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Are you a sociopath? Become a Sprint customer!

January 25, 2011 1 comment

Sprint, according to Research and Markets, is expected to hemorrhage market share over the next five years. So Sprint—which does not have access to the iPhone—has decided to become aggressive in their pricing. Their current pricing promotion is that $69.99 gets you unlimited everything, while it only gets you voice calling with “the other guys.”

It’s an interesting promotion, because it goes directly after the smartphone power users that Verizon and AT&T have made their corporate money on over the last few years. But one of their advertising campaigns gets it all wrong.

In one ad, a sports doctor tells a severely injured football player that he shouldn’t worry: the video of the player getting injured, the changes to the doctor’s fantasy team, and the texts he’s sending are all included in Sprint’s monthly service. In another, a woman breaks up with her boyfriend while texting him at their table in the restaurant; she tells him it’s okay, because her Facebook updates (to single) and dating-site browsing is all included in Sprint’s monthly service.

This is intended to be funny, and it is, in a 30 Rock/The Office uncomfortable-humor kind of way. Many participants in online forums praise the spots’ humor, rightly calling out that it’s satire. And lo, much LOLing was had.

The problem is that Sprint wants the viewer to be a Sprint customer. And the Sprint customers in the commercials, as absurd and satirical as they are, are horrible human beings. They completely lack empathy for the people they’re with. They are nasty, clueless people. And Sprint is implying, through the ad, that they want the viewer to be just as horrible as their customers. This ad casts Sprint customers in a negative light; I suggest that in many viewers, it will provoke an emotional reaction in that they don’t want to be identified as Sprint customers. I certainly don’t want to be Dr. Douche.

Is this situation funny enough to save this commercial? Is there a way Sprint could have formulated this ad without implying that their customers are sociopaths?

 

MLB, not McGwire, should get most of the blame for the steroid era

January 11, 2010 Leave a comment

Today, a not-so-shocking confession came out that Mark McGwire used steroids off and on throughout his career. He confessed that he used steroids in 1998, when he hit 70 home runs, which shattering Roger Maris’ decades-old record.

Pundits, sportswriters, and columnists throughout the country have been discussing this confession. Some say it was time for McGwire to come clean; others that McGwire started the “Steroid Era.” But I haven’t seen any writer actually discuss the circumstances around it.

1994 was the year that Major League Baseball decided that the rich owners and the rich players weren’t rich enough, so they decided to ruin baseball for everyone. The work stoppage started on August 12, 1994, and forced the cancellation of the remainder of the 1994 season and the postseason. MLB was the first sport to lose an entire postseason due to a labor dispute. Afterwards, people were angry. Fans in Cincinnati paid for an airplane to tow a sign reading “Owners & Players: To hell with all of you!” Attendance and TV ratings fell dramatically. Some teams, like the Montreal Expos, never recovered.

Then came Mark McGwire.

In 1998, McGwire started hitting home runs. And hitting more home runs. Then a little known player on the Chicago Cubs, Sammy Sosa, started hitting home runs too. Soon they were both on pace to beat Maris’s record. And soon, they whole country was following the home run race, and forgetting that they had sworn on a stack of bibles never to attend another MLB game again. When McGwire smacked number 62, he circled the basepaths, then hugged Roger Maris’s family in the stands. TV shows cut away to the scene. America loved baseball again. All was forgiven.

A few years later, we begin to suspect that that year might be tainted. Soon, confessions of steroid use–and names of other users–come to light. At first, the confessors are laughed at; soon, however, their stories are found to hold water. But America doesn’t get angry. Some of us don’t want to believe that the players were juiced. Some of us tried to justify it, saying that the players are simply entertainers, and the steroid-fueled entertainment bring in the big bucks. But enough people were angry about it that Barry Bonds eclipsing Hank Aaron’s career record of 755 home runs was not celebrated like McGwire’s record; indeed, many people booed Bonds during his travels. But the fans kept coming, people kept their TVs on the game, and the revenues kept pouring in.

McGwire may have been the first, but he still saved baseball, and baseball owes him–not just for those 70 home runs, but for being a sacrificial lamb. Did MLB know the McGwire/Sosa roided-up race would be the start of an era marked by cheating and deception?

Did MLB care?

Categories: Customer behavior

Credit cards: the new corporate menace we keep funding

May 19, 2009 2 comments

Andrew Martin of The New York Times wrote an article detailing how banks will be charging more to their customers who pay in full and on time each month. The article implies that it’s because the Obama administration is attempting to curtail the penalties, raised interest rates, and other fees the credit card companies are charging.

