Too Many Surveys? We’d Love your Opinion

I just finished a lengthy (20 min.) survey regarding a recent vacation, only to have my input erased due to technical issues. Getting a lot of this lately.

Restroom Survy

Not elbow-friendly buttons

Marketers have become entranced by the ability to survey consumers at very low cost. This is a seeming game-changing alternative to custom studies that can easily get into 4 or 5 figures or more. Technology has made it possible to survey via email, phone and even in restrooms!

What’s not to like?

Well, as a consumer, I’ll tell you what’s not to like. We are getting surveyed to death.  Ironically, more surveys might be leading to lower quality insights.

Survey montage

If, like The Armchair MBA, you use your inbox as a de facto filing tool, search for ‘survey’ or ‘what do you think’ or ‘your opinion’ and see what you get.

The answer is: lots. In addition to follow-up questions on every Amazon purchase, flight segment, taxi, Uber or car rental you take, everyone is getting into the act.

The dangers of over-surveying are:

  • Response rate/burnout.  The more surveys people receive, the fewer they’re likely to fill out. This reduces the number of qualified respondents.
  • Bias. Just as you don’t want to use the plumber who’s always available, you don’t want to hear just from respondents who always have time to fill out online surveys.
  • Response quality. More surveys = less time per survey. Responses that are rushed are more likely to be cursory and of low quality, particularly late in a survey.
  • Annoyance. A company that always has its hand out for info is going to wear out its welcome, or minimally get diminishing response.

All of these things can result in worse, rather than better, information.

So here are a few things you can do to maximize the usefulness of your surveys.

  1. Reduce, Reuse, Recycle.   In short, don’t survey if you don’t need to. Make the surveys you do conduct meaningful. Maximize use of info you already have. If you’re tracking attitudes over time, make sure you’re asking in a way where the trends are valid. Again, avoid unnecessary surveying just for the sake of surveying. This makes the surveys you send stand out more.
  2. Keep it short. No one has time for lengthy, repetitive surveys. Promise brevity in your subject line or where it will show as a thinly disguised plea in the preview pane.
  3. Offer something in return. This can be free goods, discounts, a chance to win a prize, whatever. Again, get this across in the subject line or preview area or it doesn’t matter.   Brevity + bribery is a good combination.Survey-brevity

Survey-Incentive4.  Promise to share results of the survey. This is the researcher’s click-bait, especially if it’s something of high interest.  Related, give the respondent some level of belief that the results will actually result in something good being done.

5.  Flatter the potential respondent. ‘We’d like your expert opinion’, etc. As long as Pride is still one of the Seven Deadly Sins, this will have some effect.


And finally, tip #6 – – don’t put a push-button survey machine in a restroom.

Survey 1


Super Bowl Ads – The REAL Best and Worst – – and why

A week ago the impossible happened – a Super Bowl that was WAY more exciting than the ads.

Still, duty calls – – it’s taken a week to fully process the advertising train wreck but the result is worth the wait.

The Armchair MBA carefully analyzed the reviews of 10 respected entities (plus a timid peep from Harvard Business School), summarily ignored them and can now announce the REAL best and worst ads of 2018.

SB 2018 Montage

Super Bowl spots, in particular, need to stand out in a hyper-charged environment, create water cooler (social) chat to extend the brand, and ultimately move the brand forward.

Clicking on this chart will blow it up so you can see where everyone came out.

Included at no extra charge – charming, witty, pithy bons mots!  It’s so worth it!

Super Bowl 2018 ads

We generally subscribe to the ADPLAN evaluation system set up by the Kellogg Graduate School of Management (Attention, Distinction, Positioning, Linkage, Amplification and Net Equity).


