Category Archives: Marketing Strategy

It’s Dunkin’. How You Like Us Now?

Change happens.  Brands must adapt.

Dunking a Toffee Coffee

As a company’s offerings evolve, a brand should keep up and not perpetuate a narrower or outdated image.

Thus:
Weight Watchers becomes WW (health)
Starbucks Coffee becomes Starbucks (more than coffee)
Apple Computer becomes Apple (obvious)
Kentucky Fried Chicken becomes KFC (downplay ‘fried’)
Boston Chicken becomes Boston Market (broader menu)
Jo-Ann Fabrics becomes Joann (whatever they are, not just fabrics, apparently)

In these cases, the ‘new’ names clarified the company’s position and formalized names already commonly used.

Quincy Dunkin' DonutsQuincy DD - external Quincy, MA Dunkin’ Donuts – 1950s

Dunkin’ Donuts started as a coffee and doughnut joint around 1950 in Massachusetts.  It was customary in those giddy post-war years to actually ‘sit on a stool’ at a ‘counter’, eat a doughnut served on a ‘plate’ and ‘dunk’ it in a heavy ‘ceramic mug’ of coffee from time to time.  Ah, those were innocent times with a cavalier attitude toward carbs.  You can’t really dunk while driving.  No one dunks.  It is a meaningless word.

From these humble beginnings it has now joined the name game and just announced a halving of its name to now just ‘Dunkin’’.

just call us dunkinThe reasons stated are to support their beverage-focused strategy, as well as to simplify the brand (they’ve already pared their menu 10%). Makes sense.

Dunkin’ hold-the-Donuts gets 60% of their sales from beverages, mostly coffee, but they want more.  Don’t worry, they will still sell their irresistible (or irresistable, depending on which website version you buy into) doughnuts.

Dunkin Irresistible.png

(In fact, Dunkin’ has been using largely the same menu for years, from time to time adding things like the healthier ‘DD Smart’ offerings, which will now likely have to be just ‘D-Smart’, which is a Turkish satellite TV company and no doubt trademarked.  These things do get complicated.  But we digress.)

The question is, is this a major step forward?  Is it worth the trouble and expense?  By itself, does Dunkin’ mean anything?  Is the value proposition really changed?

Considering that their locations, menu offerings, awesome circa-1973 logo font and color and pretty much everything else is staying the same*, it seems that this may be a very expensive PR play, nothing more.
*
apparently display fixtures will be undergoing a makeover.

Dunkin’ has long used ‘America Runs on Dunkin’’ as their tagline, and in their native New England, they apparently are fondly known as ‘Dunkin’’ or even ‘Dunkies’.

However, in the Midwest or Southeast I don’t recall ever referring to this chain as just ‘Dunkin’’ (or hearing anyone else do so).

It sounds a bit awkward and contrived, like when Radio Shack, in a last heaving gasp for survival, wanted to be known as ‘The Shack’. (it’s painfully true).

shack_promoSo, not sure that the name Dunkin’, by itself, is a game-changer.

Considering the vast franchisee-borne expense involved in re-outfitting 12,000+ international outlets, as well as rebranding pretty much every sign, coffee mug, drive-thru kiosk, menu, placemat, napkin, rest room signs and heaven only knows how many other things, you have to wonder how the calculations worked on this at some point being profit-positive.  (and this follows the relatively recent ‘Coffee & More’ signage).

Dunkin Coffee & More

And ultimately, profit is the point. 

It comes down to whether the absence of the word ‘Donuts’ will subconsciously, Jedi-style, draw new users in for non-doughnut beverage offerings as they drive past, or persuade current customers that it’s also ok to buy those other things on the menu.

Penetration vs buy rate, the primal existential growth question.

Dunkin traysIn the case of Weight Watchers, Boston Chicken and Jo-Ann Fabrics, a name change seems justified to align with a broader brand premise.  For Apple, Starbucks and KFC, arguably it formalizes what people already know, lets the CMO sleep at night knowing the brand is aligned, and is more of a check-the-box move.

Dunkin’ has tested this idea for more than a year so apparently the equation works.

I’m not so sure.

So you think your resume is finally done and perfect? Here are 6 reasons why it probably isn’t.

I have a superpower that’s also a curse – I see typos everywhere.  A dinner out isn’t complete until I find something wrong in the menu (insight: restaurateurs are not the greatest spellers. And I may not be the greatest dining companion).

Denver Energy 2

You may see a beautiful person with a beautiful smile – – all I notice is that little bit of spinach in her teeth.