The credit crunch Many people in the U.S. today are dependent on credit cards for their monthly expenses. The credit card industry has pushed for–and gotten–a largely cashless economy. We pay many of our monthly bills through credit cards. Online storefronts like Amazon and iTunes pretty much require credit cards. Hell, Southwest Airlines won’t even take cash if you want to buy a beer on the plane.

What the Obama administration is doing, though, is setting an artificial price ceiling. Anyone who’s taken a basic economics class knows that artificial price floors and price ceilings don’t work–because they go against the laws of supply and demand. And the problem is that the demand is fast outpacing the supply. We still want credit, we just don’t want to pay what the banks are selling it for. If we want it to change, we–all of us–must lower our demand for credit.

Banks left and right are cancelling people’s credit cards, lowering credit limits to below their current balances, and even offering to forgive a portion of customers’ credit card debt if the customers agree not to use their cards anymore. It sucks to be a credit card customer right now. And with the average household holding almost $10,000 in credit card debt, many people don’t really have a choice.

Many people hate how Wal-Mart treats their employees. Many people hate how Microsoft treats their customers. Many people hate the oil companies. Yet all those companies keep making money hand over fist. If you don’t want to give those corporations power, stop giving them money. When banks (or Wal-Mart, or Microsoft, or Chevron) make it painful for their customers to stop doing business with them, it’s very hard to lower the demand.

Yet it happened. One year ago, the price of gas hit $4.59 a gallon. That made it more painful for people to pay for gas than to stop driving. So people stopped driving. The number of miles driven by Americans went down for the first time in decades. Demand for oil went down 5% as people chose to drive their more fuel-efficient cars (and stopped driving so much). Oil went down from $135 a barrel to $55 a barrel. Gas went down from $4.59 to $1.99 in 6 months.

What does this have to do with marketing? Right now, people do not want to do business with many banks. This is a great opportunity for some financial organization out there to position themselves as the customer-friendly bank. Want to move your credit card debt to a fixed lower-interest account that isn’t going to nickel-and-dime you? I personally would jump in a heartbeat. Especially away from Citi, who have royally screwed me over the last three months. (But I digress.)

Marketing cannot be successful without customer service–especially in the age of social media, which provides the world with an instant (and very noisy) bullshit detector. Imagine Citi trying to promote their “live richly” campaign now. Or any of the big banks trying to market itself as the touchly-feely bank. The opportunity I mentioned in the above paragraph will only work for a financial institution who has kept a good reputation through this whole TARP mess. Local credit unions may be good candidates.

Whatever happens, banks are going to have a tough time marketing to their customers now. They’ve been able to gloss over their horrible customer service shortcomings because they had the credit that their customers wanted. Now that they don’t, the banks have a public relations mess on their hands in addition to their financial woes.

Categories: Customer behavior

Social media blurs the lines

February 4, 2009 2 comments

So a few months ago, my company was in talks with a couple of vendors. As we went through the process with them, showing them our software and so forth, our account rep requested my friendship on Facebook.

I normally try to keep my work relationships on LinkedIn, and my personal relationships on Facebook, but I had started a Facebook group for my company the week before, and since we were trying to get visibility in the marketplace, I accepted.

We wound up going with another vendor, but recently I was alerted to a change in my account rep’s Facebook status — and it was a negative comment: “[So-and-so] hates my job.”

The first thing I thought of was that it was a no-no. But it didn’t bother me. I don’t now think my rep is unprofessional. I don’t think the company mistreats their employees. I just thought that my rep shouldn’t have posted that comment to Facebook.

Are we getting to a point where the line between business and personal is now something we have internalized? Is it still important to keep one’s personal life clean from all controversy so it doesn’t affect one’s career? Or are more people like me just looking at tools like Facebook and Google, where the line is blurred, and shrugging their shoulders if something crosses the line?

Don’t do it

February 2, 2009 1 comment
Where is your helmet?

Where is your helmet?

In the new world of Web 2.0 and Twitter and Facebook and Ping.fm, there are about a billion don’ts right now.

Don’t think about getting customers. Don’t think about shaping your corporate message on Twitter. Don’t talk about your products or services. Don’t use the word conversation when using social media.

My job is in marketing, and my job is to attract customers. Our company has to stay in business, and to do that, money has to change hands. And my company, unlike the Pepsis, Fords, and Ciscos of the world, has recently launched in North America, meaning that part of my job is to educate the marketplace on who we are and what we do.

