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I saw a great video today. It’s great because it tells a story. The story is about a luxury car companies quest to build a high-performance car that is environmentally friendly. Sound interesting? I didn’t think so either until I watched the video. You may have to be a bit of video/film geek to appreciate how this is shot but I believe the style of this video is what separates storytelling from marketing. The use of black frames, b-roll, music and pulling the camera across the car creates an emotional experience. If Porsche would have just put their Design Chief in front of a camera with the new car in the background, it wouldn’t have the same impact. What things are happening in your company that when marketed are mundane but if explained in the form of a story, would get people’s attention?

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I have recently come across two pieces of marketing/advertising that I thought were very clever. While the products and brands were not all that exciting, they invited people to engage either directly with the product or cast a vote. Cottenelle and Ikea were definitely thinking creatively and did a wonderful job of getting people to take notice of their brand.

Cottenelle Roll Poll

Cottenelle Roll Poll Advertisment with voting buttons.

The center of the toilet paper rolls are voting buttons

Ikea Subway Furniture Display

Image courtesy of Freshome.

To learn more about the Ikea display in the Paris subway system, you can read the article on Freshome.

Being a resident of Chicago and a frequent user of our “L” system, I don’t believe the Ikea campaign would fare well here unless the furniture was bolted down and frequently sanitized. The couches would end up on the tracks and it would only be a matter of time before someone was electrocuted because they were trying to fish a quarter off the tracks with one of the lamps and accidently touched the third rail.

Internal site search is a tough thing to do relatively well. With the exception of a few sites that absolutely depend on search for their bread and butter, I am rarely satisfied with the results of internal site searches. In fact, I find that going back to Google and doing a targeted site search from the engine itself usually yields better results. Today I was on Acura.com and was looking for warranty information and couldn’t find it through the navigation. Navigation problems aside, I was extremely impressed with how they handled my search. As you can see below, the results are not just a link but all the information I needed.  Great job and I will apply what I learned from them to the sites I contribute to. One opportunity to build on this:  if Acura had fully developed personas and understood the motivation for people querying that information, they could have provided a link to satisfy and anticipate my next question and ensure the information seeking (and ultimately buying) process would have continued.

I keep seeing my Facebook wall filled with people joining the group “I’m Quitting Facebook Once We have to Pay $3.99/month on July 9, 2010!” This movement has my curiosity about why someone would start such a thing. After some digging, I learn that it is nothing more than a scamming website that installs malware and spyware on your computer. It’s a clever lure because Facebook is such an integral part of how people connect and communicate that the thought of having to pay for it ignites an emotional response and an immediate alignment with the cause. It reminds me of the early days of the internet when emails were circulating stating the US Post Office was going to start charging for emails. Obviously that never happened but the hype was real; people were worried and ready to take to their local post office with torches and bayonets. Fortunately for all of us addicted to Facebook for both personal and professional uses, they would never charge a fee to their users. I should never say never but their revenue model is one based on advertising. They make money based on how many people see or click on the ads displayed on their web site. The more people on their site, the more those ads get seen/clicked and the more money they make. Charging a fee would significantly reduce their user base and thus the potential revenue from advertising. In an April 2009 Business Week interview with Facebook’s COO, Sheryl Sandberg, she stated: “The answer is no, we are not planning on charging a basic fee for our basic services. Once again, that question stems from people thinking we’re growing so quickly, we’re running out of money. We’re growing really quickly, but we can finance that growth. We’re not going to charge for our basic services.”

User product reviews could be classified as the first true component of Web 2.0. It’s the ground floor of social media. Unfortunately, I believe they are becoming less useful. I am a big fan of Trip Advisor. I never book a trip without checking what people have to say about the hotel or rental car company I am considering. So I hate to pick on them but over the last few months, I have noticed a trend. If you sort reviews by rating, the hotel is the best thing since sliced bread when favorable ratings are on top and on the other side of the sort, the hotel is over-run with rats and the staff goes out of their way to ruin your vacation. So which do you believe? Essentially, you are left to trust your gut which is the same place we were 10 years ago before reviews became common place. Now, I am not saying that all reviews are useless but for web sites that have reached critical mass, we do need a better system. One that allows me to read reviews from people like me. What if there was a way for me to hear reviews only from people who have kids, an income over a certain amount, have traveled to similar destinations in the past, have similar tastes in brands and think Chili’s is okay food. Not great food, just okay. Then when someone says a hotel has great food and the staff is very friendly, I have a context to define “great food” and “very friendly staff.” Now wouldn’t that be more helpful the next time you are trying to plan your next trip or purchasing a product?

