Rather than concoct a complex and costly PR campaign to mollify frustrated customers (as the owner said “we are a 11 month old 5 person business LOL”), the owner simply sat down and wrote an email to roughly 35k past customers apologizing for shortcomings and promising to do better.
You can view the letter below. Hope your eyes are up to the challenge.
By all accounts the outreach has had a great positive effect – – not only was the letter’s transparency appreciated by many of the 35k recipients, but in an outstanding example of ‘collateral benefit’, it was picked up as a story by one of the biggest newspapers in the world (daily circulation around 2.8 million), AND The Armchair MBA is talking about it as well.
On the other hand, in addressing a small issue, the inevitably greater resulting demand will likely have created some much bigger challenges…for starters, production capacity might be getting some additional attention.
We wish Graza well. I would imagine that they will be expanding to more than 5 people in the near future.
The late football coach Dennis Green famously sputtered after his Arizona Cardinals lost a big lead to the Chicago Bears in 2006: “They are who we thought they were!!!”.
DOES NOT APPLY TO THE INTERNET
No longer just the province of faceless hackers and fake identities, the internet now is the land of fake faces, too. Very often people are not who you thought they were.
I first became suspicious when my LiveChat support agent ‘James’ was a little awkward (every conversation started with “hey”), and he seemed to operate from a very different time zone. He just didn’t seem like the chill dude in his photo.
Suspecting that his image was stolen from a real person, I did what anyone with borderline clinical stalking tendencies would do – I did a reverse Google search on his photo.
Eureka! ‘James’ was actually a real person named Tom Brown, a Director at a company called Facilis in the Bay area. Hey – I’ll let Tom know someone stole his photo. Upon looking for his contact info, I found out that this was fake, too. There’s a Facilis, but this isn’t it. The site URL http://www.pgyx.com/team-member.html# looks like a developmental website for a business that may or may not exist, now or in the future. You can check for yourself.
Back to the image search. It turns out this person, whoever he is, has been replicated and is now overrunning the internet. Sort of like the magic brooms in Fantasia. ‘James/Tom’ is also Michael Flynn, lead developer at a tech company; Bob Roger, CEO of a restaurant supply company; Mike Hussy, data guy at Delhi Public Schools, and many more.
This dude is everywhere! It is likely that many or all of these people are placeholders on developmental sites created by a web developer somewhere. At this point I stopped the investigation…almost.
Because the fake sites usually had more than one photo, I did the same search on a female face in one of these sites, and found that there’s lots of her, too! And lots of other people as well. It’s like there’s a parallel iStockphoto universe of smiling people.
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.
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.
Ultimately, following these guidelines (with some caveats) are a pretty good prescription for success.
Choose the right name. We’ve commented before that a company shouldn’t try too hard on finding the perfect name. If the product is excellent, the name will seem genius in retrospect (witness Death Cab for Cutie and the Arctic Monkeys – – or the Beatles for that matter). So, really, there are 4 tips here, not 5.
Find a unique position in the market. The Stones realized that they could be the bad boys relative to the Beatles’ wholesomeness. Everyone loves a bad boy.
Creatively beg, borrow or steal. The Stones’s early hit “The Last Time” was gently lifted from the Staple Singers’s “This May Be The Last Time” – only with a more catchy guitar riff and decidedly different lyrics. They made that song their own, unlike Robin Thicke, who more blatantly ripped off Marvin Gaye. Be inspired, but don’t plagiarize.
Shed barriers to success before it’s too late. The Stones’s arguably most talented member, Brian Jones, became unreliable and disruptive. The group decided they needed to kick him out if they were to succeed. They did, and a month later he was found in the bottom of his pool, another member of RnR’s infamous 27 Club.
Recently two new books came out from notable authors:
‘Go Set A Watchman’ by Harper Lee (author of the all-time classic ‘To Kill a Mockingbird‘, published in 1960)
‘Under Fire’ from Tom Clancy (who first published ‘The Hunt for Red October’ in 1984, and went on to sell over 100 million espionage and military thriller books).
Both are regarded as brilliant writers, with one key difference: Ms. Lee is still alive, and Mr. Clancy is not.
