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12 posts from September 2009

09/28/2009 Do You Trust Your Electric Company?

Most utilities aim for a high level of customer satisfaction and trust. Its one of the ways they can validate (they think) loyalty. Of course, gauging loyalty is hard when you don't always have a choice, which happens a lot with utilities.

I've worked with a number of utilities on energy efficiency campaigns over the years, including Green Mountain Power and Efficiency Vermont. We produced a number of fun and innovative campaigns to help people save energy and money. So I have a pretty good idea of what electric utilities are up against.

I stumbled across this banner campaign on Boston.com this weekend. I'm always on the lookout for interesting online marketing and when I saw what I thought was an efficiency campaign from National Grid, it caught my attention.


For one, that color just jumped out of the page. So far so good. And it sounded like there was something interesting going on with this 3% thing. Actually, I assumed it was going to mimic a campaign from Burlington, the 10% challenge where non-profits challenged people and businesses to lower their electric use by 10%.

But when I clicked on the banner, both on Saturday and Sunday, here's what I saw:


Firefox asked me to make an exception for this site. And I probably should have. But to be honest, I don't really know National Grid, except for when I judged its super MITX award entry last year from Mullen.

More to the point: It's a lot to ask someone to click on a banner and interrupt their browsing. It's too much to now ask them to trust an untrusted certificate. Where's the value transaction in this? I'm sure this was probably a simple mistake, but if you're paying money for media placement and creative, it should be a small task to make sure your conversion page works.

When you get right down to it, most people don't trust utilities. Maybe it's the Enron effect.

Boy, online banners have it tough enough without adding things like this to the customer experience. No wonder they have such a lousy reputation.

I'd like to see National Grid adapt its banner creative with an "It's safe to go in the water message." Because the people who clicked this weekend are probably never clicking again.

I wonder what the 3% challenge is?
09/25/2009 Making Happy Customers

I'm not a Walmart shopper. I don't go into their stores because they're too big for me and there's something about them that bugs me.

Still, when I was shopping online for our family's new Wii and Beatles Rockband, they clearly had the best deal, and that's what I was looking for. The order and delivery were great, just as they should be.

End of story, right? Well not really.

Ten days later, Walmart emails me and says that they're running a Beatles Rockband t-shirt promotion if you buy the game, and I just missed it. And then Walmart says it's sending me the t-shirt anyway. I got it this week.

Now, honestly, if they hadn't told me, I never would've known. To me, this is Free Prize Inside stuff. Walmart didn't need to do that, but they went the extra mile anyhow. I can't remember the last time I experienced something like this.

Beatles tshirt

So kudos to Walmart for showing a great example of customer follow up and relationship building. You've started to change the way I think of you.

Now, if you could only give me the 20% price reduction Nintendo announced yesterday that I would've received if I had waited a month to buy, then world peace can't be far behind.

Thanks for the t-shirt!
09/23/2009 Digital Lacks a Storytelling Paradigm

We all hear the stories about the upcoming downfall of traditional media: Newspapers going under by 2042, Hollywood and TV soon to follow the troubles of the music industry, Books - all electronic, and Radio, well, what's that? While I'm not discounting the troubles the industries, or rather the economics of the industries, face, I think it's one thing to say they're in trouble, another to discount them entirely.

Despite the shift in media attention, the digital space still hasn't found its paradigm in how it tells stories. Personally, I can't compare anything I see online to the pleasure in watching a well-crafted movie or TV show. That story format moves me in ways online hasn't approached.  In fact, the promise of digital (non-linear and interactive) seems to reach its pinnacle from a storytelling perspective in, of all places, video games.

Obviously digital is great at the non-linear, the immediate and at the two-way interactivity (although we still have a ways to go on that). Right now it seems to thrive on information retrieval and transactions, two important items for any business or individual. Maybe that's enough. But it seems that if this medium is truly revolutionary then it should start developing its story telling paradigm.

When you bring this to the marketing space, it's absolutely critical. Paid search works because it's informational, transactional and intent driven. Brand advertising, on the other hand flounders online because there are few good digital storytellers there, and even fewer who are willing to push the limits, unfortunately.

One of the most interesting examples, lately, is the Pringles banner ad. Whether or not you like the content, that banner was one of the few places where people had to see how the banner ended. And that's a great definition of a good story: you have to stay around to see the end.

That's what video games do. Now I played way more video games before I had kids.  There are a lot of reasons they're so addictive: I'm in control, everything I do causes the game to do something (interactivity), I get rewards or penalties for my actions, I discover things and I play in a story continuum. Now, I can even play with people all over the world. The goal is to get to the end, to see how the story concludes. Great games try to keep adding on endings so you won't stop. This is great digital storytelling.


