Archive for the ‘Brand Engagement’ Category

Five in the Morning

number-fiveA few months back, Steve “aggregator-in-chief” Woodruff started a daily blog series called “Five in the Morning”.  Through the series, Steve shares recent posts and news items from his feed reader that he finds interesting.  Wednesday night, Steve and I got together to talk shop and to enjoy some award-winning, Bobby Flay-slaying BBQ ribs. Somewhere between the 13th and 17th napkin,  Steve mentioned that he wanted to franchise the Five in the Morning series to cast a wider net around the great content available out there.  When he asked if I wanted to give it a shot this week, I said sure.

So without further adieu, here are five posts that I think you’ll find interesting….

  • Forrester’s Bruce Temkin discusses the just released 2008 Customer Experience Index.  As usual, industries with the least amount of competition clock in with the lowest customer experience scores.  That includes Comcast whose overall index dropped a whopping 12 points since last year despite its ComcastCares efforts. Also, the post includes a link where you can download the complete Forrester report for free.
  • The guys over at MyCreativeTeam explain why an old burglar with a reindeer fetish has such a strong brand.
  • Social media consultant Matt J McDonald tells us that “Blogging is hard work” plus 15 other Simple Social Media Truths.  By the way, some believe Matt and American Idol David Cook were Separated at Birth (Go ahead, click the link.  You know you want to).
  • Crayonista Adam Broitman outlines three creative interactive marketing strategies that invoke consumers to talk to other consumers about brands, with minimal interference from the brand itself.  Note: the post starts on Adam’s blog but continues at iMediaConnection.
  • Last but not least, Amber Naslund picks up on posts from a few other bloggers and makes a great case for looking at old tools through new lenses.

Companies Without Conversation

This past week gave us several great examples of companies demonstrating their obliviousness to the changing world around them.

scrabble_v_scrabulous.jpgHasbro / Mattel

You know Scrabble. Created in 1933, the classic wordplay board game has been a favorite worldwide for decades. So when Calcutta-based developers Rajat and Jayant Agarwalla created a Scrabble knock-off application called “Scrabulous” for the social networking site Facebook, people started signing up like crazy. As of today, Scrabulous has 600,000 daily users but that’s only a quarter of the number of people who have signed up to play it. You’d think Hasbro & Mattel, who together own the world-wide rights to the game, would see an opportunity here and find a way leverage these social media passionistas to further promote their product. Sadly, they don’t see it that way and have issued a cease and desist order trying to get Facebook to take the game down.

From a legal standpoint, Hasbro / Mattel are well within their rights and in fact, as Shel Holtz points out in a response to Matt Dickman’s excellent post on this topic last week, companies must consistently go after intellectual property infringement cases to make future charges stick. Moreover, if the Agarwallas had simply printed a copy of Scrabulous and sold it as a board game, there would be little controversy about whether it constitutes a copyright violation.

Back in the days before consumers had a voice, there were really only two parties to consider in these types of cases: The IP owner and the IP infringer. The lawyers would shut the infringer down and that would be the end of it. Unfortunately for companies like Hasbro / Mattel, the world has moved on and, as demonstrated by the Scrabulous case, the consumers now have a seat at the table. They can’t impact the legal outcome of the case, but they can make the PR fallout into a big deal. Hasbro / Mattel either didn’t see that coming or felt it was not as important as defending the IP. What I and many other observers are suggesting is that a little creative thinking between the lawyers and the marketers could have resulted in an outcome that both satisfied Hasbro / Mattel’s legal requirement and managed to tap into the 2.5 million potential evangelists playing Scrabulous. This case is far from being closed and it will be interesting to see where it goes.

Target

Amy Jussel is a blogger focusing on media & marketing’s influence on kids. She sent a letter to Target’s Corp Communication dept regarding a billboard in Times Square that some people have found offensive. The good news is that target responded. The bad news is that this is what they said:

Good Morning Amy, Thank you for contacting Target; unfortunately we are unable to respond to your inquiry because Target does not participate with non-traditional media outlets. This practice is in place to allow us to focus on publications that reach our core guest. Once again thank you for your interest, and have a nice day.

target.jpgTarget “does not participate with non-traditional media outlets”?? Huh? Then what are they doing on Facebook and what’s that Rounders program all about???? And just who do they think their “core guest” is. I shop Target at least once a week and I bet millions of other people who “participate with non-traditional media outlets” do too. Perhaps if Target understood who their “core guest” really was, they would know that some of them can be quite vocal. Word of this “policy” spread like wildfire through digital communities and bloggers like Julia Roy quickly responded. With one sentence to one person, Target managed to offend an important segment of their customer base. What’s astonishing to me is that Target, which portrays its self as being cool and hip, is apparently clueless about how to engage with the “non-traditional media” segment of their customers. They don’t understand the brand evangelism opportunity that can be had from engaging with them (and I don’t mean in a Rounders sort of way). There will likely be some PR backpedaling on this one, just as there was just a few months ago with the Rounders debacle, but whether Target will make some fundamental changes in their approach is yet to be seen.

In a follow-up to his post on Scrabulous, Matt Dickman wrote about engaging with “non-traditional media” types. He asked:

When you look at your brand’s social media universe, are you looking for criminals or evangelists?

I think the first question for many companies should be Are you looking at your brand’s social media universe?

People Don’t Want a Drill…

dpt_drill_center.jpg

Today, I have the honor of guest blogging over at Drew McLellan’s Marketing Minute. The post is titled “People Don’t Want A Drill…”

Here’s a sample…

“…people aren’t looking for that thing you are marketing; they’re looking for the best tool to get a job done. Unless your product is some sort of “collectible”, your customers are only buying your product because they believe it will help them achieve that objective. Product features and functions may change at an ever increasing rate, but the things that people want to accomplish in their lives don’t change that quickly. Brands that help customers accomplish their objectives more effectively and conveniently than their competition are the ones that will be successful.”

Check out the whole post here

Update: Here’s the complete text:

In his book “The Innovator’s Solution: Creating and Sustaining Successful Growth“, Clayton Christensen writes:

“How do you create products that customers want to buy–ones that become so successful they “disrupt” the market? It’s not easy.

