Taggin’ The Line

Cam Beck started it, Ryan Karpeles was a second generation tag-ee, and he has now tagged me. “It” is a new meme in which you create a new tagline for some of your favorite bloggers. The rules from Cam are as follows:

  1. Pick 5 of your favorite bloggers (they don’t have to be *the* 5 favorites) and give each of them a tagline.
  2. You can pick more, if you wish, but each tagline should be unique, and it shouldn’t mimic the tagline that exists on the individual’s blog.
  3. Participation is optional, so don’t feel like you are obligated to tag anyone else unless you just think it would be fun.

I’m not marketer, so taglines aren’t my specialty, but it sounds like fun so here goes…

JerseyTodd: “Rockin Briefs” (Hey, he’s a lawyer)

Chris Cree: “Better Business Through Blogging”

Going Like Sixty: “Blogging Boomer”

Liz Strauss: “Leader/Teacher”

Tim Siedell: “Tropical Fruit with an Attitude” (OK ,I stole that from Armano. How about “Every Picture Tells a Story”)

If you aren’t following these bloggers, you should check them out.

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


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?

Who’s Going To Watch a 150-Second Spot?

I’m no advertising expert, but I get the idea that the 30-second spot is no longer effective. Our lives are time compressed. We use technology like the DVR to timeshift our entertainment to fit our schedules and squeeze out the commercials in the process. Why do I skip through ads? Because for the most part, they don’t offer anything of value to me. Case in point: pharmaceutical ads. Ignoring the argument that the drug companies should not be marketing directly to consumers, the conditions that their products treat just don’t pertain to me. Of course, some programs are watched live and those viewers get to sit through the ads.

I recently saw the new TV spot for Pfizer’s arthritis medication Celebrex. Pfizer began running the spot in April after a more than two year hiatus. Their direct-to consumer ads for Celebrex were voluntarily discontinued in December, 2004 after rival Merck & Co. withdrew its similar Vioxx medicine due to elevated risk of heart attack in long-term users.

The new ad is unconventional in two ways. First, the ad focuses heavily on the risks of the product. It is filled with negatives. “Any prescription NSAID, including Celebrex, may increase the chance of heart attack or stroke, which can lead to death,” the narrator warns as the ad begins. It’s not until halfway through that any benefits are discussed and even then, it has a negative spin, like the statement “Celebrex has never been taken off the market”. Pfizer also tries to make the point that Celebrex is no more dangerous than other painkillers including . Some groups are challenging this claim and have asked the FDA to make Pfizer pull the ads

Clearly, Pfizer wants to distinguish themselves from rival Merck who did take Vioxx off the market. With safety concerns swirling and no direct-to-consumer ads to prop up Celebrex, sales of Pfizer’s Celebrex business fell more than 50% in 2005 to $2.4 billion. Pfizer decided to revive the Celebrex ads after internal research showed 40 percent of consumers thought the drug was no longer on the market.

The other unconventional aspect of the ad is that it runs 2 1/2 minutes, almost an entire commercial break. While Pfizer has not disclosed how much they paid for the spot, each commercial may cost more than $200,000 to air, said Angela Federici, a vice president with Santa Monica, California-based Millward Brown, an advertising firm that researches and develops TV ads for drugmakers. It’s a visually creative ad, but painful to listen to as it seems it will never end.

So who’s going to watch this ad. Not me, but then again, I’m not Pfizer’s target here. Their target is likely older and generally not using technology to skip TV spots. So here’s a few questions for you ad people out there:

  1. What do you think about direct-to-consumer drug ads in general?
  2. Given its unconventional nature and likely high cost of the campaign, is this ad effective?

Customer Experience Magic for Barnes & Noble

barnesandnoble.gifThis past weekend’s US release of the final Harry Potter novel was a major event in publishing. News reports indicate that 8.3 copies were sold in the first 24 hours generating over $250 million in revenue. That’s more than triple the weekend take of the latest Harry Potter movie which just opened on July 10. The book, which unlike recent video game console releases, was never in short supply and could be picked up virtually anywhere this past weekend. My local grocery store had it. So did Costco, mass merchants like Target and Wal-Mart, and even the Amtrak regional train from Boston to
Richmond. The only place I couldn’t get it was my neighborhood Barnes & Noble store.

Barnes & Noble is the world’s largest bookseller with almost 800 stores in all 50 states. With books being their primary business, the Harry Potter release is as important to them as Wiis and PS3 were to the CE and Gaming chains last Christmas. Barnes & Noble did a number of things to make its release a big deal. They began taking pre-orders for the book back in February, ’07. You could reserve for in-store pickup or to have it sent to your home for free. A week before the book’s July 21 street date, Barnes & Noble had received a record-breaking number of more than 1.2 million pre-orders, the largest number of pre-orders for any book in its history. More than 700 Barnes & Noble stores across the country hosted “Midnight Magic Costume Parties” on Friday, July 20th. Stores stayed open late to sell Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows at the stroke of midnight. Barnes & Noble was also selling the book at 40% off list plus an additional discount if you are a member of their loyalty program.

