Social Media: What will my boss think? Who cares!

I Heart Blogging You can’t care if you want your corporate blog to stay fresh, relevant and, most importantly, read by customers and prospects. Corporate blogs already have the boring stigma attached to them. That stigma presents a challenge to all of us corporate bloggers! (Challenge welcome and accepted, bring it on!) If we want readers, we need to try even harder to earn them and break out of the failing corporate blog stereotype. Continue reading

Thought Leadership: Admitting you have a problem is the hardest step

Let’s be honest, there is absolutely nothing worse than when something goes wrong and it affects your customers. The angry emails start rolling in, the phone begins to ring and the support cases begin to pile up.

Well, there is one thing that’s worse: when it’s your fault. I don’t mean ‘you’ personally (although that is definitely the worst-worst-WORST case scenario); I mean ‘you’ as in your company, your technology, your product, your vendors that support any of the aforementioned…you get it. Unforeseen problems that cause your customers pain are the pits and figuring out how to deal with them publically can be even more excruciating.

So, what can you do? Admit it, own it and fix it. Oh, and communicate every single step.

Example of Failing at Damage Control
A vendor of ours (who shall remain nameless for obvious reasons) completely dropped the ball on this about a month ago. Their technology went through a major upgrade and bit it hard. The release was not well communicated ahead of time, their technology was down for about a week as the release was launched (luckily, this only affected our use of the technology and not our customers’ use of it), and then the unthinkable happened. The release broke the technology.

As a technology company, we understand these things. Releases, no matter how well planned and deployed, can be nerve-wracking as you push new code and hope you checked every box. I’d say we were actually pretty understanding about the whole thing, seeing as we realize exacty what can happen and how you have to prepare for every possible outcome. Our vendor, however, did not seem to understand these things. Unlike us, they apparently had no backup plan, no roll-back plan and, worst of all, no communication plan.

I know I don’t have to go into detail about how annoying and frustrating a situation like this can be. Let’s just say I spent a lot of time angrily telling their online support center how hopping mad I was and weeks later I still start to blow smoke out of my ears when I think back on the whole thing.

Example of Winning at Damage Control
The other week I got an email from J. Crew. I’m a huge fan of the company in general and I do a lot of online shopping there, although I hadn’t perused the selection online or in person in a while when I got said email.

The email was very simple. The subject line said “With our apologies…” and the succinct email simply apologized for recent support issues they’ve had with the website and call center. (They put the same note up right on the homepage of their site.) They didn’t blame a vendor and they didn’t pretend it wasn’t frustrating; they just admitted it, owned it and said they were fixing it.

As a loyal customer of theirs, I probably wasn’t going to defect after one bad online experience. That said, I wasn’t even affected by the issues and I’m grateful for their acknowledgement. Not only have they retained my good graces, but the first thing I did was come here and tell you how much I appreciated it. Neat, huh?

Moral of the tale of two companies: honesty really is the best policy.


Marketing: Is honesty the best policy?

I’m sure you’ve seen or heard about the videos on You Tube showing four cell phones popping popcorn when pointed at one another with a few kernels in between them (if you haven’t seen it, ask your kids). Presumably, although it’s never explicitly stated, the popcorn pops because of the radiation from the cell phones (all four phones are called by other phones simultaneously which causes the kernels to twitch and then pop).

The videos have become viral, in my opinion, because the company that created them (a bluetooth company, natch) never advertises itself. In fact, it’s not even clear that it’s any more than a sophomoric experiment in a dorm room. This critical omission allowed the videos to get intrigue worldwide (and to get tested and debunked by Snopes), but it also kept consumers like me from finding out what I was supposed to do about what I’d seen (my suggestion would have been to have one of the people in the video say something like “Holy crap, Brenda, time for a hands-free set!”). I left You Tube thinking it was interesting and then that was about it.