Apparently able to write from beyond the grave, Mr. Clancy’s name prominently adorns new books in the market, which at closer inspection are actually written by others (Grant Blackwood this time, Mark Greaney previously).
(in a bit of confusing overkill, a sub-brand third name is on the cover: “A Jack Ryan Jr. Novel”)
My initial gut response: Betrayal! They’re selling me Clancy and delivering Blackwood! Marketing malfeasance of the highest order! Isn’t Clancy’s writing the reason people bought the books? Isn’t he the brand? If not, what is the brand when it comes to books?
ILLUSTRATION: NISHANT CHOKSI
Joe Queenan takes a swing at this very topic in a recent Wall Street Journal piece (mentioning a few other dead-but-still-publishing authors), and this quote starts to get to it: “…it is the vision of Tom Clancy and V.C. Andrews and Robert Ludlum that makes their work so remarkable and unique, not the plots, characters, prose or leitmotifs. The actual writing is secondary.”
Apparently these posthumous publications still sell quite well. People have something in mind when they hear the names Clancy, Ludlum, and even Franklin W. Dixon (Hardy Boys) and Ian Fleming (James Bond).
In the same way a brand’s essence is the expectation it creates for what will be delivered, these authors set an expectation that is the core of these books’ attraction. And apparently the essence of these authors’ brands was their imaginations – the unique areas in which they chose to set their storytelling, and the imaginative approaches to the storyline – – and not necessarily the specific unique quality of their prose.
Indeed, Ludlum trademarked plot lines and partially wrote books before he died, which have been ghost-written as new material afterward, presumably with his blessing from beyond.
Forbes covered this topic a few years ago and has some additional interesting examples.
When you think about it, we readily accept the same phenomenon as it occurs for other brands in entertainment, where no one expects (or wants) to run into the name on the marquee:
Count Basie Orchestra for big band jazz
Disney for wholesome family entertainment
Liz Claiborne, Yves St. Laurent and Perry Ellis for fashion
So upon reflection, it seems OK in certain situations to evoke a person’s name that has over time consistently come to represent a type and quality of deliverable, and in effect has earned its right to be a brand. That is what a brand is. Even if it can leave you feeling a bit misled.
But this can only go so far.
I will not go to see Itzhak Perlman if played by someone else, watch a Usain Bolt-branded ghost-athlete, or read newly published Shakespeare by a ghostwriter.
It’s time to demonstrate (again) that when it comes to advertising, no one agrees on anything. Raise your hand if you’re shocked.
The Armchair MBA repeated last year’s stunt in comparing the ratings of 10 prominent2015 Super Bowl ad reviewers, summarized in the handy chart below, along with my personal ratings. (Green/yellow/red coding, alphabetized within my ratings)
While no Doberhuahua this year, there was plenty of dreck and schmaltz to take its place, but a few very good spots as well. Unfortunately many spots were so-so – – either they rewarded our attention with a muddled message or weak branding, or they were copy-by-committee logical with no heart or pizzazz (Hello, GoDaddy. Hello, Weathertech).
Mostly universally admired: P&G Always “Like a Girl”, Avocados from Mexico, Dove Men+Care, Mophie, Budweiser/Puppy (I declined highest marks on the last two)
Most universally unloved: Nationwide’s “Boy” (runaway loser), Nissan, Lexus
Most schizophrenic (scored best on some lists, worst on others): McDonald’s “Pay with Lovin’”, SquareSpace/Jeff Bridges, Loctite “Positive Feelings”, Toyota Camry/Amy Purdy, Carnival Cruise Lines, Victoria’s Secret (had to watch this again to make sure I knew how I felt)
A few observations:
– Personally not a fan of high-concept feel-good spots like McDonald’s or Coca-Cola or Jeep, or for that matter, the very cute/manipulative Bud puppy ads. Fun for the agency, probably test well for likability, but hard to see how see how it drives action or enhances the core brand equity.
– Love spots like Fiat 500 SUV – simple message (we made the base 500 bigger), using an analogy that’s easy to understand and relevant to the main point (if a bit naughty)
– Would love to be a fly on the wall during the approval process of the Nationwide’s “Boy” spot (spoiler alert: it’s about a charming boy who turns out to be dead. More chips & dip, please).