These are all good things in the customer experience department. Of course, the most important thing from a customer experience standpoint would have been to actually have the book available for sale, which was not the case at my local store. I stopped by at 9:00am Sunday morning, to pick up a copy. I looked around the store and saw evidence that there had been some sort of magical event two nights before, but the book itself was apparently wearing a cloak of invisibility. At the information desk, I noticed a sign that said I could pick up my pre-ordered book at the register.

“Do you have the new Harry Potter book?”, I asked.

“Only if you pre-ordered it”, the information desk guy answered.

“Can’t you wave your wand and make some more copies appear?”, I quipped. Information desk guy was not amused

OK what’s wrong with this picture? The world’s largest bookseller does not have any copies of the world’s hottest book to sell to it’s customers; not even those who have paid to join their loyalty club. Yet, I can get it at the grocery store next door. One could argue that the significantly discounted price at Barnes & Noble could be to blame for the out-of-stock situation and that I should have just stood in line with everyone else.  Of course, Barnes & Noble weren’t the only retailers to sell at a substantial discount. I got my copy at Costco for less than my Barnes & Noble “member price” and they weren’t in any danger of running out.

Barnes & Noble did a great job in all of their marketing efforts: the pre-orders, the parties, the pricing. With 1.2 million copies sold before the book even came out, I’m sure that company execs were very happy with their performance. But at the end of the day, how many customers came into my local store on Sunday only to have to have to take their business somewhere else? How many sales did Barnes & Noble lose? Was this problem an isolated case or was it fairly common? That question really doesn’t matter because one way or another, some customers were disappointed.

What else could Barnes & Noble have done to either prevent the out of stock situation or save the experience for the customer? A couple of things come to mind:

  1. Better Planning: Perhaps they should have sent more inventory to their stores. As a retailer, you never want to carry too much inventory, but in this case, a short term overstock to get you through the first week wouldn’t hurt. They obviously had inventory in a warehouse or on a truck because they were back in stock today.
  2. In-Store Web Orders: For customers who did not pre-order, Barnes and Noble associates could have offered to order on-line from B&N.com with free shipping to the customer’s home. For customers wanting the book immediately, this would not have been an option, but for others, it would have worked just fine.

What do you think? Am I being a whiner here or is this a legitimate opportunity missed? What else could Barnes & Noble done to minimize disappointment?

Random Thoughts

chance-dice-random-numbers-2-ahd.jpgSurprise, Surprise, Surprise! In the last week or so, I’ve been tagged not once, not twice, but three times with the latest fun meme echoing around the blogosphere – Eight Random Things About Me. Something tells me that many of us (self included) have relatively small social networks and need to get out more. Before I give you the facts, the rules say I need to tell you the rules:

  • Each player starts with eight random facts/habits about themselves.
  • People who are tagged need to write their own post about their eight things and post these rules.
  • At the end of your post, you need to choose eight people to get tagged and list their names.
    Don’t forget to leave them a comment telling them they’re tagged, and to read your blog.

Here’s my list:

  1. I’ve always lived in Richmond, VA
  2. Way back in the late 70s, my band was playing at a fraternity party at Washington & Lee University. Sam & Dave came into the house and played “I’m a Soul Man” and a couple of other songs with us. They had played a concert on campus earlier that evening.
  3. CDs currently loaded in my car: Porcupine Tree: Fear of a Blank Planet, Fall Out Boy: Infinity on High , Genesis: Trick of the Tail (remastered), Smashing Pumpkins: Zeitgeist, Gomez: How we Operate.
  4. Every car that I’ve owned has been red
  5. Like Drew, I go to Disney World a lot.
  6. I prefer charcoal to gas (gratuitous plug for my friend’s invention)
  7. I’ve been married for 23 years. My wife is in the insurance business, my 13-year-old daughter wants to be an actress.
  8. Favorite TV shows are Lost, Countdown w/Olbermann, House, and any Star Trek rerun.

And now, so as to not break the chain, I hereby tag David, Joi, Doug, Chris, Jeff, Becky, Joseph, Jeff, and Geoff.

Update:  Just realized that I tagged 9 people so here’s a 9th random thing about me:  I don’t like following the rules 🙂

What Was Dodge Thinking??