You may not be like me – but someone reading your resume might be.  And much like spinach in one’s teeth, a CV that is 99.9% perfect can get discounted if an error is spotted by an OCD HR person or hiring manager (‘if they make a mistake on their most important document, what’s their attention to detail’?).  Unfortunately, sometimes that’s all it takes.proofreader 2

My suspicion was that there are a lot of errors out there – – so I decided to check it out.

I speed-proofed a sample of resumes from a large networking group to see if there were errors that could get someone’s resume discarded by a picky hiring manager or HR person.  These resumes are from very accomplished senior executives.

And there were indeed errors.  In fact, all resumes had errors that needed fixing – – and some of these were ‘final’, meaning a resume expert had helped them out and blessed the final product.  It’s natural – after checking your resume 5000 times, you’re sick of it and it becomes impossible to spot things.

Here are the 6 most frequent errors I found:

1) misspelling names of companies and brands (including in some cases the companies and brands that the person worked for!)

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 4.42.03 PM

2) sloppy formatting – dates don’t align on the right, formatting makes it tough to trace the career history, periods on some bullet points but not others, inconsistent capitalization, etc.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 4.44.24 PM

3) use of proprietary acronyms and abbreviations that no reader is going to understand

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Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 4.41.14 PM

4) inconsistent use of MM, M and millions (same for thousands and billions) – used one way in one place, another way elsewhere

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5) sloppy grammar – mixing past and present tense, missing connecting words, using ‘lead’ instead of ‘led’, etc.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 4.42.14 PM

6) missing elements – not using the official name of a company, not consistently showing city/state for a job, etc.

Screen Shot 2018-08-29 at 4.39.32 PM

Trivial stuff, for sure, but it’s the real world.  You may well be the next Steve Jobs – – don’t unnecessarily give anyone a reason to think about anything other than your accomplishments.

NET – – for those in search mode, the resume you think is squeaky clean may have errors that someone may fixate on.

So — reach out to your annoying attention-to-detail friend (we all have one) and make double-sure you’re ready for prime time – remove that spinach!

spinach-in-teeth-280x280

If you’ve read this far and found that your resume needed a correction, please let me know in the comments.

If you find that I made an error in this post, I don’t want to hear about it.

How A Lowly Can Opener is Messing with KitchenAid’s Brand

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UPDATE TO PREVIOUS POST

We all know that a brand is like the proverbial chain that is only as strong as its weakest link – – all aspects of the brand need to reflect its core value.  Ignoring even a small link can be dangerous to your brand’s integrity.

KA Can opener

Case in point: one of a well-regarded company’s least expensive products is constantly undermining the reputation of its expensive core product line – and management has apparently decided that this is ok.

KA Mixer

KitchenAid makes high quality, and in some cases iconic appliances that command premium prices (a status brand but not as expensive as SubZero or Viking).  We’re all familiar with the classic KitchenAid stand mixers in designer colors.  I recently purchased a KitchenAid double wall oven when my old one died.  A lot had to do with trust in the KitchenAid brand.

KA Product Line

So why would they go cheap on the most prosaic of items – the manual can opener?

can opener

When one of our kids stole our standard-issue metal can opener, we went on Amazon and splurged on a KitchenAid can opener in a designer color – it looks like the Hummer of can openers – a little affordable indulgence but one that should perform great and last a long time.  The Amazon ratings showed 4 stars and over 1000 reviews.  Safe territory.

Except it didn’t work.

06f06c94-bdfb-4455-832a-3b75973f99af
Within a few months, it stumbled, stopped opening cans, capable only of spastic puncture wounds, and we ended up buying a less fancy but perfectly serviceable replacement.

Screen Shot 2018-07-31 at 9.03.23 PM

Here is where you need to be familiar with the ‘Barbell Review’.

While the brand got a 4 star rating overall, the distribution showed about 30% of the reviews were one star.  Had we bothered to read these, we would have learned that this is a product with highly inconsistent quality, and when it goes, it’s completely useless.

Some review excerpts (and there are hundreds of them):
Really disappointed that this was a KitchenAid product that didn’t outlast an off-brand opener.”
…it was defective and I really expected more from the KitchenAid name”
I’m very disappointed. Typically I love KitchenAid brand and that is why I bought this particular can opener. I would not recommend it.

Do not trust the KitchenAid brand on this one.
Unfortunately I didn’t read the reviews first because well…KITCHENAID! You wouldn’t expect to have to read reviews it’s suppose to be a good brand, this thing sucks!!!

If you’ve invested time and money to build your brand, why would you want your brand dragged through the mud?

KitchenAid has outsourced this product (to a company called Lifetime Brands) and judging by the dates on the reviews (going back to at least 2012), they’ve not bothered to change this defective design in years – – despite a lot of disappointed buyers.