I may choose to go online instead of watching TV or a movie. But I'm not swapping consuming one story for another. I go online to snack information, I watch movies to enjoy a story. When we go online to enjoy stories, that's how we'll know digital has arrived.

The question is whether that story will be passive like TV or active like gaming. Right now I think the industry could use more gaming stories to promote brands and products. I'm still surprised to see the Orbitz banner games still around; I used to have colleagues who'd play on those all day. When was the last time you could say that about an ad?

Brands will need help taking story-telling risks like this. But social media will help, because it will help extend the stories to those who haven't seen them yet. Good stories cause people to talk about them. We need to start pushing the limits of how we currently use this medium to tell those stories.

09/21/2009 Listening Means More Than Social Media

Social media puts a lot of emphasis on listening. The first advice for those jumping into social media is to listen to what customers say about your company. It's funny, but companies listen all the time, whether they know it or not. Or rather, they hear, but they don't listen. While listening in social media is a good thing, companies need to get better to its customers and prospects as part of its regular business as well.

I was struck by how Alice.com allowed you to list how long a product lasts in your household. Their idea is to offer service or reminders when they see that it's time for you to reorder something. Collecting this data isn't new; using it is. Alice.com listens to what its customers do.

It reminded me of the time I was pitching a major grocery chain in the northeast many years ago. My idea was similar to what Alice.com does now. Since the chain used customer cards, they had a rich, thorough picture of everyone's shopping habits. How about using that to make life easier for your customers? I suggested. No way, they said, we wouldn't dare use that information. Crazy as it sounds they heard what customers did, and perhaps they used it to manage the stock in its stores. But they refused to use it to personalize the experience.

Smaller companies do this too. They know who its customers are and who its prospects are. When it comes time to market, these companies usually create one campaign - one size fits all. But customers don't want companies to treat them the same. How about adjusting your campaigns to segment each group? With email and online advertising, creating segmented creative is easy (although you still have to think of different sets of content). How about creating different offers for heavy buyers and light buyers? Or separate connections for happy customers and less happy customers? Or offers to people who've inquired but never bought?

The reality is that most business these days collect lots of information about its customers but most rarely use the data for any type of individualized marketing. It's too bad; we like it when you pay attention to us.

Listening involves not only hearing what customers say, but also acting on what you hear in some way. Listening is interactive since it involves two moving parts. Hearing is passive; you can take in lots of information, but it never moves past your eardrums.

Companies hear a lot, every day. It's time they use listening skills inside the existing business. Companies don't need new social media programs or Facebook profiles to make this happen. They just need to pay attention.

If the data feels overwhelming, start small. I'm sure you'll be surprised at what happens.
09/17/2009 Listen. Connect. Correct. Repeat.

In the last two weeks I've seen and heard social media stories from two Vermont ski resorts that provide good lessons for the rest of us. If you're still wondering how or why you should use social media, these stories should show you the value of participating in social media (and the risk of ignoring social media).

At last week's #BTVSMB meeting, Karen Boushie from Smuggs told the group about a posting someone made showing brown, dirty liquid gushing from a pipe on one of Smuggs downhill trails. I can tell you from experience, if there's one thing ski resorts hate it's anything associating its mountains with the color brown! The post implied that Smuggs was polluting the mountain, as witnessed by the picture.

But Smuggs was listening. They picked up on the post quickly and saw that one of their snowmaking pipes had sprung a leak. The water spouting from it was just that, dirty water and not any bad pollutants. They did two things: They found and fixed the leak and they informed the poster that it was last year's snowmaking water that was the issue, not pollutants.

The poster acknowledged Smuggs actions and quickly sent out a clarification and admitted he was mistaken. Smuggs impressed him by how quickly and thoroughly they reacted.


The other story happened earlier this week here on this blog. I'm not going to rehash that here. But needless to say, ski resort Jay Peak was listening. They have a lot of moving parts to their marketing and it turned out that there were a couple of missteps. And very, very quickly, everyone jumped in, apologized, made changes and started broadcasting (!) that they had made a mistake and corrected it.

That last part was amazing. Owning up to mistakes and errors is probably the best relationship and authenticity builder out there (now, if only the politicians could learn this). It showed that Jay was walking the walk.

I know this isn't a Vermont thing, as much as I wish it were. These two business show how social media should be done right, in four simple steps:

Listen, connect, correct, repeat.
09/16/2009 Alice Delivers

Actually, I've changed my mind. Here's why.

09/14/2009 Openness vs. Spin in Social Media

A friend of mine passed on a blog post this weekend. It was a post by Origin Design + Communication effusively praising Jay Peak's resort social media efforts. Jay Peak was apparently running a Twitter contest giving away free ski passes if you could show a receipt proving you had purchased (but not read) Mitch Joel's book "Six Pixels of Separation."