First, a few general observations:

  • When everyone does anthemic feel-good ads to set themselves apart from the competition, everyone starts looking the same.  In some cases I was moved almost to tears and had no idea which brand I should hug.
  • I have a dream that in the future, companies won’t feel compelled to stretch to co-opt (read: exploit) a universal good (cancer research, disaster relief, first responders, and BABIES!) to draw attention. Winner (loser) by a long shot in this category – – Ram Trucks.
  • LCD humor apparently remains a reliable go-to for advertisers (see: Febreze, M&Ms).
  • Not as many animals this year (no Clydesdales, Doberhuahua or Puppymonkeybaby), BUT we still had more than enough with Yellow Tail’s ‘Roo, TurboTax’s monster under the bed…and Steven Tyler.
  • Personality counts a LOT! Morgan Freeman continues to define ‘Maximum Possible Q Score’, Peyton Manning is a reservoir of humor and credibility (especially since the divorce from Papa John), and Eli, he of the permanently blank expression, will always be the little brother.

Selected Best Ads

  • Echo (Amazon) – – witty, creative, great cameos, and the product is the whole point
  • Doritos/Mtn Dew — great pairing, both products and performers, with a high fun factor
  • US Olympic Committee – – in the grand tradition of Up Close and Personal, terrific effort at personalizing the competitors (particularly important in light of current controversies).  Incorporating childhood photo/video a big plus.
  • Tourism Australia – – in a head-fake worthy of Doug Pederson, grabs your attention and keeps it
  • Tide (It’s a Tide Ad) – – P&G threw a long ball with several executions of this campaign spoofing other campaigns (see above), and scored. The premise of ‘if it’s clean, it must be Tide’ could not be more spot-on (pun intended)
  • Rocket Mortgage – – humorous, relatable, and highly relevant to the product
  • Sprint – – a bunch of robots who make the logic work, and then crack wise, make it a strong spot

Selected Stinkers

  • Ram Trucks – – #1 stinkeroo. Someone thought it would be a good idea to use the words of MLK Jr. to elevate…a truck. Shame on Ram Trucks, and shame on the MLK family, for that matter.
  • Squarespace – -in a way, they’ve become sort of a reliable companion in the stinker category.  This year, we had Keanu Reaves riding a motorcycle standing up and…pontificating.
  • T-Mobile – – a high-concept ad which pans over a multitude of infants, and unsuccessfully tries to make some sort of connection to the product. Creepy.
  • Febreze – – ironically in the stinkeroo category. Maybe the man’s *** don’t stink – -but that doesn’t mean the copy is something you want to be around
  • NFL – – I’m apparently a voice in the wilderness here. Most people found the Eli/Odell pas de deux a charming play off the iconic Dirty Dancing scene. I just thought it was forced, clumsy and unfunny.  Plus, not sure what the message was.

Maybe like the E*Trade commercial says, I’m just getting old.

Advertising’s Final Mile

Online shopping’s biggest barrier is sometimes called the ‘final mile’ – – and like a long bridge that has an unfinished gap, an otherwise great online retailer fails if it can’t get the goods all the way to your front door.


The same applies to traditional media, where either the message, or the call-to-action, or both, can be bungled.

This ancient reminder for marketers is to remember to keep the audience in mind when crafting your message. It’s not what you say, it’s what they hear.

I am referring today to very old-school media — radio and outdoor. To be effective, they need to make the message or benefit simple and clear, and effectively tell the listener or viewer how they can take action.   Too many advertisers fail this simple test.

Let’s look at a few examples.

Radio – – if nothing else, it MUST say where you can go for more information!

Too many radio forget you can’t see what they’re saying or write things down – – you can only listen and hope you got it right. “Hey, I’m driving, I’m texting and don’t have a freaking free hand right now!”  Radio doesn’t have a pause or rewind function.


  • On their expansion in the US, Cartridge World leveraged radio heavily. Unfortunately the company executive that did the voiceover pronounced the company name something like ‘krtrgwrl”. OK at corporate HQ but useless to someone who never heard the name before.
  • Everyone’s favorite, Kars 4 Kids, runs radio spots that have the dual threat of ubiquity and annoyance – – and yet they assume you know that their URL has a ‘4’ and not ‘for’.  Not helpful in allowing people to find them.  If you do find them, you may find their mission a little surprising.
  • URL watchouts: Using an unfamiliar name that may be difficult for the listener to spell (e.g. Shlotzskys); using shorthand like ‘U’ for ‘You’; using sound-alikes (‘C’, ‘See’, ‘Sea’) that aren’t clear; using dashes or underscores; using numbers (use the numeral or spell it out?).