– For fun, check out some of the breathless, we-take-ourselves-kind-of-seriously reviews comments like “Powerful message but tough ad to watch”, “Disturbingly brilliant and impactful”, “emotionally powerful and good storytelling”, blah blah blah – you can see some here (as well as a CMO’s explanation about why his ad was NOT supposed to sell product. Hmmm…).
To see the summary, click on the chart below. Click twice for maximum size/readability.
My evaluations are generally based on the Kellogg ADPLAN approach: Attention – Distinction – Positioning – Linkage – Amplification – Net Equity – – along with some personal gut feel.
We know that the Super Bowl is a special stage, and different rules certainly apply. In addition, there are social media linkages and previews that can dramatically amplify the impact of ads. So it is somewhat unfair to judge an execution in isolation.
On the other hand, we don’t claim to be fair. And as observed last year, sometimes an ad just sucks.
A cursory scan of the ad shows a few obvious errors:
CEO Earl Mosegi’s promise includes: “…will not lose their shirt off there back” (sic)
Featured product claim: “Women shirt now available”
Key contact called “Sale Representative”
It gets worse.
Ad contains a QR code that is inactive
Ad implies a Facebook page (but no URL) which if you find it, not only doesn’t reference the ad, it features products not remotely like a dress shirt. Seems to be targeted at kids. And it hasn’t been updated since July 2014.
Of 8 main tabs, only 3 have content. There is no contact info.
The all-important ‘ORDER’ page contains just a static image – – there is no ordering mechanism for all the consumers who have seen the ad to take action online!
The ad shows a minimum order of 12 shirts; the website lists minimum orders of both 100 and 300 shirts. Clearly this is a wholesaler trying a direct consumer appeal.
Most remarkably, an unfortunate keystroke error removed a key letter from the word ‘shirt’, resulting in an entirely new word, which shows up on the home page as well as every single header.
This brings up a few key questions:
Is the entity who placed this ad a) the playboy son of a Turkish billionaire setting up shop online? b) an unemployed Russian hacker? c) a Nigerian scammer? or d) a third-grader?
How does an ad that has a bargain-basement pitch, contains so many obvious errors and leads to an online dead-end, get approved by the Journal’s advertising department? (guess: maybe $387k has something to do with it?)
This is a campaign that seems to have been thrown together with not much thought other than a price point and a photo.
These people really need to get their shirt together.
One thing this ad is excellent at is demonstrating, by omission, some obvious basics of an integrated campaign:
Start with a compelling message/offer (arguably they are ok here)
Infuse every element of your marketing mix with the same consistent message, offer and look
Make it easy for customers to take action
For crying out loud, have someone who knows the language check for accuracy. (The Armchair MBA is particularly pained at this last point, as its companion business, Peregrine Advisors, specializes in helping clients avoid online gaffes).
The Armchair MBA works hard to scour the globe for stories worthy of your attention. This one fell into our lap.
Ever wonder why you never totally agree with Super Bowl ad reviewers?
Well, other than for a few good ads* they mostly don’t agree with each other either.
The Armchair MBA has selflessly taken on what is certainly is a vast unfulfilled need and compiled a comparison of 9 disparate SB ad reviewersjust for you! Wow! Almost as much fun as being a Broncos fan!
Just click on the chart below to see that while there is some consistency, in the end advertising is still an art and everyone’s got their opinion. (You can click on the chart twice to make it even more readable.)
(*Generally universally liked: Budweiser, Cheerios, Radio Shack, Microsoft – – although I’m not in the bag for all of them)
I’ve provided my own opinion, to make it an even 10.
Green/Yellow/Red ratings were my best interpretations of what the reviewers meant. White means they didn’t review this particular ad – – which in itself tells you something. They are grouped based on my ratings, on an alphabetical basis by brand within ranking.
My evaluations are generally based on the Kellogg ADPLAN approach, which is becoming the standard:
– Net Equity
However, I also incorporated a liberal dose of my visceral reaction during the game.