Imagine my surprise to see this exact video and topic covered on CNN this morning. An analyst from a marketing firm was brought on to talk about his opinion that this kind of marketing, although effective from the viral standpoint, ultimately fails because people nowadays are “truth seekers” and thus their intrigue compels them to search for corroboration rather than your ordering website. In the end, said the analyst, your brand is only tarnished because people quickly find the truth and then associate you with a hoax rather than an entertaining video.

Ultimately, I’m torn. The whole “there’s no such thing as bad publicity” adage pops into my head because the bluetooth company did end up on CNN this morning defending their videos and getting access to a whole new group of viewers. Then again, I agree with the analyst that in an internet-driven world it’s dangerous to submit a falsehood (on behalf of your company no less) to the world, because the truth may come back to haunt you.

What do you think?


Sustainability: Kosher Green

I’ve really noticed an uptick in green discussions here in the print industry. As mentioned, WTT just had a whole green week and, almost overnight, every e-newsletter to which I subscribe has added a section on the environment.

Now, I will be the last person complaining about all this. My enthusiasm for the topic of sustainability has been well documented on this blog, but with any encouragement must come a note of caution (especially on this front). I’ve written about greenwashing a few times, and I’m extending the reminder yet again. As more green discussions happen around you and you’re more tempted to quickly latch on, don’t forget that honesty and authenticity are really at the forefront of this issue. Your customers want your commitment, not your slapped together, “but it has green font!” marketing campaign that really has no chops.

Last week, Brand Channel had a great article, Grading Green: The Watchdogs CMOs Must Appease, that discussed the leading groups that are working to regulate the green front. As the article points out:

In the lawless and unregulated landscape of going green, it became clear that someone, somewhere, needed to step in to provide some semblance of order and a credible means of measuring the myriad of ways companies can go, and pretend to go, green.

I definitely recommend reading the article as it describes the top three watchdog groups and what they’re looking for.

Then yesterday I was reading Seth Godin’s marketing blog and came across this post about the impending backlash against all the green marketing consumers are currently seeing. Seth’s argument tackles the idea of authenticity in a different way; he suggests the power of proof, especially when consumers get sick of all the green marketing and just want the bottom line:

The power of a number is the effect we saw when they put a number on restaurants (Zagats) and wines (Parker) and gas mileage (the EPA). People notice a number, and they work to improve it.

Seth’s thoughts on the topic are very interesting, especially considered in conjunction with the Brand Channel article. The warning signs are clearly flashing and we’d all be wise to heed the alarm.


Marketing: A Refresher in Authenticity

In my daily email from Ad Age there was an article that got my attention, “Stop dishing out the phoniness, marketers.” Of course, a marketer’s instinctual response is “But I’m not phony!” True or not, the article has great tips for keeping marketing genuine and powerful in a continuously changing landscape.

The article’s moral is based on the consumer mentality du jour: honesty. Or, as the article authors put it, “authenticity is becoming the new consumer sensibility.” The article has some great points and reminders about successful marketing habits that will keep you from being labeled a phony.

I think most of us in the marketing realm try to be as genuine as possible, although we sometimes get carried away without imagining the repercussions of promising too much in today’s “Experience Economy,” as the article aptly names it. The article recommends a strong corporate identity as the backbone to successful and genuine marketing and I’d recommend reading the rest of the article for a quick refresher in Authenticity 101.

Do you have a rule of thumb for keeping your marketing honesty in check?


Client Growth Corner: The value of customer relationships

The Client Growth Corner is an ongoing column from our Client Growth Coordinator

Hi All,

I was pointed in the direction of an interesting article in Print On Demand’s online edition. The article, entitled “What Buyers Admire Most In A Printer,” interviewed 13 print buyers to see what they value in their printer. The number one response given was Honesty. Time and time again, print buyers valued being told the truth, even if it wasn’t what they wanted to hear.

This article highlighted the importance of customer service and the value of an honest working relationship. Your customers will understand if you’re not perfect and they respect your capabilities. By maintaining service level agreements and remaining honest with your customers, you are bound to retain their business.

Honesty is the number one admired trait of print buyers. What traits do you value in your customers? What types of customer relationships do you strive to have and how has Four51 helped you achieve and maintain these relationships?