Screen Shot 2017-12-31 at 3.41.49 PM

  • Location watchouts: using a street address (‘1060 W. Addison Street’) rather than a more easily remembered location (‘Wrigley Field’).


Net, just remember that your listener doesn’t know you, can’t write stuff down, and so make it as easy as possible to take away a key benefit and how to reach you.

Outdoor – – this is where even more heinous communication crimes occur. Particularly on expressways, where presumably the intended viewer is driving fast, hopefully paying attention to the road, but probably also still texting.

In any case, there are only a few fleeting seconds to grab their attention. So make it simple, make the type big, and get out of they way.

The following examples either have an unidentifiable offering, are unreadable, have impossible to read contact info, or a combination of the above.

billboard 1motelcandy billboardbad billboard

If you are contemplating outdoor, do a flashcard test to see if a colleague can get the point in a few seconds.

And – – watch your spelling!

spelling billboardspelling billboard 2spelling billboard 3

This is the final post of 2017.  Next year The Armchair MBA will offer a series of tips on how to spot scurrilous email scams, based on a carefully curated collection of several hundred emails with bad intentions!

Happy New Year!

The Pain of Not Having Hand

Posted on

Don’t you hate it when you want your money back and have no leverage?  Explanation of this (and ‘Hand’) follows.

This is about companies who put barriers in place to enable them to hold onto your money until they wear you out.  A war of attrition.  Things like unreachable customer service, phone personnel with no names who cannot be recontacted, endless phone wait times, etc.   We’ve all been there.  Some of you are probably on hold with someone right now!

My goal is always to have a ‘So What’ in my posts but other than stopping transacting altogether, I am not sure how to preemptively protect against this!  So I’m open to suggestions.

So that’s your challenge, dear readers.  For the good of humanity, help us find a solution.

The basic model has been around:  exploit human nature.

gift cardskitchen junk drawer

It used to go something like this: you get a gift card and the issuer gets the revenue and records future redemption as a liability. You put it in the kitchen ‘everything’ drawer next to your frequent shopper cards from 1995, never redeem it, company books revenue with no expense. Nice! Called ‘breakage’ in accounting, commonly known as ‘slippage’ in consumer goods.  Coupons are issued, people don’t bother redeeming, etc.

This new version is more insidious and aggravating. As George Costanza might say, we have no hand!  And they know it!

Here’s how it works (examples below):

  • You transact something online
  • You provide payment via credit card
  • Something goes sideways, not due to anything you did
  • Supplier has your money, and very little motivation to give it back
  • You now spend considerable unplanned time and energy fighting with the supplier to reclaim your own money

Case study 1: Booked AirBNB for about $1600 for a week; they (and owner) got payment in advance. Upon arrival, property has significant water leaks, which are being repaired, rendering it uninhabitable. AirBNB is contacted, situation explained, they offer $400 refund afterward and refuse to discuss the matter further.  Boo, AirBNB!

Case study 2: Rented car with GPS. GPS didn’t work. Took over an hour and several emails just to get back the $30.  Boo, Fox Car Rental! 

Case study 3: Moved across the country. $17k total bill, which required payment in full ahead of time (apparently this is standard operating procedure, which is itself worthy of a separate conversation). Move happened 3 days late, which created additional expense for friends who flew in to help with the move, and which technically qualified as a ‘late delivery’ by the mover.  Several items broken. After huge effort and many hours and emails, result was a check for $20 we got in the mail. Zero hand in this one.  Double Boo, North American Van Lines!