Three in five new-product-development efforts are scuttled before they ever reach the market. Of the ones that do see the light of day, 40% never become profitable and simply disappear.

Most of these failures are predictable–and avoidable. Why? Because most managers trying to come up with new products don’t properly consider the circumstances in which customers find themselves when making purchasing decisions. Or as marketing expert Theodore Levitt once told his M.B.A. students at Harvard: “People don’t want to buy a quarter-inch drill. They want a quarter-inch hole.””

Put another way, people aren’t looking for that thing you are marketing; they’re looking for the best tool to get a job done. Unless your product is some sort of “collectible”, your customers are only buying your product because they believe it will help them achieve that objective. Product features and functions may change at an ever increasing rate, but the things that people want to accomplish in their lives don’t change that quickly. Brands that help customers accomplish their objectives more effectively and conveniently than their competition are the ones that will be successful.

Given this, why do so many companies attempt to market their products and build their brands using an approach focused internally on the thing and not externally on the customer’s need? They conduct focus groups, assembling panels of customers to ask if adding this bell or that whistle to their thing would make it more appealing. They do extensive demographical analysis to determine those target customer segments that will find their thing appealing and then spend lots of resources convincing those customers to buy their new and improved thing. Sure, they get clear inputs on what customers want, but don’t typically take the time to understand what customers were trying to get done for themselves when they use the company’s thing. And this approach isn’t isolated to just manufacturers. It carries over to retailers who are focused on the products they are selling and not what the customer is passionate about or the “hole” they are trying to make.

Consumer Electronics retailers (my background) are particularly guilty of this. They are constantly telling customers that they have “all the great technology you want (or need) at prices you can afford“.

The fact is, very few people “want (or need) technology”. Customers don’t just wake up one morning and decide they need to go down to Circuit City to pick up some great new technology.

They DO want to have an incredible theater experience in their home. They DO want to capture and share family memories. They DO want to be able to print documents from any computer in their home.

How do the marketers respond to these needs? They dish out specs like 1080p, HDMI2.3, megapixels, and 801.11B, G or N. Whatever the latest spec is, that’s what you want. For the customer, none of this hype guarantees a great experience. Marketers who choose to promote their things this way will have a hard time building a powerful brand.

Marketers who understand what customers are really looking for will succeed by focusing on the experience enabled by their brand. Apple is, of course, the often-cited poster child for this. The iPod has never been the best in class from a technical standpoint, but the way Apple enables the music listening experience is what has put their brand miles ahead of the competition. In fact, the term “iPod” is often used generically in place of “MP3 player”. Customers looking for a portable media player will almost always think of Apple and iPod first.

My friend Ryan Karpeles wrote a great post on what he calls Reverse Branding which echoes this idea:

“People rarely think of your actual brand first. They think about what they want. Then they decide who, specifically, can fulfill that desire. Being that “who” is the essence of Reverse Branding.”

Getting customers to drive your brand in this way is the holy grail of marketing. To get there, you first need to understand that it’s the hole they want, not the drill. Once you get that, focus your efforts on being the best damned hole maker in the business.

 

What’s Wrong With Virtual World Marketing

aloft-closed.jpg

There has been lots of discussion lately, in both blogs and mainstream media, regarding the slowing growth of Second Life and the money corporations are wasting there. Having spent the last six months at my previous employer leading the effort to develop a significant SL presence, those stories peaked my interest. The adult-oriented Second Life has grown significantly over the last year, primarily because of all the media attention given to brands entering that virtual world. For the most part, brands who have invested in Second Life have not seen any return on their investment and some, like Starwood’s Aloft Hotel and American Apparel, have pull up stakes and left. In fact, most brand islands in Second Life are ghost towns. Why is that? I think that most of the companies that have built in Second Life have done so without really knowing why and the approach they typically use comes from their traditional marketing experience.

The Wrong Reasons

The rush started about a year ago following reports in business magazines about the economy of Second Life and the money some people were reportedly making. Companies started rushing in, not wanting to be late to the party. Some, like Starwood, saw the opportunity to use Second Life as an innovation platform, but others were there thinking this would be a great marketing or even sales channel without really understanding what they were dealing with. The common thread here is that their reasons for being in Second Life have been heavily focused on them and not the Second Life community.

The Wrong Approach

In most cases, companies have approached building a Second Life presence with a traditional marketing mindset. Because it’s a 3D world, the typical approach has been to build a virtual “physical” destination; a store or building where consumers can interact with your brand. But unlike the real world where the best locations are those with high traffic, companies have chosen to build on isolated private islands, safely away from “populated” areas. This allows the companies to totally control the experience and minimize risks from neighbors who may not be complimentary to their brand. The analog to this is the traditional website, which is effectively a island, isolated from other websites on the internet. Since most companies have entered Second Life without understanding its social nature, this approach is understandable, but flawed.

To get people to visit your island, you have to provide incentives like freebies and events. That’s like advertising in the real world, but it’s relatively ineffective in Second Life considering the relatively low traffic stats compared with a real world website. This approach is also hard to sustain and when the initial buzz dies off, so does your traffic and consequently, support for continuing the incentives.

The third and probably most significant flaw in the typical approach is failing to understand the community you are trying to engage with. Virtual Worlds are very different from websites and physical presences in that they are, by nature, platforms for social networks. In Second Life, its all about adding value to the community. Companies generally have not gone the extra mile to:

  1. Determine if there is a community within Second Life that they can/should connect with and..
  2. Design a differentiated and sustainable experience experience that adds value for that target community.

While much of the recent coverage of Second Life has been negative, there have also been articles and posts that argue, as I do, that the failure of companies to get the return they were expecting from Second Life lies squarely with the companies themselves. You should check out HBR / Paul Hemp’s take on the debate as well as Marshall Sponder’s great post responding to the Wired story. (Thanks to Greg Verdino for the links)

It should be pointed out that there are organizations, like Pontiac, who have taken a different approach in Second Life and have clearly had different outcomes. It should also be pointed out that Second Life is not the only game in town. Some of the PG-13 rated virtual worlds have taken a much different approach to marketing as part of their overall framework. Unlike Second Life, which imposes minimal restrictions regarding what can be built there, the more youth-oriented worlds have been fairly restrictive and exert significant control over the content that is allowed. Although much more controlled, worlds like MTV, There & Doppleganger, have built compelling social experiences first and then have layered branded items into the experience. These virtual worlds are generally smaller and more focused around an idea or theme. If There.com is a “world”, the Second Life is a galaxy containing many worlds. I think this size and focus difference is important in that it makes it easier to embed marketing messages “globally” within the virtual world.