So who cares?

Well, if your first experience with KitchenAid was the lowly can opener, and it failed, you will be much less inclined to buy the more expensive appliances from which KitchenAid makes its money.  There are 500 negative reviews on just one version of this product on Amazon.

The lesson here: rarely, if ever, does it make sense to market a lower quality product under a high quality brand name.  (Cadillac Cimarron, anyone?)

This goes beyond product to every encounter a consumer has with your brand.  Whether your brand stands for premium, economical, effective, snarky, eco-friendly, high-tech or whatever, it all has to be consistent. Branding 101.

In a classic demonstration of good money chasing bad, we’re sending our crippled can opener back to Lifetime Brands, which has promised to replace it.  This is all in the interest of science.  Stay tuned.

can opener mailing

$10.62 to replace a $15 product

Moral of the story – keep your brand strong and consistent, and be alert to any potential ‘can openers’ in your organization.

blue can opener

And beware the dreaded barbell review.

Having fun can be good for business – seriously

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Sometimes, as marketers, we take ourselves WAY too seriously.  Having a little fun can be a great way to break from the pack and enhance your brand identity.

wheres the beef

Overly serious messaging with the tonal equivalent of sucking a lemon can get a message across but can also miss a great opportunity to connect with the audience and to break through in a crowded environment.

I’m not talking about Bud Light ha-ha slapstick funny – there’s lots of that out there (and a lot of it is not particularly funny).

I’m talking about funny that connects to someone as a person.  There’s a difference.

  • When done right, viewers are thinking “they get me! – they’re talking to me”

Exhibit A – Sprinkler Supply Store

I ordered replacement gaskets online from a sprinkler supply company.  They arrived and all worked out.  End of transaction.

  • Then I got their ‘welcome’ email with ‘Huge Announcement’ in the subject line, signaling that I was now in their database
  • This should have been an invitation to unsubscribe, but the way it was done, I now look forward to future emails! I like them!  How did that happen?
  • Here’s the copy:

    “Listen up folks! David is joining us from…

    but no one could hear the rest of the announcement over the clamorous applause. Bells were rung. Balloons were dropped. “It’s Raining Men” blared from every speaker.
    Simply put, adding you to our Sprinkler Supply Store family was cause for immediate celebration, everyone is thrilled you’re now a customer. Thank you!”

  • It made me laugh – – and it worked (actual email below)

Screen Shot 2018-06-30 at 3.25.12 PM

Exhibit B – UberConference – World’s Best Hold Music!

If you’re waiting for other people to join your UberConference call, you will hear music about…being on hold.  First time I heard it, I laughed out loud.

Here’s a company that essentially force-feeds hold music saying “hey, we rely on hold music and even WE think it sucks!”  In other words, they get it.

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 10.26.35 AMI’m On Hold” was written and performed by Alex Cornell, an UberConference exec.  Sample lyrics: “Well, I’ve been sitting here all day/I’ve been sitting in this waiting room/And I’ve been waiting on my friends/Yes, waiting on this conference call – all alone/And I’m on hold, well yes, I’m on hold/I hope it’s not all day”.

Check out the YouTube video below, and check out the comments.  That’s a great connection.

 

Exhibit C – Sheetz (a 600-unit, 65-year old mid-Atlantic convenience/gas chain)

Convenience stores connected to gas stations are many, varied, and mostly interchangeable.  Not this one.

  • Sheetz prides itself on its Made To Order food and has long taken a light touch with the family name, selling “Shwingz” (wings), “Shmuffinz” (breakfast sandwich), and “Shweetz” (baked goods). Their ads have historically been funny.
  • But their recent “I Want it All” (Queen cover) regional ad is an over the top statement that they’re different – – complete with air guitar – – and that they get where you’re coming from (we all know it’s just a convenience store – – lighten up – – ours is pretty good)
  • It made me laugh – – and it worked.  Official video inexplicably not available – – bootleg version here.

 

 

Exhibit D – Buick Enclave

I am not a Buick guy, but I did a double-take with a current spot.

  • In the base spot, a suburban dog-walking woman corrects the Buick owner by identifying her dog as a ‘Bernie-doodle’, a nice send-up of dogs as status symbols

Base version
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UA-I-cN9mh8

‘Dog Walker’ version

  • In this pool out, they up the ante on the dog owner status. Fido is now a “Golden-English-Labra-Irish-Bernedoodle Retriever–with the temperament of a Pug

screen-shot-2018-07-02-at-7-52-49-am.pngScreen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.53.51 AMScreen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.54.04 AM

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mYoq2epAXG8

  • It’s funny! I know lots of dog snobs – – hey, I’m one myself!  And it worked to give Buick a more relatable identity (the only Buick owner I know is Mom).  Without the gag I would have not paid attention.