Case study 4: WSJ inexplicably stops being delivered one Friday. Go to handy online notification area but service is down. Chat is not manned yet (it’s before 8). Phone line also not available. Paper doesn’t come on Saturday either, make several online entreaties to both email and chat. Now start getting 2 (identical) papers on Monday. Issue finally settled on Tuesday.  Boo, WSJ!

I could go on.  I’m sure we all could.

In fairness, these infuriating episodes are balanced by the transparency and customer satisfaction focus of many excellent online retailers, who understand something about customer satisfaction and loyalty.

In all of the cited cases the supplier messed up, but the burden was on the consumer to spend the significant effort to (maybe) get a satisfactory reimbursement.  There is no Online People’s Court to help resolve these issues.   I personally resent having to spend precious time just to claim what is mine in the first place!

Sure, over the long haul corporate reputations can be harmed, penalizing bad behavior.  But I don’t want to wait for the long haul.

How can we fix this?

Fail your way to customer satisfaction

Posted on

While there are scholarly arguments on both sides of ‘how much service is too much service’ (yeah, HBR, I’m looking at you), The Armchair MBA suggests that in going above and beyond in solving a customer issue, the customer may end up more satisfied than if they didn’t have a problem in the first place!


The end result is that you can basically turn that customer frown upside-down, and perhaps even translate that into loyalty – – but it takes effort and commitment.

Net – sometimes it’s the effort – – listening, promptly replying, admitting guilt when appropriate, empathizing with the customer, and making it right – – that makes the difference.  Customers appreciate that you care, even if they don’t get all they want.

A few personal stories illustrate the point.

1) Delta – NOT ready when I was
Recently I was a casualty of the Delta Airlines meltdown, where storms early in the week caused cancellations all week due to Delta’s inability to adjust.


The impact on me was that I had to rent a car and endure a nasty overnight drive from Providence to Raleigh NC (there were no other flights available).

delta miles

How did Delta handle it?

  • I got several outreach emails from various Delta departments acknowledging the failure and apologizing
  • Delta immediately (at the counter of the cancelled flight) refunded my fare 100%, no questions asked
  • I subsequently received a goodwill 20,000 frequent flier miles

Prior to this episode I was not committed to Delta one way or the other. But this mea culpa demonstration (without me asking), especially compared to how United dealt with its own PR issue at around the same time, has me leaning positively toward Delta.

2) 360fly, Inc. makes what is essentially a baseball-sized 360° GoPro. I ordered one for work, but it was delivered without one of the camera mounts I had ordered. After a few weeks I brought this to their attention.


Their response: they immediately apologized for the error, sent me the missing mount, and sent me an additional mount as compensation for my inconvenience.

My impression of them went from ‘small company, not particularly well-organized’ to ‘small company, maybe not so well organized but heart in the right place and committed to the customer’. This translates to my discussing them positively (including this post).

3) 1-800 Flowers. I’ve used these guys for years, with mixed results. When I had flowers and a balloon sent to my mother recently, the balloon, while in the photo of the item, wasn’t delivered.  (the inclusion of a balloon was an inside joke).


I sent a gentle email and the immediate result was:
– an apology from the head of customer service, assuring me that the photo would be adjusted so as to not be misleading
– an apology from someone way higher in the food chain
– an immediate reduction in the bill in the amount of the balloon (even though I hadn’t paid for a balloon separately)
– a generous coupon for next purchase
– a balloon appeared on my mother’s door THAT SAME DAY!  WOW!*

*when this happened, it was hard to believe – – what a great demonstration of making it right!  Turns out hard to believe was accurate.  1-800-Flowers did not in fact send a balloon to my mom- – someone else coincidentally did at the same time.  But still, they did a great job.

I’m sure everyone has an experience where they were ready to go to battle with a company, only to have the company respond with such aggressive goodwill that the complainer was turned into a fan.

The secret, in addition to what’s mentioned above?

To be able to solve a customer issue over and above their expectations, you must screw up once in a while.
Excellence on a regular basis sets an expectation.

On the other hand, periodic screw-ups with excellent resolution makes a more compelling impression.