Why do marketers go to such extremes to try to create a “viral” video spot? Dodge created this for their Nitro SUV. Did they think that controversial, even disturbing images are the way to make an ad “go viral”? This is not good, in fact it’s downright offensive and I fail to see what it has to do with promoting the car. On top of that, it’s not even original. Parody or blatant copy, Mazda did it first (without being offensive):

Here’s the thing. Setting out with the intention of creating a viral ad based on high shock value is not a good strategy. Ads become viral as a response being worth sharing. Marketers can certainly find ways to help this process get started, but if it’s not worth sharing, it won’t go viral. The team that put this together (both agency and Dodge marketers) should be fired.

Via Adrants

Can A Stapler Have a Blog (and be entertaining)???

custom_swingline.jpgA few weeks ago, there was lots of buzz about Delta using Twitter as a marketing channel. Regardless of whether it was sanctioned or not, it was an innovative idea that attempted to put a human face on a company whose industry is not known for being customer friendly. Alas, the Delta Twitter uttered its last Tweet on May 15 and hasn’t been heard from since. Two weeks ago, David Armano asked “Can anyone think of a brand who is actively using Twitter (somewhat effectively)?“. Beyond news outlets like CNN, BBC and the NY Times, I couldn’t think of any brands that were using Twitter. I did a quick search on The Google, but found nothing.

The next day, I received a notice that I had a new friend on Twitter. I went to their profile page to see who it was and noticed that one of their other friends was Red Swingline.

If you’ve seen the movie “Office Space“, you know about the Red Swingline stapler and its prominent role in the movie’s plot. You may not have known that Swingline did not make a red stapler when “Office Space” was made, but they do now due to the demand created by the film. The Tweets from Red Swingline are echoed from a blog by the same name. It’s not really a blog but rather an entertaining set of one-liners purportedly written by the stapler. Things like:

Look at you with you’re little fingers typing. You are not red like me! You are not a stapler!

I dream of large stacks of paper. I awake in a sweat.

[stapler haiku] I wish I had legs / then I could fly kites in Spring. / Instead, I staple /

The “blog” features links to Amazon for purchasing the stapler, the movie, and other Office Space stuff. The content is entertaining, especially if you are a fan of the movie, but it gets a bit repetitive after a few days. It is advertising and the message is simple: “I’m Red and I Staple”.

I’m pretty sure this is not the work of Swingline or Amazon, but rather of an entrepreneur who maintains other sites like “Success in 30 Days” and “Pink Ribbon Search”. The point is that either of them could have just as easily set this up. Red Swingline does not engage in a conversation like the Delta Twitter did, but it is a creative use of social media for marketing.

More Thoughts on Sprint

sprintlogo.jpgTo my regular readers, I’m sorry that the blog has gone a little stale over the past week, but I’ve been a bit preoccupied trying to find a new job. Nevertheless, traffic is way, way up on the Sprint post and I have been having lots of great conversations with people who have commented on it. In lieu of a new topic, which I promise to get to this week, I’ll pass on some of those additional thoughts from my conversations. Perhaps if Sprint were a Sense & Respond organization, they would be joining in the conversation or at least be actively listening. My guess is they’re not.

Of all the comments on the post, no one defended Sprint. To the contrary, all but one had negative things to say about them. The other guy just had negative things to say about female cellphone users. Thought certainly not a statistically valid sample, I would wager that few people really love their wireless provider. It’s the nature of the industry in the US. With limited competition due to the high cost of entry, the wireless providers aren’t compelled to differentiate on customer service and in my experience, Sprint is the poor service leader.

You may have noticed that this story has gone mainstream with coverage by the Associated Press, ABC News and Brandweek . The details, if you haven’t seen them are mind-boggling. David Reich wrote a great summary today on his blog, “my 2 cents”, but here’s the big thing to consider:

Out of Sprint’s 52 Million customers, only 1000 received the letter saying they were calling customer support too much. Do the math. That’s less than .002% of their customers. There is no way that that small percentage was adding any material cost to their operation. (update:  As a friend pointed out, the actual cost of these calls could have been material; however, the methodology for counting is unclear.  For example, the ABC story indicates that a single call with 5 internal transfers might have been counted as 5 calls). Sprint says that, on average, these customers were calling in 40-50 times per month. Perhaps that’s true and given my personal experience with trying to get my own Sprint bill fixed, I can appreciate that.

Nevertheless, Sprint made the decision to go after them in a way that became very controversial, very public, very fast. The cost of this action in terms of bad PR is on par with Circuit City’s recent bungle. where they fired 3400 of their most experienced store employees to cut costs. Several months later they are still trying to explain that one, but it’s too late. In both cases, the damage to public perception has been done, although in Sprint’s case, it was pretty low to begin with and their defensive spin machine is just getting fired up. In my opinion, it was a failure of leadership in both of these companies to make such shortsighted decisions without considering how their customers would view them.

One of my conversations this week was with the Conversation Agent herself, Valeria Maltoni. She pointed me to a post she wrote about the wireless business in the US and speculates that Apple may be just the disrupter needed to shake up the industry. It’s a great post and has some David Letterman Top 10 humor to boot.