Coke vs Pepsi

In Second Life, you can go to Coke’s Virtual Thirst and get some freebies, but it’s generally empty. Brand engagement with Coke in Second Life is virtually non existent (pun intended). Pepsi, on the other hand has taken a very different approach to virtual world marketing. Given their orientation toward a younger generation, they partnered with MTV to develop a brand presence in the worlds of Virtual MTVs. At the Virtual Worlds ’07 conference this past spring, Matt Bostwick, senior vice president for franchise development at MTV Networks’ Music Group discussed this in detail. Avatars in these worlds don’t have to go to an island to interact with Pepsi. Instead, Pepsi has embedded themselves throughout the virtual world with Pepsi vending machines, branded clothing, and contests where you can win “rare” branded items. This embedded approach feels more natural. Conversely, a Pepsi Island that I visit to learn about Pepsi in return for a trinket or a dance party seems interruptive, like a TV ad.

What’s your take? What organizations are getting it right in Virtual Worlds and how are they doing it?

Marketing to Youth in Social/Virtual Worlds

vlbhills-beach.jpg

As I sit here in my kitchen looking for a job, my daughter Tyler and her friend have the big HP notebook fired up and pointed at Disney’s Virtual Magic Kingdom. Tyler, who just entered her teen years, has been playing around in virtual worlds for a few years now. She has as many friends in these communities as she does in real life and she is not alone. Millions of younger kids are spending significant time in virtual worlds like Disney’s Toontown, VMK, Club Penguin, Webkinz and Whyville. The market for “safe” teen social sites and virtual worlds continues to grow as well with MTVs virtual worlds, There.com, Doppelganger and others.

According to a recent study, 71 percent of tweens and teens between the ages of 9 and 17 visit social/virtual world sites weekly. There isn’t a clear tally of the virtual world population, but the number of registered users for kids and teen worlds is growing. From the study:

Urban teen environment Doppelganger has nearly 150,000 registered members, while PG-13 site There.com has 1 million members, 70 percent of whom are between the ages of 13 and 26. Self-described “edutainment” site for tweens, Whyville, has 2.3 million users.

As has been pointed out in numerous studies, many kids are watching less television, preferring instead to spend time on the internet. In the last week alone, my daugher has watched maybe 6 hours of TV, but has spent three times that much time on YouTube, VMK and other social sites. I’m beginning to think the computer is somehow physically attached to her as she takes it everwhere.

Enter the Marketers

Over at ClickZ, Matthew Nelson published a good article last month which discusses the the marketing landscape in youth oriented virtual worlds. He points out that in the PG-13 worlds, marketers are quite active in promoting specific items that appeal to todays teens (clothing, music, electronics). The challenge here is to find ways to engage them. As Nelson points out, this audience has been the target of sophisticated campaigns since they were babies. They recognize when they are being marketed to and will simply ingnore the message if it doesn’t add value to them.

To appeal to teens, advertisers and virtual worlds often team-up around themes that are clear fits, such as music, entertainment, clothing and electronics, but marketers need to engage their audience to keep them coming back. Recently, There.com signed an agreement with Capitol Music Group to bring music artists into its world, and created a series of virtual nightclubs for them to play in. More than that, users will be able to watch videos and interact with band members.

“The artists are realizing they need to be more involved with their market,” said Michael Wilson, CEO of There. “And this is a more efficient way to meet a fan, to change the engagement with them from a few moments to minutes.”

Nelson points out that there has been conscious decision among the young kid oriented sites to disallow all in-world advertising, but that’s not to say that the sites themselves aren’t powerful marketing vehicles for the brands that own them. The point of sites like Nicktropolis, Toontown & VMK is to get kids to interact and engage with the brand. Spend any time in VMK and you will see all kinds of in-world ad for Disney properties.

Youth Are Receptive to Marketers IF….

A recent study conducted by Grunwald Associates found that kids (9 to 17-year olds) are not only spending significant time in social sites, but are willing to engage with advertisers in those spaces is they are approached in the right way (i.e. must be relevant and perceived as adding value).

Disney obviously understands the attraction of social/virtual worlds to their target consumer (kids) and are aggressively moving to expand their presence. They are planning new virtual worlds around specific properties like Pirates of the Carribean and just this week bought Club Penguin. By simply renaming it “Disney’s Club Penguin” club penguin fans become Disney fans. Others brands, such as Capital Music Group, are partnering with virtual worlds to build persistent experiences for their consumers to interact with. If you market products to youth, social/virtual worlds are clearly channels that you need be exploring. These are two examples of what I think are successful approaches to marketing in social/virtual worlds.

Do you have some examples to share (good or bad)? What are the big pitfalls of marketing to youth through these channels.

Discuss……

US Airways Want’s My Help. What’s In It For Me?

usairways-china.png

USAirways sent me an email message this week asking for my help. The message was titled “Show Your Support for Our China Service”. It seems that USAirways would like to offer a Philly to China flight, but needs the US Department of Transportation to award the route to them. The DOT is apparently influenced by public opinion so USAirways would like me to “Get Involved” by signing their petition. From the email:

We need your help! The DOT heavily considers public support when they award new service. Please take a minute to sign our petition — it’s quick and you can do it online. We have to submit these petitions by August 2 and every signature counts.

Why should I do this? What has USAirways done for me lately (ok , ever). In the message, they list four reasons why I should support them:

  1. With service to China, we can grow internationally and offer you even more destinations
  2. We’d have a connecting flight from Charlotte to Philadelphia for more choices for the southeast U.S.
  3. We’re the only major U.S. airline without service to Asia
  4. Today, there are no nonstop flights between Philadelphia and China

Clearly, these reasons primarily benefit USAirways. They offer no other tangible incentives for me to support them. I’m sure there are rules prohibiting that sort of thing anyway.

