time hence; the beer was still a malt beverage, served in a glass. Evolutionary improvements can drive markets.
  • There’s always a catch; last night’s: a lot of good beers didn’t win the competition. What really wowed the tasters? The ones that tried different things. The nights winner, Fiery Gizzard, – you gotta look at all the names, some great creativity there – was a love-or-hate it concoction where spicy met citrus.

RedBrickBeerAt the core of these – to a PR like myself anyway – is communication, open and flowing sans walls, departmental lines, silos, ceilings, limits.

You create and discover, learn and study and explore. It’s keeping your eyes on the prize, the leaders of the pack and the up-and-comers, helping you put together that dream team that can in fact build a better mouse trap or craft and market a crazy-but-it-works beer. Talking, listening and really hearing what others employees, investors, customers need and want and are willing to buy – that’s the brass ring territory right there.

These traits hardwired are into the strongest corporate cultures. Look past the win today or the sale tomorrow, look to the future you want and the plan it will take to get you there.


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Brand Image is in the eye of the Beholder.

Can’t help it, the Macklemore-Ryan Lewis tune “Thrift Shop” is one of my jams. Fun, catchy and it makes a pretty keen observation on marketing to our consumer culture:

$50 for a t-shirt? I call that getting swindled and pimped. I call that getting tricked by a business.” Cracks me up since while I’d never pay that much for a tee just because it has Brand X on it, I’d be happy to get it for $14.

How did I not know about this?!

I’m a diehard clearance rack shopper at Macy’s, happy to peruse Marshall’s and TJMaxx for deals and bargains. One store that I’d never considered was ROSS.

Maybe it was the signage, maybe the “Dress for Less” tagline; can’t say I’d ever paid attention to their ads. But whatever it was, the image I had for ROSS made me think it wasn’t for me. OMG was I wrong.

ROSS has cute stuff! It’s not wall-to-wall designer, but I’ve found some nice dresses, bought cute gifts and housewares. Scored Michael Kors shoes! Told a friend about my ‘new’ store and she was like, ‘been going for years.’ I was like, ‘so you’ve been holding out on me then?!’

I’m paying attention to the ads and wow, is the marketing off brand. Is it that they’re going only for the bargain shopper? The lower end? Is that why the marketing seems to ‘miss’ the middle, and high? Whatever the reason, they need a rebrand.1243048824goodchance

Image is Everything

Think what your marketing, your communications say about your organization, your small business.

  • Are you going for ‘value’ but landing on ‘cheap’? Details matter. If you’re courting the high-end market, you won’t you convey ‘gotta have it at any price luxury’ when you use cut-rate photography, design, printing, ‘buy now’ hard sell.
  • If you talk ‘customer service‘ as a cornerstone of your brand, then relegate it to a subset of sales, it’s just a setup for crappy service. Call center ‘support’ staffed with nothing more than a script and no empowerment in the company only hurts your reputation – and drives customers to someone who does it better.

Close your eyes. Picture what you want customers to see, what you think they see when they hear your name.

Take a hard, honest Kitchen Nightmare Meltdown look: Your website. Your brochures and ads. The stories you tell. The lobby the greats guests, your showroom floor. The photos you splash on Facebook and Pinterest.

There’s a reason global companies like Apple, Disney, Coke know from reputation and PR, service and image; the details represent what they need them to. These things are all part of your brand – and they communicate your company’s brand image.

If you’re telling the wrong stories, building the wrong image in the eyes of your stakeholders – I can help you create the right one.

Ever been pleasantly surprised or galactically disappointed by a brand experience that was completely off? Tell me.

Photo credit: Bluntcards also crack me up.

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