Quick commentary: The Super Bowl is a unique marketing environment where stakes and expectations are high, and the bar for breakthrough is considerably higher than any other day.
Advertisers use the SB for much more than the eyeballs – – as a way to make a corporate statement, introduce something new, reposition themselves, set up other promotional activity, and many other things.
So these spots can be seen through many different lenses, which is why reviews often differ dramatically.
Having said that, sometimes an ad just sucks any way you look at it.
Not included in my ratings (but increasingly important) is how long of a tail these ads might have – – what their viral reach, impact and duration becomes.
You’ve probably known someone like this – – returning a new dress the day after the big event (“wardrobing“); using influence to get a fake handicap parking tag, etc. Those who think the rules don’t apply to them; who make George Costanza seem almost normal.
Recently 2 equally intriguing and infuriating news stories raised a special challenge to marketers: Should the customer always be right? Isn’t that one of the Marketing Ten Commandments?
What if the customer is a big jerk?
Case 1) REI reduced its famous unlimited return policy to one year (still quite liberal).
– this was in response to increasing numbers of customers gaming the system, and in some cases bragging about it
– According to the Wall Street Journal, one customer “returned a backpack he bought in 2004, which he had hauled up the tallest mountain in Yosemite National Park and hundreds of miles. But it “was getting old and dirty, and I didn’t like it anymore,” he says. He returned the backpack; REI gave him a brand-new one which he later returned when he realized there was a newer model. His justification: Since he bought hundreds of REI products over the years, he says, the retailer still has made a healthy overall profit on his purchases.”
– This is just one of many similar stories, here are some reactions to the new policy, along with some amusing pretzel logic.
Case 2) Disney discontinued its policy that let physically handicapped guests and their parties avoid long waits in line.
– This was in response to abuse of the system – – according to some delicious reporting in the New York Post, some wealthy parents were paying physically disabled ‘tour guides’ up to $1000 to accompany their parties, thereby allowing their kids faster access to rides. This remarkably selfish act of course mostly punishes the truly disabled kids; indirectly the PR hurts Disney as well.
But why is there a seemingly growing numbers of abusers, and what should marketers do about it?
FIRST, THE WHY: MY THEORY –> Abusing rules is a way of ‘Sticking it to the Man’: for someone who feels insufficient influence on their world, any way to exert some control on a more powerful entity is satisfying. This can apply to someone who feels economically disadvantaged; for the privileged it could simply mean an organization whose rules cramp their style. Anything goes.
An excellent scholarly description of ‘The Man’ is in this brief clip:
Definitive explanation of ‘The Man’
Except that now, due to politics and the state of the economy, the definition of ‘the Man’ is expanding; pretty much anything now qualifies as ‘The Man’. This, naturally, leads to greater return policy abuse.
Evolution of (the) Man: 1960s – The Government; 1970s – Your Boss; 1980s – The USSR; 1990s – Big Business; 2000s – The Other Political Party; 2010s – Any Company OR the Other Party OR anything else
WHAT TO DO ABOUT IT?
– the options are pretty clear: A) attract and presumably keep customers by keeping and advertising a liberal policy, OR B) manage profitability and integrity by installing guardrails to limit abuse The Case for A: Supports the original brand promise (‘satisfaction guaranteed’); doesn’t give a reason to defect; lifetime value of loyal customers may be profit-positive The Case for B: Limits financial liability from abuse; signals to honest customers that they’re not subsidizing dishonest customers; arguably can still have a liberal policy.
Personally, I’m supportive of adjusting the rules to match the times. In the case of REI, a one-year policy still supports the company’s core value of backing up its products. Thus, those customers for whom REI’s products and prices are appealing should remain customers. The minority of customers who abuse the system might claim to be loyal, but they’re loyal mostly to their dollars – they’ll shop online and either adjust to the policy or take their ‘business’ elsewhere.
In the case of Disney, it will almost certainly lead to a policy that may involve some additional steps for guests, but which will help to assure that Disney is doing what it can to continue to ensure a great experience – – which is absolutely core to the Disney brand promise. In the end, it shouldn’t affect attendance.