This is the first time that USAirways has ever asked me to help them. Perhaps, if they had been engaging me as a customer, asking for my input on ways to provide better service, this request wouldn’t seem so self-serving, but they haven’t and it does. Perhaps USAirways should have taken the time to target this request to people who might find it valuable; perhaps people who have flown USAirways to other international destinations.

Email marketing is cheap, so companies might have a tendency to simply blast a message out to every address in their files. I don’t remember the last time I flew USAir and I have never used them for international travel, so why did they think I would be interested in helping them get the China service? Instead, my opinion of them went down just a little because they want my help without offering anything of value to me in return.

Did you get the e-mail? What do you think about this case?

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 3

akl3.jpg

I’ll be picking up my wife and daughter at the airport this evening.  They wrapped up their marathon 9-day Disney vacation today and I’m sure they will have lots of stories to tell about all the things I missed.  Some I’ve already heard about, like the characters in the latest Castle Court show have mouths and eyes that move.  My daughter said it was “a little freaky”, but to me, adding animation to the typically static character costumes, makes them seem more expressive, more real, especially to the younger guests.   People like to talk about their experiences, both good and bad.  It’s the sharing of these experiences that can make or break a brand over time.  If people tend to talk negatively about their experience with you, you better listen to what they are saying and respond accordingly.  Disney Guests generally have very positive things to say and that reflects the fact that they are externally focused on the customer and their experience.

In this third and final note on my recent Disney experience is going to be a bit of a meandering catch-all, but hopefully you will like it.  The first topic on the agenda is:

Make It Easy For Me

disney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgdisney_fastpass.jpgThere is nothing relaxing about spending a week at Disney.  You are on the go from the minute you wake up (early if you going to that character breakfast at another resort), to the minute you crash following Extra Magic Hours.  Disney has been quite innovative at designing and implementing programs that make it easier for me to get the most out of my experience and gives Disney more opportunities to generate more revenue.  I already mentioned the Magical Express program which, when it works well, makes it really easy to get to and from Orlando airport and saves me lots of cash.  My 40 minutes on the bus each way also gives Disney the chance to market the cruise line or the vaction club to me (in an entertaining way, of course).   

fastpass2.jpgfastpass1.jpgDisney’s Fastpass system is one of the best innovations I have ever seen in an themepark.  If you aren’t familiar with , it is a system introduced in 1999, that allows guests to avoid long lines at Disney theme parks. At an attraction featuring FASTPASS, guests can use their park admission ticket to obtain a FASTPASS ticket (essentially a reservation) with a return time later that day (an hour-long window) printed on it. If the guest comes back to the attraction during the specified return times, the guest can wait in a special line called “FASTPASS Return” and be able to ride on the attraction with a much shorter wait time than normal queue.  This is a “win-win” for both you and Disney.  A guest standing in line is a guest not spending money in the giftshops or restaurants.  By giving me a reservation. I can go do other things, which Disney hopes will involve spending money.

The third Make It Easy For Me innovation is called PhotoPass.  If you’ve been to virtually any big theme park, you know about the gauntlet of park photographers that you have to get past to get into the park.  Disney wasn’t any different until a couple of years ago, as described by Deb Wills on her excellent AllEarsNet website:

Prior to December 2004, Disney photographers were easy to spot and eager to take your photo as you entered the theme park. In fact, their eagerness and zeal could be found quite annoying after a while. I know that some folks really did like this photo opportunity, but to me, there was something about this process that just wasn’t “magical.” Once they took your photograph, you were given a paper card with a number on it. You were instructed to return to the Photo Center in a few hours for the viewing and purchase of your photo. At each location where you had a photo taken, you received yet another paper card. If you were like most people, and waited until the afternoon or, worse, closing time to get your mementos, you found yourself crowded into a small store with the anticipation of a long wait.

Theme Park Photo Pass MachineWith Disney’s PhotoPass system a Disney photographer gives you a plastic PhotoPass card with a magnetic strip and an ID number on the back. Each time you see one of the roving photographers and want a photo taken, just go up and hand them your card — they’ll get you situated, snap the pose, scan your card and off you go.  When you’re ready to view your pictures, you can either go to the Photo Center at the park or wait until you can get online at your resort or back home.

These guys are really good and will often get you in creative poses.  While I enjoy taking my own pictures, we hardly ever get shots of the whole family.  PhotoPass makes it easy to get great family pictures.  The cost per print is a little high for me, but there is no obligation to buy any of them. 

I should point out that Disney has been listening to their customers and has made several significant improvements to the program over the last 2 years including integrating the system into the several major attractions like TestTrack.

No Negative Surprises

We experienced two of these on this trip.  First, we went to MGM Studios of Father’s Day because I am totally addicted to Rockin Rollercoaster.  I have been known to ride it back to back for hours on a slow day.  We came through security, ran our passes through the scanner and entered the park.  Once we were inside there was a sign posted saying that Rockin Rollercoaster would be closed all day…….  on Father’s Day……. when dads should be able to do what they want like ride Rockin Rollercoaster!  I later found out why it was closed, but they really picked the wrong day for it.  What’s worse is that they didn’t have the notice posted outside of the park.  I’m sure there were people who used up a day on their pass only to be disappointed.  The reason it was closed was that they were adding a single rider line.  I came back the next day and was able to ride it 6 times in an hour – w00t.

Second, Disney notified us the night before we left that they would not be able to honor our reservations for the second half of the week at the Animal Kingdom Lodge.  Althought the reservations were made months ago, the construction of the new Vacation Club villas has closed parts of the resort.  Disney offered to put us in villa accomodations in the Downtown Disney area, but having a kitchen is not the same experience as having giraffes outside your balcony.  They eventually upgraded us to a better room at Animal Kingdom Lodge, but we didn’t have this resolved until the day we were supposed to move.