I have heard a lot of don’ts, however. Too many don’ts and not enough do’s.

The do’s I have heard are vague and ethereal: Listen to your customers. Be genuine.

What I’m left with, when faced with what I need to do this year, is the same “traditional” marketing activities I would have tried before Twitter and FriendFeed: Direct mail. Targeted e-mails. Web banners. White papers hosted by third-parties. Tradeshows. Sponsored webinars. Partner marketing.

I believe that the do’s have not changed with the advent of social media. Listening and being genuine work in a marketing 1.0 world; not listening and not being genuine didn’t work 10 years ago either. Only this time around, customers and prospects can figure out immediately if you’re being disingenous. There’s no room to skate on this.

Do the types of activities marketers engage in to attract new customers–especially for products with low market recognition–really so different in the Web 2.0 world? It’s tougher today, sure. But it’s just as tough on Facebook as it is in the print magazines. Thoughts?

House of brands vs. branded house: does it work for B2B?

January 19, 2009 10 comments

There is often a discussion among consumer product companies between having a “house of brands” and a “branded house.” Most consumer product conglomerates, such as Procter & Gamble, Johnson & Johnson, and Colgate-Palmolive, use the “house of brands” strategy. In other words, the product has the main brand name: Crest, Scope, Listerine, Head & Shoulders, Tylenol, and so forth. Very few consumers could accurately say which brand is owned by which company.

We’ve also witnessed this start to move into the consumer electronics space. Companies like Samsung and Sony still put their name on everything, but iPod and Zune are the dominant brands, leaving Apple and Microsoft to a lower-level brand.

This is because people can only associate one brand with a product. Al and Laura Ries, in their book The 22 Immutable Laws of Branding, say that successful brands associate a target concept with their brand, and that subbrands and superbrands are recipes for disaster. Witness the lack of success with brands that try to be everything to everyone: Yahoo, GM, Ford, and to a lesser extent Hyundai, Yamaha, and Mitsubishi have not established a dominant foothold in their spaces because consumers have not associated a concept to their brand.

I wonder if this works in the B2B space as well. When I was with Secure Computing, the marketing department kept trying to make “Secure Computing” the dominant brand, and their products Sidewinder, SmartFilter, and SafeWord second-tier brands. But the three product names stuck with customers, and the brand “Secure Computing” did not. (One of the other weaknesses is that “secure computing” is a generic term, and shared its name with a magazine and a Microsoft initiative — but that’s another discussion.)

But many B2B companies prefer an umbrella brand, and they can be successful with it. Oracle and Microsoft have been successful with (or in spite of) this strategy. However, Symantec has seen their market share fall recently, and Network Associates split into four different companies after their umbrella-brand strategy fell short.

I think that given the choice, even B2B companies should market their product brands, not their umbrella brands. B2B products, even if they’re focused on one specific vertical or one specific business function, often have different audiences. All audiences will try to categorize the dominant brand — that’s just how the human brain works. And if that association is with the umbrella brand, but is the wrong association with the brand’s other products, then it’s an uphill battle. The “branded house” strategy will actually undermine the sales process and create an uphill battle with each customer.

The best toy ever

December 16, 2008 Leave a comment

Lexus has a marketing campaign that compares the best present Gen X-ers got as kids (remembering the Christmas when you got the Big Wheel or the Atari 2600) to getting a new Lexus for Christmas.

While the commercials definitely take me back to how freakin’ great it was to get the Big Wheel or the Atari 2600, there is NO WAY that getting those gifts can compare to getting a luxury car. It’s apples and oranges, first of all: the Lexus does not have the Cool Factor that those two gifts had. The Big Wheel and the Atari 2600 defined entirely new sets of toys — hell, they defined new INDUSTRIES. The Lexus ES is going to be a blip on the radar screen in history.

Here’s the problem for me: the commercial — while attention-getting, and emotion-stirring, and beautifully art-directed — does not make me want a Lexus. In fact, it’s not genuine: a Lexus for Christmas will not even come close to replacing my Atari 2600 memory, and I don’t believe anyone at Lexus thinks it will, either.

In response, Acura has made a commercial that 1) succeeds in ripping off the Lexus ad, 2) isn’t as memorable as the Lexus ad, and 3) manages to be more genuine precisely because it doesn’t pile on the hyperbole. “The Joy Is Back,” Acura says — which would be true if I got an Acura. (Make mine a TSX.) Acura is genuine, even if they’ve ripped off Lexus. Lexus is not, even if their ad gets more attention.