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While state budget cuts pose a major challenge to Arizona State University President Michael Crow’s vision for the New American University, ASU continues to find ways to innovate and work toward building a stronger community. One way in particular demonstrates a keen understanding of using the power of consumer participation to drive communication efforts and – ultimately – shape the scope and direction of an organization. ASU recently launched its Community Connect Web site to pool the minds and resources of its students, alumni, and community partners.

The site describes itself as “new pathways to information about programs and partnerships and services connected with ASU. And we designed the site to function as a tool for individuals to use to meet their objectives. The result is a link-based site, with very little rhetoric and a lot of choices. We hope this allows users to find what they want efficiently.”

This is a very cool example of how the internet and social media change, not only the ways we receive information, but how we share information, and most importantly collaborate with others we may not otherwise meet. I’m excited to watch the progress of ASU’s Community Connect Web site and see what it leads to for the university and the community. 

Introducing a video that attempts to answer the months-old question: What’s a Blabbermouth? To find out, we consulted a Blabbermouth expert by the name of Olive. The adorable Olive is the daughter of my good friends Cyndi Coon and Jeremy Briddell, both amazing artists.

Enjoy and… (PSST, PASS IT ON).

The second in my growing list of things that bug me on Facebook:

When you are labeling a picture of yourself and your mother, the correct caption is NEVER “Mom and I.” That’s bad grammar that was incorrectly jammed in your brain as a child. Subtract your mother from the equation, and it’s just a picture of you. Would you label it simply “I” if mom weren’t there? Of course not, you’d say “Me.” The picture of you and mom should be “Mom and me.” The exception is, “Mom and I went to the Eiffel Tower.” Again, subtract Mom. “I went to the Eiffel Tower.” See, it’s easy.

Okay. There, I’ve said it. I feel better, and I do have to say… That was a really nice picture of you and your mom at the Eiffel Tower.

Is there a Facebook Pet Peeve you’d like to get off your chest? Vent in the comments below.

Have you wondered what generates authentic, quality, off-line Word of Mouth? Here’s an experience that happened to me that highlights what a company can do to encourage customer evangelism. 

After a recent kitchen remodel, I was in the market for a high quality coffeemaker. I became obsessed with the $4000 touch-of-a-button espresso perfection machines, but could never justify that kind of expense on a coffee maker. Nevertheless, I would go into Williams-Sonoma and stare at them longingly on a regular basis.

About 6 months ago, when I made my regular visit to stalk kitchen appliances, I ran into a former client and her friend. When I explained my desperate longing for high quality brew, the two of them turned into a professional coffeemaker sales force. “No. That is not what you want,” my former client declared. “This is what you want…”


My Nespresso Le Cube

My Nespresso Le Cube

They escorted me to a different section of the store and introduced me to the Nespresso Le Cube. Instantly, I was turned off, being a coffee snob. Nespresso uses coffee in pods, which I was convinced was going to be merely sugary, syrupy flavored nonsense. They objected. Nespresso sells only high quality, ground espresso beans vacuum-sealed in pods for freshness and convenience, they declared. They flagged an official salesman, who allowed me to brew my own cup. Moments later, I was drinking a near perfect pull of espresso with a glorious crema on top. My former client and her friend watched me make my purchase (for a few hundred, rather than a few thousand dollars), and even followed up with me the next day to make sure I was still satisfied with my selection.

These two women don’t work for Nespresso; they are loyalists and evangelists (as I have also become). But, what makes them so devoted to selling this product if they don’t receive any incentives or compensation? Is quality alone enough to generate sustained Word of Mouth like this? Quality is definitely a good start, but let’s take a closer look at how Nespresso engages their loyalists to encourage such a following.

  • Exclusivity. When you purchase a Nespresso machine and espresso pods, you don’t become a “customer,” but a member of a club. The exclusivity is not gimmicky, because they follow through with opportunity and a modicum of prestige. Placing a phone order from Nespresso feels more like making arrangements with a concierge at a 4 star hotel. They also have boutiques in various cities that offer club members VIP perks, including tastings, but they don’t have one in Phoenix so I can’t give any first-hand details.
  • Customer Collaboration. Yesterday I received an e-mail survey from Nespresso that basically asked what kind of company I wanted them to be and how I would like to be treated as a customer. The company consults their consumers on everything from product design, to which advertisements to air, to which limited edition roasts should become permanent. By giving customers a voice in the product, Nespresso also gives them a vested interest in its success.
  • Promote Quality. I have yet to see Nespresso offer me a “deal.” They never downgrade their brand image by offering sale prices. They do, however, offer promotions featuring limited edition products. I might buy coffee when I don’t need any simply because I’m given the opportunity for a unique experience (I might pay a little extra too).
  • Tools to Blab. This is actually an area where Nespresso has a lot more opportunities to take advantage. They do have a decent Facebook fan page with some resources including online video, polls, and promotions. They have user-participation contests and more, but not enough focused on helping consumers evangelize the products. For example, there’s a ton of Twitter chatter about Nespresso, but the company itself has no presence. Their Web site has no feature to “tell-a-friend” that I could find, and, in fact, the site is really clunky and difficult to use; it’s hard to find a page that I would want to share. The desire to share is there, and if Nespresso helps it along a little more, I think we may see world coffee domination.