Be True To Your Brand

I was in the Magic Kingdom and had just watched a stage show at the castle.  All of these shows follow a similar formula:  The good guys vs. the bad guys with Mickey saving the day plus a princess or two thrown in for good measure.  Like the show format, the musical style for these productions hasn’t changed much from what was typical when Disneyland opened in 1955.  While there have been a number of attractions replaced or updated through the years, the feel is still the same.  Disney has built some pretty intense attractions in the other Disney World parks, but not in the Magic Kingdom.  Traditionally, the Disney brand begins to fall off for boys at about 9 or 10 years old and girls a bit older. This is a hole in Disney’s guest demographics that they would love to fill.   I was Twittering pretty much through the trip and posed the question:

Would putting a hyper-coaster in the magic kingdom make it more attractive for teens or would it be inconsistent with the park’s brand?

I got a couple of responses with opinions on both sides, but in general, the feeling was that it would fundamentally change the park and that would not be a good thing (can you say “New Coke”).  As Tim Siedell pointed out, “Universal caters to that age and crowd (thrill coasters) and the Magic Kingdom pounds them in attendance.” 

So a couple of takaways from this final post on Disney World:

  1. Look for opportunities to make it easier for your customers to enjoy their experience.  Don’t assume these will add costs to you operation.  As Disney has shown, “Make It Easy” innovations can be win-wins.
  2. While Surprise and Delight is good, Negative Surprises are not.  Be vigilant about identifying and addressing potential negative surprises before the customer encounters them and when they do happen, have alternatives and solutions ready that will meet or exceed the customers needs.
  3. Be careful about introducing changes that fundamentally change your brand.  You may be able to attract some new customers, but you may also lose some of what makes your experience special in the first place.

As I mentioned in Part 1, Walt Disney World is a great case study for people passionate about customer experience design.  I’d love to hear your thought on Disney World.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 2

Disney’s parks and resorts have a well deserved reputation for delivering great experiences. In tonight’s installment, I’ll give you a few more examples from my recent trip and also examine some experiences that don’t measure up to the Disney standard.

Extend the Experience

wdw_magical_express.jpgI have written about Disney’s Magical Express before. This is the service that basically extends your Disney experience all the way back to your home airport. It’s absolutely great when it works, but on the inbound leg of this trip, it did not live up to the Disney standard. I think the problems can be traced back to the fact that Disney does not operate this service. It is outsourced to a local transportation company and therefore is not directly managed by Disney. It’s not unusual for companies to outsource parts of their operation, but they need to be very careful about ensuring that the service provider is consistently delivering an experience that lives up to your brand. My wife and I came in on different flights. English was apparently a second language for my driver and so he was silent for most of the trip. The buses have TV screens and on previous trips, there has been either a movie like Snow White or a video marketing the Disney Vacation Club. On this trip, there was nothing. It was just a bus ride.

My wife and daughter arrived around 3:00pm. While their trip seemed to measure up to the Disney Experience, trouble was just around the corner. Knowing that their luggage was tagged and would be delivered to the room, we went to the Magic Kingdom for the evening. When we returned to the room at 1:00am, we discovered that our daughter’s suitcase was missing. With her in tears, we called the Magical Express people who were able to locate the bag at the airport in about 5 minutes. They brought it to the room around 3:00am.

There are controls built into this system that should have prevented this from happening. The bag had the Magical Express tag on it indicating who it belonged to and what resort we were staying at. It should not have taken a phone call for them to recognize and resolve the problem. Disney needs to do a much better job of ensuring that their service providers are consistently delivering an experience worthy of the Disney brand. On the positive side, my return trip to the airport was wonderful. The driver was one of the better entertainers that I had seen all week. Oh, and about the lack of movies on the inbound trip, the driver explained that it was a brand new bus (styled for the Disney Cruise Line), and the video gear had not been installed yet. Setting expectations is a good thing!

Let Me Co-Create the Experience

monsters-inc-laugh-floor-co.jpgIn recent years, Disney has incorporated more and more interactivity into their attractions. EPCOT’s Mission Space, for example, assigns roles and tasks to each of the riders on “the mission”. The Buzz Lightyear Astro Blasters ride in Disneyland allows you to not only rack up the points when you’re riding it in person, but also to participate through an online component. The Turtle Talk with Crush attraction uses digital puppetry to create a verbally and visually interactive animated character. A new attraction in Orlando’s Tomorrowland is Monsters, Inc Laugh Floor Comedy Club. Like TurtleTalk but on a much larger scale, the Laugh Floor features interactive animated characters, but in this attraction, Disney has gone one step further by integrating the use of cell phone text messages into the attraction. While you wait in line for the next show, you are asked to send text messages from your cell phone to the monsters, offering your jokes for the monsters to tell. I saw lots of people, mostly kids, texting jokes while waiting for the show. We did it; they used our joke and gave credit to our daughter. What’s really different here is the use of an independent, guest-owned electronic input device to influence the content of an attraction.

I’ll post the rest of my observations tomorrow, but in the meantime, think about how these points might apply to your business. If you are in the business of delivering experiences (hint… you are!), what are you doing to extend the brand experience beyond the boundaries of your physical or digital space. If you are using partners to deliver some of you brand’s experience, are they executing consistently and at a level that your customers expect? Are you engaging your customers by allowing them to help you co-create the experience? You should be.

Part 3 of this series is here.

Thoughts on Walt Disney World – Part 1

cinderella.png

I’ve been computer-free for the last week spending time with the family at Walt Disney World, hence the absence of new posts. I was Twittering throughout the trip, much to the dismay of my wife and daughter, and even raised the ire of our waitress at the Prime Time Cafe (more on that later). You can go to my Twitter page (see link in the sidebar) if you want to relive my vacation tweet by tweet.

Disney is one of the world’s greatest marketers and their parks and resorts make great case studies in a number of areas including engagement and customer experience design, marketing and new media. Over the next couple of days, I’m going to discuss some of my recent experiences, both good and bad.

Surprise & Delight

Every year, Disney selects a theme and aligns all of their park and resort operations around it. This year, is”The Year of A Million Dreams” and to help “make your dreams come true”, Disney is having their cast members randomly give out over a million “dreams” including chances to spend the night in Cinderella’s castle, “Dream Fastpass” badges which gives you unlimited access to all major attractions bypassing the waiting line and a Grand Marshall Tour of Disney parks around the world.