Battle of the 2017 Super Bowl Ad Reviewers

Battle of the 2017 Super Bowl Ad Reviewers

Last year The Armchair MBA presciently foreshadowed our country’s potential slide into anarchy – – and we take no pride in noting that we appear to have been right.

Be that as it may, this glass case of emotion that we call the US must go on, and of course the Super Bowl is still the tentpole of our national identity.  So in the spirit of national unity, we herewith put forward our ratings and reviewer compilation of the advertising from this year’s Brady Bowl (or as some might call it from the Falcons’ perspective, the choking chickens Bowl).

And as a perfect reflection of society, there is very little agreement among the dozen major reviewers we looked at.  This year we’ve added a feature of averaging the critics’ scores so you can see how YOU stack up.

At the bottom of this post is a chart comparing major reviewers for all the spots run during last Sunday’s game.
NOTE: ads are grouped by my rankings of green/yellow/pink and are now ranked by the reviewers’ average within those groups.

A few observations (all Super Bowl ads can be found here):

NO ANIMALS THIS YEAR!  Unless you count the dead (Spuds McKenzie), the 2-dimensional (Yellow Tail wine) or the sidelined (Rob Gronkowski).  I miss these furry diversions and was hoping the lack of reliance on a lowest common denominator would indicate lots of great spots.  Alas, twas not to be.
But there were some themes at work…


High concept does not necessarily make for great advertising. The Armchair MBA is not a fan of co-opting a high-minded theme just to make a statement- often comes off as stilted or forced.
– Audi, 84 Lumber, Budweiser, AirBnB, and It’s A 10 Haircare (I know – who, right?) all went for the high road by tying into the topical (often sideswiping the President, the Real DJT).
Unfortunately, for this image-driven work to be effective it needs to create a strong link to the brand among a group that might be interested in the product (this is advertising, after all).
– It’s A 10 Haircare is a new brand and while their ad was cheeky and visually interesting, they could have done more to tell us why we should care.
– 84 Lumber is a regional competitor to Home Depot and Lowe’s and ran an emotional immigration spot that, partially due to network censorship, required a visit online to see the conclusion.  The average demo for this vertical is male/50, not necessarily a strong bet for following up online or changing their go-to building supply outlet without a reason. It did generate brand awareness, though.
– Audi made a passionate pitch for gender pay equality (with no apparent reason given for why this is related to Audi), then undermined the message by putting Dad (not Mom) in the hot sports car.


You simply cannot go wrong with Christopher Walken. He did it for Kia Motors last year, and this year changed sponsors to team with a deadpan/mute Justin Timberlake for one of the best-received spots – for Bai Antioxidant Drink.


Actually, celebrities were out in force, probably to the greatest degree ever, and generally to good effect.  In this high-stakes, high-octane environment, celebrities provide one of the only reliable ways to guarantee eyeballs. In addition to Walken:
John Malkovich’s arresting visage gave Squarespace breakthrough
– The Coen Brothers directed a Mercedes-Benz spot featuring Peter Fonda
– Kia traded Walken for Melissa McCarthy (and a few draft picks) for a generally entertaining spot for the new Niro
– A newly nerdly Justin Bieber drew attention for T-Mobile in his own polarizing way
– Other celebrities included Terry Bradshaw (Tide), Cam Newton (Buick), Kristen Schaal (T-Mobile), Lady Gaga (Tiffany), Martha Stewart and Snoop Dogg (T-Mobile), LeBron James (Sprite), Morgan Freeman (Turkish Airlines), Tom Brady, even Bill Nye the Science Guy!  And the list goes on (including a slew of very amusing high school yearbook celebrity photos in a Honda spot).


Generally well-accepted spots had breakthrough and were straightforward (usually with some humor)
Honda, Bud, Avocados from Mexico, Skittles, Ford made this list.  Inexplicably so did a Bud Light spot featuring an exhumed Spuds McKenzie.