Nespresso’s Word of Mouth success starts with a great quality product, but they have also built a business model that encourages their members to Blab. What could your company or your clients do to encourage similar experiences like the one I had to purchase my Nespresso Le Cube? What else could Nespresso do to build on the Blab?

Yesterday was the day after the Super Bowl, a national holiday in advertising when agencies nationwide (who have never made and will never make a Super Bowl ad) self-promote their expertise of TV’s most expensive commercials. This year, ad space sold for up to $3 million for a 30 second spot and NBC broke the all-time total ad revenue record with $206 million.

So, “Creative Directors” and “Strategy Gurus” go on morning shows and post blogs to tell us which ads will succeed and why (usually with lame football puns, like “Who scored the big touchdown?” or “Which ad fumbled?”). Of course, no one agrees on anything, and interest dissipates the next day – long before any definitive results and metrics can be acquired.

The folks at Park & Co, however, are taking a different angle this year. They’re looking specifically at how these ads extend their reach through the use of Word of Mouth, in particular social media, and they kindly included me on their panel of judges. It’s practically impossible for an ad agency to resist jumping on the Super Bandwagon, but I’m glad they chose to take a different look at the ads. I hope that they will revisit it later when they can compare the rankings with the results.

You can read all of the results released today on the Park & Co blog, but I wanted to expand on a couple of my comments here and look at why it isn’t the production costs or the big names or tremendous talent that necessarily drive the conversation.

First off, from a Word of Mouth perspective, the most talked about clip of the Super Bowl was only shown to Comcast viewers in the Tucson market, with their “accidental” 30 seconds of porn shown after the Cardinals’ final touchdown. I mention this, not only because it’s REALLY funny, but also because after several social media disasters, Comcast has recently been trying to use online media to improve its image and manage crises. It will be interesting to watch @comcastcares to see how they manage (or don’t manage) “Wiener-gate 2009.”

There are two brands that really caught my eye for their WOM potential. The first is Go Daddy. First, let me say that I’m no fan of  the misogyny  in their ads and I understand why people take offense (but, I am a fan of their service. Very reliable and amazing customer service). But as far as the ads’ strategy, they accomplish what other brands strive to do, using incredibly low production value: bad script, lame sets, and horrific acting. Go Daddy hints at risqué and then directs viewers to their Web site to see unrated content. Now, we’ve been teased with the possibility of seeing Danica Patrick drop the towel. So what? A lot of ads try to drive viewers to a Web site, right? Well, this time people may actually do it, and – the BIG difference – their Web site is their store. People are virtually walking into their stores to see much less than you’d see while watching football in Tucson.

For a completely different reason, I also thought the Hyundai spot titled Contract was incredibly compelling. The ad appeals directly to the uncertainty many feel in this unstable economy. It says that if you were to finance or lease a Hyundai and “if you lose your income in the next year, you can return it with no impact on your credit.” This is a bold offer for a desperate time. Sales are down; some aren’t buying because they’ve lost their jobs, but others are just being cautious because they don’t know what the future holds. Hyundai is appealing to the latter to come in and make a purchase in spite of the uncertainty by reducing the risk. I don’t know about you, but if I know people who need a new car and are in that situation, I will instantly recall this ad and tell them about Hyundai’s offer. I only wish Hyundai had done something to amplify the Word of Mouth potential, give us some tools to more easily pass on their message. But, the ad itself is very WOM-worthy. (I also think Denny’s pulled off a similar success by – shockingly – offering a free Grand Slam to everyone in America today. Now, they have to make sure their food and service make people want to come back and pay for it next time).

Having said all of that, I still think that creating and airing a Super Bowl ad is a giant waste of money. Even Hyundai and Go Daddy – as effective as I think those ads were – could have pulled off a lot more with a lot less, and pass those savings on to their consumers or sponsor a corporate retreat with AIG. What do you think? Does any ad justify the Super Bowl price tag? And, which do you think will generate the most long-term, effective Word of Mouth this year?

You’ve heard that humans tend to be most attracted to symmetry, right? I was reminded of this last night watching The Office, as Oscar argued his case for why Hilary Swank was, in fact, attractive (but not hot). Oscar presented a segmented diagram of Swank’s symmetrical face, and explained she demonstrated “the scientific standard of koinophilia: features that are a composite average of many features.”

I admit to being attracted to symmetry, and that is exactly why I started Blabbermouth. I’ll explain…

I began my courtship of marketing at an advertising agency, practicing public relations. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: traditional marketing can be and often is effective; it just doesn’t turn me on. I’m simply not attracted to it because of its lack of symmetry.

Traditional marketing (take advertising or PR, for example) is asymmetrical: the marketer is marketing AT the consumer. This provides plenty of opportunity to influence and persuade, but no opportunity to listen or adjust.