There are no contests to enter, or disclosing of contact information. Someone just walks up to you and makes you a winner. You just need to be in the right place at the right time and even the cast members don’t know the when, where or what of the giveaway until just before it happens. I met several people who were given dream Fastpass badges and they were ecstatic about it. The really enjoyed telling their stories to anyone who would listen. And consider how much fun it is for the cast members to be able to execute the giveaways. That has to help with cast member engagement. Surprising & Delighting your customers is an important ingredient in the creating great experiences that your customers will tell others about.

Make Individuals Feel Special

Speaking of engagement, Disney cast members are almost universally programmed to react to badges that special guests wear, My daughter had her 13th birthday while we were there and so we went to the City hall in the Magic Kingdom to get a birthday badge. From that moment on, virtually every cast member that we encountered made it a point to wish her a happy birthday. Every table service restaurant that we went to, brought out a birthday cupcake without us having to ask. Of course, my daughter loved the attention so much that she continued to wear the badge long after her birthday. This is a great example of how to make a customer feel special without having to spend a lot of financial capital.

Reward Me For My Patronage

At Disney, different levels of commitment come with different perks. For example, purchasing an annual pass (which is roughly the cost of 8 days in the parks), gets you some serious discounts on Disney Resort hotels. Staying at Disney resort hotels comes with their own set of rewards, not the least of which is convenience. A couple of years ago, Disney started offering Extra Magic Hours at the parks for guests staying at Disney hotels. The program gets you into the parks an hour earlier and allows you to stay up to 2 hours after closing. Disney gets 3 additional hours of access to your wallet and you get a couple of extra rides on your favorite attraction. To the uninitiated, this is a pretty good reason to stay on Disney property. If you are a regular guest like I am, you know the real secret is to stay away from the park that has early entry because that’s where the crowds are going to be. With this program, Disney rewards their Resort guests with a tangible benefit.

Tomorrow, I’ll get into some other topics like how Disney is involving the customer in co-creating the experience. In the meantime, think about the experiences you create for your customers. Do you Surprise & Delight? Do you make your customers feel special? Do you reward them for their patronage? If you do, great. If you don’t, perhaps you should take a trip to Disney World and learn a few lessons from Walt and Mickey.

Part 2 of this series is here.

Brand Engagement – LOST

I love ABC’s LOST.  The characters are full of flaws (human) and maybe that’s why its easy to get attached to them.  The show’s production is excellent and the storyline carefully allows the mysteries to age before revealing the truth (which often comes with another mystery).  I’ve written before about the many channels used by the producers to extend the Lost experience and the amazing amount of user-generated content related to the series.  OK, hold that thought.

My daughter will be 13 next week.  As someone who loves to observe marketing and consumers, it’s been fascinating to watch her develop as a consumer.  Like most young girls, Disney princesses were a big part of her young life.  She had the costumes and pretended to be them (Snow White was her favorite).  As she grew up, she moved through other branded entertainment properties, many of which got the same high level of engagement.  She practiced singing Britney Spears and Michelle Branch songs, learned all the lines and songs from Wicked, and with each brand that she became engaged with, her friends usually got engaged too. 

Last year, I got her to watch the LOST series premier on DVD.  After ten minutes, she was hooked and we proceeded to watch the first 2 seasons at a clip of 3-4 shows a night.  This season, LOST is her obsession.  She reads the blogs and Wikis, buys magazines with LOST stories, and has uncovered connections in the plot that I was not aware of.  As with everything in her life, she has shared her obsession with her friends and many of them are now hooked.

A few months ago, she made a movie about the Apple store and I wrote about it here.   Yesterday, she made another movie.  This time its short montage about a character from LOST named Charlie Pace who died in the season finale.  I’m sure that there is a fair amount of parental pride influencing my assessment of her work, but I think it’s really good.  She has mixed music, images, words, and footage from the series together to tell a story about Charlie as if he were a real person.  After she loaded it up to YouTube, I did a search to find it and was astonished to see that there were over 6400 user generated videos tagged with “Charlie Pace”! 

To me this is real brand engagement.  It’s one thing to have original user generated content, but for entertainment brands to have their consumers turning out content about their content, something special is going on.

Is this just me or do you see examples of this too?  If it’s a real phenomenon, what should the entertainment brands be doing with that content and it’s creators?  Can they drive the engagement even higher by interacting with these mavens?  How much could the brand grow if these people were encouraged to be advocates for the brand? 

Niche Marketing: Narrow, Not Small

americangirl.jpg

An article published today in Advertising Age really resonated with me. It makes the case that the maturing marketplace, combined with the hyper-connected, in-control consumer “has created a seismic shift from one-size-fits-all mass markets to millions of markets of self interest.” That assessment carries huge implications for retailers who are trying to move product that was once a specialty, but is now a commodity. Strategy consultants Booz Allen Hamilton explain it this way:

As every market matures, choice increases. Then competition drives up quality and convenience to the point at which offerings become commoditized. The only businesses that then thrive are those that move beyond “me-too” or incremental offerings to marketing more-relevant and more-differentiated products and services. The only way to accomplish this is to focus on a narrower target.

Technology & The Long Tail

Technology has played a major role in facilitating this shift. Marketers are now able to micro-target specific groups, engage customers with more frequency and intimacy, and customize to consumer specs. Moreover, technology has enabled consumers with the tools to seek out suppliers that offer just the thing they want.

Think about it. If you are a retailer focused on selling lots of stuff to lots of very different people, you are probably fighting a loosing war of diminishing margins, market share and profitability. On the other hand, brands that have figured out how to excel at attracting and keeping loyal a narrowly focused niche will probably continue to do well. And why is that? Once you, the customer, has experienced having your ever-increasing levels of self-interests met by a niche provider, you have a hard time going back. For example, why would I continue to go back to a retailer for accessories that I know from previous experience, they probably will not have (not even on their website).