Exhibit E – Southwest Airlines safety announcements

Screen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.58.10 AMScreen Shot 2018-07-02 at 7.58.53 AM

  • Everyone is familiar with these (classic example in the video).
  • We all know that pre-flight announcements are routine and that no one listens anymore. Southwest has always done a great job of using humor to relate to its customers on an equal level, rather than a formal ‘we’re in charge’ approach, and in addition to being fun, it breaks down the barriers that might otherwise exist in a sometimes stressful activity.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=07LFBydGjaM

Great marketing messaging creates a connection with the viewer – – to demonstrate that the advertiser understands who their target consumers are, and what they feel and need – – and that this empathy presumably translates to a belief that they can better meet your needs.

Humor, in addition to helping break through the clutter, is a very good way to create that direct connection, and maybe help bring that prospect a little closer to being a customer.

Of course, there are some situations where humor is just not appropriate – – serious life issues, mean-spirited, sexist or condescending humor, things that appeal to only a miniscule narcissistic sub-segment of society (copywriters), and stuff that’s just not funny.

Funny-and-Clever-Spicy-Food-Ads-11

So remember that, like hot sauce, while it can spice things up, not everyone likes humor the way you do, it doesn’t go with everything, and if used too aggressively, it can ruin what you were trying to improve.

Is This Any Way to Treat a High Value Customer? Ask My Mother.

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Do You Know Your Most Valuable Customers?  Do they know that you love them?

ecommercecrm

It’s 10 times harder to get a new customer than to keep an existing one.  Loyal customers are more profitable and have the highest Lifetime Customer Value. They love your company already.  They have already been acquired, qualified and taken through the funnel – – you have them where you want them!

So why, with today’s sophisticated customer management systems, are loyal repeat customers too often just an afterthought?  Or missed entirely?

In today’s post we will try to demonstrate that marketers must make extra effort to identify and appreciate these great customers.

Customer Relationship Management (CRM) data-based systems have given marketers the illusion that they not only know everything about their customers, but that their email outreach perfectly motivates everyone.  This is not always the case.  They don’t always get it right.  Customer targeting algorithms written too narrowly can miss the bigger picture.

Case in point: my very own Mom.

  • Mom’s primary indulgence is periodically taking her 5 kids and their families (20-25 people total) to an all-inclusive resort. Club Med has been the most frequent (but not exclusive) beneficiary. (Yes, I chose my mother extremely well). Her aggregate investment is well into 6 figures over the past 20+ years she’s been doing this.

ClubMed1

In the case of Club Med, the algorithm failed.  They were focused on the last 3 years only.  And they completely missed the fact that she’s a long-time customer who brings a group. Mom turns out to be a mere Turquoise!  A rookie in their eyes!

ClubMed2

ClubMed3

———

ClubMed6

  • Mom selects the location, makes the reservations and all expenses go through her. She has 99% of the decision-making power on where we go. She should be a Big Kahuna to Club Med. They should make sure she’s happy, show their appreciation, and make every effort to acknowledge her loyalty.

ClubMed5

————-

ClubMed4

  • Yet Club Med scores loyalty on a per-person visit basis over the last 3 years. So despite influencing a lot of spending, Mom is classified as entry-level Turquoise, with the same status as a 10-year old who goes along with her parents. There is no acknowledgement at the corporate level, and none at the local Club level – – no one has told them who this is. No bottle of wine or fruit in the room. No upgrade. No ‘thank you for your continued loyalty’. Nothing.

ClubMed7

  • Small victory!  But it took a lot of effort.  Shouldn’t have to.
  • What defines your best customers? Longevity? Frequency? Cumulative $ spent?  Early adopters of new products?  This is really important to figure out.

Club Med of course doesn’t want to ignore their best customers. It’s just that their system isn’t set up to recognize them all the time.  To their credit, they handled my email rant with grace – – and came through in the end.

ClubMed8


ClubMed9

——–

So figure out who your best customers are and take care of them!

Right after you take care of your mother.

 

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.

Survey-Flattery

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).

Tide

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.

The Pain of Not Having Hand

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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

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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!

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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).

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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).

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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…

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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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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Footnotes:
My evaluations are generally based on the Kellogg ADPLAN approachAttention
–Distinction
– 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
Adweek
Ad Age
Bleacher Report
Chicago Tribune
Entertainment Weekly
The Guardian
New Yorker
USA Today
Variety
Vogue
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!