Sprint Fires Its Customers

I was a Sprint customer for a while.  I hated every minute of it.  The coverage was spotty and their ability to screw up the billing month after month was unprecedented.  Every month, I would call their support line, wait on hold for 30-40 minutes, and then have to explain the problem (usually se same problem as the previous month).  Once the contract was up, I fired them.  Today, Gizmodo is reporting that Sprint is firing some of their customers for, are you ready for this, making too many customer service calls regarding billing and other account info.

I’m not kidding!  Here it is:


As outlined in letters to certain customers, Sprint is giving them 30 days notice and then they are shuuing off their phones.  In a rare moment of weakness for cell phone carriers, Sprint is going to let these customers go without having to pay early termination fees of the last month’s bill.

I am amazed by the arrogance of this action.  I’m sure these customers have nothing better to do than to use up Sprint’s valuable customer support resources day in and day out with their silly questions.  I smell an orthodoxy here.  Something along the lines of “these customers are bad because they cost us more than they generate.”

Sprint deserves some seriously bad press over this incredibly stupid approach. 

Here’s my suggestion to Sprint:  Before you start firing your customers, you should take the time to understand the source of the problem.  It’s probably staring back at you when you look in the mirror.

Innovation and Co-Creation at Adidas

A friend send this link to a video about the new mi Adidas Innovation Center in Paris.  Adidas, which was one of the early brands in SecondLife, is demonstrating their innovation abilities in the real world with this new store.  The have blended Entertainment, Education, Co-Creation, and 3D-Virtual technologies into an exciting, interactive retail experience.

From CoolHunting:

With just a few steps walking and running on a catwalk-style scanner, foot and pressure sensors analyze shape, size and pressure points. Customers enter details like color and accents on a large touch screen. An interactive “virtual mirror” (recently on Gizmodo), allows the user to try on their personalized shoe (or any other shoe) without taking off their own. And last but not least, the new scan table picks up RFID technology embedded in the shoes to display specific product information.

The purpose of the store is two-fold.  Adidas has always been about innovation and they want to use this retail platform to showcase that.  They also want to attract a younger demographic and believe the highly interactive nature of the store will be appealing to younger customers who have “been brought up on video games”.

Is all this technology to sell sneakers just a gimmick?  I don’t think so.  Look across the sports world today and you will see that technology has been incorporated everywhere in an attempt to boost performance.  And it’s not just for the pros.  The biggest market for sports technology are the amateurs who want to excel in their particular sports passion.  Everything from real-time vital signs monitoring to the latest in golf club design is eagerly scooped up by the sports enthusiasts.  If you are in the sports shoe business, an interactive, technology-based experience store might be just the ticket to driving brand engagement.

Do You Twitter?

A few months ago, I began using Twitter. I jumped in not really knowing why or understanding what the value would be. As I recall, I noticing that David Armano had started using the service, so I decided to check it out.

Some people have described Twittering as microblogging, but it really isn’t blogging at all. Blogging is like standing up on a soapbox and communicating your opinion. Sure, conversations happen through comments, but they tend to focus on the topics of the individual posts. If you follow bloggers over time, you can develop a sense of where they, and to an extent, their followers, stand on certain topics. While Twitter can be used in many ways, the real value for me comes from the insights I get about the lives of the people I follow.

To those who haven’t used the service, the short, 140-character messages from Twitterers may seem trivial and a complete waste of time. Since I started using the service last March, I’ve posted hundreds of “tweets” and had some really fun conversations about everything from the Dewey Decimal System to beef jerky. You may be asking yourself, why I should care that someone drank Margaritas and fell asleep in the hammock or that someone else missed the train to work. Individually, I don’t, but as I have been following the tweets of certain people, I have gotten to know a lot more about them. I have a much better appreciation for their daily routines, their sense of humor, how they spend their free time, what they are doing at work. The sense of community is greater than anything I’ve seen from blogging because Twitter is more conversational and I believe more personal than blogging.

While it is personal, Twittering is not about getting individual recognition. Hugh MacLeod recently asked Anyone notice the complete lack of kvetching about “A-List” Twitterers and Facebookers? Unlike blogging, nobody seems to care etc…“. Sure, there are sites that rank you based on the number of followers you have, but where blogging tends to encourage individualism, Twitter is more about collectivism. Wired’s Clive Thompson recently wrote a nice article that makes this point and discusses the Twitter effect of creating a shared understanding of what’s going on within a group and how that makes the group larger than the sum of it’s parts.

If you haven’t tried it, you should. It’s fun and a bit addictive. Also, check out Matt Dickman’s excellent video overview. If you already Twitter, I’d love to get your thoughts on it. Either way, feel free to add me as a Twitter friend.