As even a senior Wal-Mart official recently said, “no customer today will stand to be treated as part of a mass market anymore.”
This is a major disruption and marketers who fail to respond to it quickly will suffer. According to Advertising Age, the value propositions of those who ignore niche marketing…

“…will be less relevant than those of competitors. For those slow to adopt niche marketing, the future also is bleak. Attempts to recoup share will be difficult because competitors will have preemptively established closer customer relationships.’

A number of brands and marketers have embraced niche marketing. Names like Target, Crocs, Red Bull and American Girl. The all have the same objectives as any other marketer, but they have sensed the disruption and have responded by finding a new way of going to market.

Narrow, not Small

The other thing that has changed is what niche marketing really means in today’s environment. It’s still “the targeting of a more narrowly defined customer group seeking a distinctive mix of benefits”, but niche markets are not the “marginal opportunity” that they were once viewed to be. Today, niches are viewed much more positively.

In today’s marketplace, niches are flourishing. Some niche brands are generating hundreds of millions in sales. Sometimes, narrow niches, fueled by mavens and connectors, become the next big, disruptive thing. The big point of the article is that niches should not be equated with small. Instead, think of narrow. Then target very specific groups who will relate to and find differentiation in your offering. At this point, you are no longer a commodity and you can increase your margins by charging a premium. Do this over and over with different products and services, and you can generate volume and growth that makes up for your narrow targets.

Smaller targets, larger focus
Ten years ago, the medium was still the message. Eight years ago, we could still think of the 4P’s — product, pricing, place, promotion — as essentially independent strategies. Five years ago, everyone started to buzz about customer-relationship marketing. About two years ago, we got really excited about digital-marketing tactics and started to apply them without any real strategic purpose. All this has changed.

So what’s really new about the new niche marketing? It’s realizing that while our targets have to narrow, our definition of marketing communications has to broaden. Today, everything communicates what a brand stands for, all the time.

It’s like the old saying: If you are on the wrong train to begin with, every stop along the way is the wrong stop.

The article closes with 10 principle to harness the power of niche marketing:

  1. Position your brand as narrowly as is economically possible.
  2. Become the specialist that anticipates the needs of your target.
  3. Rapidly work with the target niche to co-innovate.
  4. Set as your goal such consumer centricity that the target niche will want to co-brand their identity with yours.
  5. Live by a higher standard of ethics.
  6. Embrace a business model and metrics that grow the most valuable assets of the new niched economy.
  7. Reap first-mover advantage by learning how to identify a niche of opportunity.
  8. Re-imagine your role as that of entrepreneurial founder of a special interest group.
  9. Forget push marketing; excel at pull marketing.
  10. Realize your brand is now “media” competing against all other media

What do you think? Does this make sense to you ? Can you think of companies that could immediately benefit from leveraging niche marketing?

(Source: Advertising Age)

The New Delta

delta-change.jpg

A few weeks ago, there was considerable buzz about the Delta Airlines Twitter page. There were initial hopes that Delta might actually be behind it. In the end, it appeared to have been a Delta employee, but whether he/she was acting alone or for the company is not known. The page has been quiet for 2 weeks so one can assume that the experiment is over. That said, It looks like Delta is trying some new ways of connecting with their customers and adding value to the travel experience.

Today, I was invited to check out their new microsite: Siteseer Travelcast. It contains short video travelcasts of featured destinations presented by delta employees. Think about the air travel experience. It’s generally unpleasant. You do it for the destination. When you are traveling to an unfamiliar place, its great to get suggestions from people who have been there on what to do, where to eat, etc. Does Delta have untapped assets that they could use to provide this guidance to their customers? You bet they do! Flight attendants, pilots, ground crew live in most of Delta’s featured destinations and know the landscape. Now I am not naive enough to believe that there isn’t some “paid for” placement of advertising for the shops and restaurants presented in some of these videos. Nevertheless, I’m getting some really useful information presented with a human face, and that helps me to engage with the brand.

Siteseer is only one element of Delta’s new customer focused approach. On their website is a link to another microsite that discusses all of the innovations they are currently testing. Things like zoned seating, language lessons, RFID baggage tags, restaurant buzzers, etc. It also has a place for you to leave your ideas or travel tips and the plan is for the site to evolve into a truly collaborative forum:

Delta.com/change represents a whole new way for Delta to connect with the global community and, ultimately, redefine the travel experience. Out of the gate, this site will serve as an informative tool, tracking all the exciting changes going on with us and showcasing travel tips and ideas from people like you.

Very soon, though, it will evolve into something truly collaborative—truly revolutionary.

We envision a forum for open, honest dialogue between airline and air traveler. A place where your ideas may very well influence how we operate in the future. And a stockpile of user-generated tips that will make travel more enjoyable and sane for us all.

All of this is really good stuff and I applaud Delta on the steps they are taking. From a Sense & Respond standpoint, they are really reaching out to Sense what their customers want them to be. The challenge will be for them to consistently deliver all of these great new innovations while at the same time, getting the basics right. I have not flown on Delta in over a year. Perhaps you have. Have you noticed a difference in Delta?

… Or perhaps Apple Doesn’t Get It (I’m So Confused)

I’ve met lots of interesting people over the last year and Matt Haverkamp is one of them.  Matt pens an excellent blog called The Digital Perm.  Yesterday, he posted a story about Apple banning MySpace access in their stores.  According to a post on originally on 901am.com, Apple made the following statement confirming the move:

“Nearly 2 million people visit Apple stores every week. We want to provide everyone a chance to test-drive a Mac, so we are no longer offering access to MySpace in our stores,” a statement from Apple said.

An Apple store employee told CNET that “MySpace is a big issue for the Apple stores because people come in, Photobooth themselves (using Macs’ built-in webcams), then stick their picture up on their MySpace account and loiter at machines for hours.”

I recently wrote about how brand engagement in Apple stores citing the way the encourage youth to spend time there playing with stuff like Photobooth.  Now they want to kill that?? 

This is bizarre behavior from Apple. One of the biggest reasons for their remarkable success is that they openly encourage you to come in and spend time with their products. Becoming a “destination” is the holy grail for retailers and this move feels contrary to that goal. I guess you can have too much of a bad thing if people come in and occupy all the Macs for hours. Makes it pretty hard to show the product to new customers. Still, as a CE retail veteran, that’s a problem that I would love to have.