There were also some universally unloved spots, mostly due to lack of wit, relevance or originality.
American Petroleum Institute (paaaarrrty!) headed this list, followed closely by the generic twins Fiji Water and LIFEWTR, Yellow Tail Wine, KFC and Michelin.

Finally, our annual check-in with Weather Tech – for this, their 4th effort, they did kick back and have a beer (not while driving) and the result was a looser, more fun spot.  Well done.

This table compares 12 major reviewers, who clearly do not all see things the same.  (did you really expect Vogue to feel the same as the WSJ?) 
Simply click once or twice on the table
 to make it readable.


My evaluations are generally based on the Kellogg ADPLAN approachAttention
– Positioning
– Linkage
– Amplification
– Net Equity – – along with some personal gut feel.

Reviewers and links to reviews (if you were involved in any of the reviews and feel I got something wrong, let me know):
Kellogg Graduate School of Business – Northwestern University
Ad Age
Bleacher Report
Chicago Tribune
Entertainment Weekly
The Guardian
New Yorker
USA Today
Washington Post
Wall Street Journal

That’s it for this year – – as always, with The Armchair MBA, you get what you pay for!

Plus, I want that new Alfa Romeo.

See you next year!

Peace of Mind as a HUGE Competitive Advantage

Some of you may know that I recently moved from the Chicago area to Raleigh after some 35 years.

While I have moved away from many close family members and old friends, the person I will probably miss the most is Mr. Lee (who, like my elementary school teachers, has no known first name).

Mr. Lee runs a humble shop called North Town Auto, and took care of our out-of-warranty cars, both domestic and foreign, for many years. It helped that he was only 2 blocks from us in Northbrook (convenient to the Metra Station!). And while there are probably mechanics who could do a certain thing for a slightly lower price. I would use Mr. Lee even if it required a drive to get there.

The reason? Peace of mind. Peace of mind that the car would be fixed correctly, that I would not overpay, that I would not pay for unnecessary repairs, that things would be done on time, that if he said I needed to do something, then I actually needed to do it.  That there was service with respect and a smile.  No worries, as they say.

I had complete loyalty to Mr. Lee.  And when it comes to loyalty, peace of mind turns out to be a huge competitive advantage.

Americans spend a lot on lots of stuff. They generally don’t seem to mind spending a lot.

However, Americans HATE the thought that they might be over-spending. And they don’t want to worry about it.

Think about institutions that offer what Mr. Lee does:

  • fair price (not necessarily the lowest)
  • high quality
  • consistency in delivery – no surprises
  • customer focus – great service, you don’t need to be on guard

Here are a few that come to mind that deliver great peace of mind:


  • COSTCO – – once I pass through those portals with my oversized shopping cart, I’m pretty sure that anything I put in my cart is a great deal and great quality (even if in the back of my rational mind I realize that some things are better value than others)
  • Trader Joe’s – – great value, interesting selection, fun experience – 2-Buck Chuck!
  • Amazon Prime – – I know my selections will be delivered on time and at no cost
  • Tire Rack – – awesome customer service, great pricing, instant shipping – – it’s the only way to go
  • Online window treatments – seriously – – it’s so automated and competitive that you’re not going to make a big mistake
  • Spirit Airlines (just kidding!)

Here are a few organizations that seem to fall down on the peace of mind continuum – – you might be overpaying, you’re not sure of the quality delivered, etc. And that bugs you.


  • 1-800-Flowers – – sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t
  • Chipotle – – unfortunately moved from the other list – – love their food, but still have a vestige of doubt
  • Car Dealers – – sorry, guys – no change
  • Movers, painters, realtors, various local contractors – – until you build a track record like Mr. Lee, you’re not on my speed dial.

Why is peace of mind so important? Because we’re so stressed with just the basics of surviving from day to day that we need to simplify and eliminate unnecessary decisions.


While Mr. Lee is a small businessman, the Peace of Mind list includes enterprises of all sizes.  We all have our examples of who provides peace of mind and who doesn’t (would love to hear about yours).

In the end, it’s about delivering consistent, dependable value. And that’s good advice for everyone.