Word of Mouth marketing, when done right, is symmetry at its best. Instead of marketing AT, we get to market WITH our consumers. This is risky for some, because it means letting go of control of the message. You have to have a lot of confidence in your product or service to do that.  This is also why I can only take clients with products I believe in. I can’t let go of the message if I think it will make you (in turn, me) look bad. So, if you become my client (and I hope there are a few of you), you should know that I’m a big fan of your work. 

If you have the luxury of letting go, the rewards are immeasurable. You get to not only start a dialogue, but to participate in it. You get to listen and respond; you can defend and define your product when it’s misunderstood or improve it when you learn from a consumer how it could be better. That’s symmetrical marketing, a give and a take; and not only is that attractive, it’s hot.

Have you heard about the revolution? America’s coffee shops are full of displaced marketing professionals. In the down economy, marketing budgets are (wrongly) the first to go – resulting in layoffs at advertising agencies nationwide. In turn, since nobody’s hiring, these homeless marketers become freelancers.

n.   also free lance (frē‘lāns’)
1. A person who sells services to employers without a long-term commitment to any of them.
2. An uncommitted independent, as in politics or social life.
3. A medieval mercenary.
v.   free·lanced, free·lanc·ing, free·lanc·es

I wasn’t a victim of layoffs; I chose to leave my job to start my own business. But, I do feel a strong kinship with my fellow former ad execs. And, I’d like to think of us as (definition 3) a band of medieval mercenaries. And, since we’re used to being around other people – and chaos, working from home, alone doesn’t cut it for a full day. So we grab our MacBook Pros and head to coffee shops for the free wifi (hear that Starbucks?), heavy caffeine intake, and – most of all – human interaction.

So, next time you go to your local java shop, take a look around. Need a new logo? Ask the hipster in the corner with the double Americano. Looking for a pithy print add? Those two at the table with their laptops back-to-back like a game of Battleship are a copywriter/graphic designer team. And, looking for some Word of Mouth marketing? I’m the non-fat latte buried in my computer, but grateful to be around people.

Stop by and talk. Let us know what you need. Because last year’s award winning marketers are waiting for you at coffee shops, hoping to stay on this side of the counter.

Theatre companies have been harnessing the power of Word of Mouth for centuries. Most theatre-goers are familiar with the curtain speech that sounds a little like, “If you liked what you saw here tonight, please tell your friends… If you didn’t like it, tell them you saw Cats.” See, they get the most basic principal of WOM that a lot of businesses look past: It’s free and easy to ask your loyalists to tell their friends about you.

However, there is a dilemma to posing that ask during the curtain speech of a limited run theatre production – it may be too late to gain any traction. Childsplay, an Arizona theatre company for young audiences, is trying to get a step ahead of the problem.

Last week I had the pleasure of attending Childsplay’s “Friends & Family” night for its upcoming production of Busytown. They gathered about thirty Childsplay loyalists to their Tempe rehearsal hall to meet with actors, designers, the choreographer, the music director, and the director. They were given a WAY behind the scenes peek in to the production weeks before opening night. But, most importantly, they were given the opportunity to be a part of Busytown through their early participation.

Childsplay understands that without their audiences there would be no reason to show up for work. So, instead of waiting for the lights to come up to include them, they give them ownership from the start. That’s what Word of Mouth is all about. If you give me a sense of ownership of your product, then I have a vested interest in your success. That gives me extra motivation to spread the word for you.

By giving the audiences a sneak peek of Busytown, Childsplay gave these audience members ownership of the production. They got to ask questions, get to know the play, and are now armed with information to share with their friends with enough time to build some momentum. They even got to learn one of the dance numbers.

And, of course, the curtain speech happened… but long before the curtain went up. Rosemary Walsh, Childsplay’s Marketing Director and all-around wonderful human being, made it very clear that we had invited them there for a reason. She told them that without their help, there is no Childsplay and asked them to spread the word and hand out free passes for the show. These Childsplay evangelists were ready and willing to help. All she had to do was ask.

 If you’re interested in attending a future “Friends & Family” event at Childsplay, let me know and I’ll put Rosemary in touch with you. You can also become a Facebook fan of Childsplay.

I could really use your help. I created this video for a great band – The Citizens. I really want to spread the word about them…not because they’re clients, and not because I’m close friends with the guitar player. I have loved this band for a long time, and I know once more people hear them, the possibilities are endless.

So, I’d like to ask a few favors of you. First, watch the video.

Next, did you like them? You can hear more of their music on The Citizens’ Web site. If you like what you hear, you can download their albums from iTunes. You can also become a fan on Facebook.

Finally – and this is where I really need your help – I’d like to find some bloggers who will repost The Surfer video. Obviously, those who write about music would be a start, but let’s think beyond that too. There have to be blogs about monkeys, circuses, circus freaks, surfing, monsoons, and other related topics seen in the video. Do you know these bloggers? Do you know someone who knows someone? If you do, please let them know about The Surfer video. Every little bit helps; no blog is too big or too small.

Thanks for your help. You’re the best!

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