Apple Gets It…. But Sony Does Not

sony1b.jpgIts been a while since I wrote critically of Sony, but a piece  by Randall Stross in this weekend’s NY Times reminded me of a similar exercise that I did a few months back with Samsung and Nokia.  In his article, Stross compares experiences at both Apple and Sony’s Style stores and points out some of the reasons why Apple is so wildly successful and Sony is not.  Here are Stross’s key points with my commentary:

People vs Product:  Everyone knows the Apple story.  Over half of the store’s staff is dedicated to post-sale service;  Free, one-on-one consultation, with “Geniuses”.  This recognizes that your engagement with a brand is only starting at point of sale.  The real engagement is made or lost as you use the product.  Apple makes sure that you are going to get the most out of it.  As a side note, they also get the concept of Marketing as Storytelling as demonstrated by “The Geniuses”.  Sony, on the other hand, is all about the thing itself.  They have a much broader product line of electronics, which could give them an advantage over Apple if they focused on the value those things can bring to your life, but instead, the engagement exercise is all focused on the pre-sale marketing of the stuff. 

Function vs Fashion:  According to Dennis Syracuse, senior vice president for Sony Retail, the Sony Style stores are intended to be a “fashion boutique for women and children” that incidentally happens to carry electronics instead of clothing.  Wow, that seems a bit shallow.  How successful are you going to be targeting women who only want that red notebook because it coordinates so well with their outfit?

Engaged vs Disengaged:  Stross describes the experience of walking past a number of Sony employees who were “so engaged in a private, and apparently amusing, discussion that <his> imploring presence failed to draw anyone’s attention.”  He speculates that they have become so used to inactivity in the store that had “become accustomed to busying themselves with their own entertainments.”  At a nearby Apple store, the employees were always alert and attentive, despite being very busy.  I’ve been in a lot of Apple stores and this just seems to be part of the culture.  For Apple, some of this has to be due to the enthusiasm of the owners to the products themselves.  Engagement can be a circular thing.  Engaged customers tend to make employees more engaged and visa-versa.  Regardless of the source, the engagement is real and is a huge differentiator.

Stross closes the article suggesting that perhaps a key differentiator IS having some amazing piece of hardware (running Windows) which will bring in the people.  Once they are in the store, they might see the other products in a different light.  This is where I think Stross misses the point.  Sure Apple has great products that people are passionate about, but it’s not because of their technical specifications, its the experience delivered by the product, the store and the employee.

What do you think?  If you are a retailer, do you get it?

Democratizing the Future

green-cover2.png

Those lucky enough to attend last week’s IIT Institute of Design’s Strategy Conference got a chance to see some great presentations from some major innovation thought leaders.  I was not one of them, but I have been going throught the materials from the conference which are publicly available.  As a proponent of Open Innovation, I particularly enjoyed reading the presentation given by Josephine Green of Philips Design which introduced the concept of social innovation

Realizing that innovation driven solely by technology often failed to meet customer needs, many organizations turned to a consumer (marketing) oriented approach where consumer research and observation is handled by “experts”.  Green believes that this approach is starting to reaching end of life.

Her main point is that we need to go beyond designing around individual consumer needs and start innovating around social needs.  Her reasoning:  We have reached a saturation point for technology and consumer goods.  Continuing to consume the way we currently do is not healthy.

“There is too much ‘stuff’ and a growing realization that filling the future with more and more consumer-driven technology and marketable goods does not necessarily guarantee higher growth, a better quality of life or even life itself, given the state of the planet.”

So what exactly is Social Innovation?  According to Green, it goes beyond looking at individual consumer needs to look at the relationship between people and the products/services they use.  It involves engaging experts, customers and creative communities to envision, build and deliver products and services which better reflect the needs and values of the future consumer.  Green believes that this shift from a Consumer/Market-led approach to a People/Social-led approach is being driven by three factors:

  1. Diversity:  our world is becoming increasingly small, with many different cultures, beliefs, opinions and behaviors all living together.  Along with increased clashes, this closeness has led to an understanding of our differences.
  2. Creativity: Social Media tools have put the consumer in a position of power and they are increasingly becoming “the supplier of content, taste, emotions and goods.”  They no longer want choice, they want a participatory role in designing the things they consume.
  3. Wellbeing:  There is a growing awareness that our ever increasing pace of life and consumption is having a correspondingly negative impact on the environment, the poor, and our own quality of life.  Health and wellness, connectedness, personal growth & control are replacing material things as the way to measure wellbeing.

What will be the implications of this shift for today’s companies?  First and foremost, you must begin establishing a dialogue with your customers.  You will need to facilitate conversations between customers and your designers.  Second, you need to develop a Sense & Respond competency and be able to support fast prototyping.  Third, you must get really comfortable with relinquishing control of some of the development process to your customers.  They are already in control of your destiny in case you hadn’t noticed. 

  • Recognition

    Alltop, all the cool kids (and me)

    Top Customer Service Blog
    Online MBA Rankings
  • Recent Comments

    Aniket on How to Poorly Represent for Yo…
    amy greani on Customer Experience at Panera…
    Vista Vapors Free Sh… on Your Brand is Defined by the C…
    call contact center on How to Poorly Represent for Yo…
  • Top 10 Posts

  • Amazon Apple Best Buy Blogging Brand Engagement Brand Management Circuit City Co-Creation Content Conversations Customer Experience Customer Made Digital Home Disruption Entertainment Experience Economy Gaming Generation C (ontent) Global Connectivity Greatest Hits Innovation Lifestyle & Leisure Loyalty Marketing & Advertising Microsoft MP3 orthodoxies Power to the Pocket Retail Retail Close to the Customer SecondLife Sensors Services Simplicity Social Media Social Networks Sony Techno Wars Telecom The New Media This Changes Everything Uncategorized Virtual Life Wi-Life Youth
  • RSS Archive Favorites

  • Where Are You?

    Locations of visitors to this page
  • Archives

  • Next-Up

  • Follow

    Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.