Yesterday I received an email from Hilton asking me to help the earthquake victims in Haiti. The email was timely as I haven’t donated yet and this makes the process just a few simple clicks. However, I am bit hesitant on these things as donations to the victims of Katrina and other recent disasters were handled poorly at best. It’s tough to tell where your money is really going and who is actually benefiting. But since Hilton is a brand I trust, (I stay there probably 5 to 10 times a year around the country and never had a bad experience) I read their offer. As you can see below, they are not asking me to donate money, just points. Good idea. It’s an easy process for them as well as me and no money has to change hands on the consumer side of the transaction.

The problem is that in exchange for 10,000 of my points they will donate $25. Ten thousand points is almost enough for me to stay for 2 nights at any of their hotels.

So what they are really offering is this: give up points that have $225-$300 in value and Hilton will give the victims in Haiti $25. This offer isn’t genuine because Hilton isn’t meeting people halfway. They are asking people to give but what are they giving? Hilton benefits signficantly by reducing the number of free nights they have to give away under the guise of helping victims of a tragedy. Hilton’s charitable attempt has resulted in me thinking much less of their brand. The smart thing for me to do is to donate $300 through another charity and stay in a Hilton two nights for free. Everyone wins.

If Hilton really wanted to so something charitable what they should have done was offer to set up “shelters” (maybe tents and cots) in Haiti and every 10,000 point donation ensures that 3 families have a place to sleep for the night and also get three meals for the day. I understand the logistics involved in pulling something like that off but Haiti will need help for a long time and who knows better than Hilton how to take care of people in terms of lodging and food.

The lesson for me in this is to always have a “Debbie Downer” at the table to vet ideas. Certainly there is one person on the Hilton marketing team who could have anticipated one of their HHonors members would have this reaction and  could have avoided the blemish on the brand. If they did have that person at the table and the issue was raised, shame on them even more.

I have been an avid reader of Fast Company for many years. I think Fast Company is a very forward thinking magazine and has helped me, to some extent, shape my management style and see problems for a different angle. Much like this blog, their magazine is devoted to pointing out companies who do things well and those that, well, not so much. So I was surprised to see recently that they are protecting their content much like many of  their peers who use a similar business model and are now going the way of the dinosaur. Many months back I remember reading an article about monitoring your brand 24/7. I was looking for some monitoring tools and went to their web site to find the article. After a bit of digging I was able to find it but I was told I needed to be a member of their community to view it. No problem. I went through the extensive registration process because I really wanted to access the content but when I went back to the article logged-in, I still couldn’t access the content. I wrote them an email detailing my experience and never heard back. I don’t understand why in this day in age, companies hide or protect their content online. I especially don’t understand why a company whose brand is built on “innovation” and “forward thinking” can’t learn from the world around them. How many unique visitors a month are they losing by not allowing Google to access that content? And since they sell advertising on their site, how much money are they losing from advertisers? I bet that we are all guilty of something like this to some extent. We ignore the sound of the waterfall in the distance and remain on our present course because it is what has always worked and it’s more comfortable than change.

Recently I purchased a MinoHD Flip Video Camera and I was thoroughly impressed with their web site. So much so that I passed up the opportunity to save $30 by ordering on Amazon.com. Why? So that I could design the skin of the camera. Flip realized that in order to sell directly from their web site they had to create an experience and offer a service that couldn’t be replicated on other retail sites. An experience and service that people would pay for. And they did a great job too. They made it simple and the choices to customize were plenty but not overwhelming so that I would not balk about clicking “checkout”. I believe the days of competing on price for most companies are dead. Wal-Mart and other big box stores can continue down that path but for the rest of us you have to create something unique in order to get people to open their wallets. And if you are not selling a product, the folks who are interfacing with your customers must truly align with the brand and feel a duty to provide a great service. Otherwise, you just end up like the airline industry with employees who feel like pesky customers are always getting in the way of trying to do business.

Today when I booted up my Dell computer I was given a message that my battery has reached the end of its usable life.

I have noticed in the last few months that my computers ability to hold a charge has significantly diminished so I was delighted to see that the smart folks at Dell have created such a nice reminder. My excitement was based on the belief that when I click the link it is going to take me directly to the exact product I needed. No searching, no typing 72 character part numbers into a product look-up box, and certainly no phone calls to a multi-step prompt system. I was ready to experience intelligent e-commerce at its best. So when I clicked the link, I then received the following dialog box. Great, it even says “Order Battery Online.”

Much to my disappointment, when I clicked the link I received the following page.

I had my credit card in hand ready to click “add-to-cart” and “checkout” but I couldn’t do either. Obviously, Dell missed an opportunity here. They had a customer ready to make a purchase but because they didn’t take the time to write the logic that would take me directly to the part I needed, they lost a sale. In today’s world of widgets and iPhone applications that think for us, peoples willingness to do needless leg work to make a purchase is gone. On the up side, this was just the excuse I was looking for to buy a new computer. And maybe that is part of Dell’s plan; unfortunately for them, I am seriously considering moving to a Mac.