Why is Jay Peak worth this praise? The number one reason, according to Origin, is because "they are using social media." I have no problem with people praising Jay Peak. I follow Jay's PR director Steve Wright on Twitter, he seems like a very smart professional who's doing a good job in social media.

The problem I have is that Origin Design is Jay Peak's agency and that nowhere in this article do they acknowledge the fact. To be honest, the only way you can find this out is by clicking on a link on the left, almost all the way down where it says "Origin Design."

I don't know whether Origin has anything to do with Jay Peak's social media program. What I do know is that transparency is key in social media. Without it, there's no reason to follow or believe anyone. Origin has a clear vested and monetary interest in Jay Peak. They should have clearly stated their connection.

The goal is to have the post serve as an expert, third party validation for Jay's social media efforts. Even Jay Peak is re-tweeting Origin's post in a "gosh, we're so honored" manner.

The fact is, it's an inside ping-pong game, aimed at misleading people. Origin, if you want to write about Jay Peak, great, just tell us what you're relationship is. And maybe talk about which of your other clients could use help.

Come on guys, put the cards on the table. You're all good at what you do, but if you're trying to fool the consumer, shame on you.

If Origin and Jay want to be really good in social media, try being transparent.
09/11/2009 “Social Media’s Collective Wisdom” e-Book

This is from Christine Whittemore's Simple Marketing Blog, it is a complete reprint, nothing original here.

Whittemore Publishes “Social Media’s Collective Wisdom” e-Book

Simplifies marketing with social media for corporate marketers

Kinnelon, NJ – Christine Whittemore, chief simplifier of Simple Marketing Now LLC, has published “Social Media’s Collective Wisdom: Simplifying Marketing With Social Media” in which 26 prominent social media practitioners answer the question “what suggestions do you have for companies to implement so they can more effectively bridge old media with new media and connect with end users?

The wisdom collected in this e-book originates from a social media interview series about Bridging New & Old that Whittemore launched in December 2008 on her blog Flooring The Consumer. This first volume of “Social Media’s Collective Wisdom” captures responses from the first 26 participants in this ongoing series.

“Social media is here to stay,” says Whittemore, “but the tools and approaches aren’t yet fully understood particularly as it relates to organizations. How better to jump start the process by absorbing the collective wisdom of these insightful social media professionals.”

Responses from the following social media experts are included in “Social Media’s Collective Wisdom: Simplifying Marketing With Social Media” - Book I:
The e-book - Social Media's Collective Wisdom: Simplifying Marketing With Social Media - Book I - is available for free download by visiting http://simplemarketingnow.com/Services.html.
09/10/2009 Toilet Paper Online? Go Ask Alice.com. I think she'll know.

Actually, I've changed my mind. Here's why.

09/08/2009 Interesting New Ad Format; Same Crappy Banners

This weekend I noticed that the New York Times had introduced a new banner format, one that I hadn't seen them use before (and one that my NYT media rep hadn't told me about :-(). It was a persistent 300x600 online banner that followed me down the page. One of the challenges with online banners is that it's easy to ignore them by simply scrolling past them. Not here.

The persistent banner was part of my viewing experience. Since it was there the whole time, it was very hard to miss and harder to ignore. One reason is that it's strange for the eye to see everything scrolling except for one thing: the banner. Your eye makes its way over, just to see what's going on. Maybe that will change as we get used to this format. What I did notice was that the consistent placing made the ads feel as if they were more part of my Web browsing experience.

The other thing the new ad format did was that it removed a lot of clutter. You see this a lot in newspapers: since the online ads don't bring in as much revenue as print, they fill pages up with different kinds of advertising hoping this shotgun approach yields something. The result is a very busy layout and advertising you can't wait to skip over.

I have seen ads like this before. The Swedish afternoon paper Aftonbladet has had these for a while, but their ads were jerky and slowed down the whole browser. Their technology wasn't up to the task. Not so on the Times, everything was smooth and seamless.

I have to admit I liked this a lot and not only because I create online advertising for my clients. I like that the Times is looking for ways to make banners more integrated and effective. I certainly like this a lot better than the takeover ads. I'm looking forward to see how this develops and will certainly look into for my clients.

One thing the new ad format can't help, unfortunately, is the creative. I got stuck looking at what I think is one of the worst branding campaigns this year: TD Bank. TD is changing its name, as it's shedding its r remnant from a Vermont bank takeover, the name BankNorth. They've been buying a ton of all sorts of advertising proclaiming TD as America's most convenient bank and using convenient celebrities Regis and Kelly. Excuse me; I have to grab another sick bag.

I don't know about the rest of the country, but Regis and Kelly seem to have nothing to do with my community bank. Do they, somehow, represent local and convenience? Maybe I'm just cynical, but to me they represent overpaid, under talented media celebrities who have nothing to do with local banking.

If TD Bank really wanted to become America's most convenient bank they'd take all of their marketing dollars and start developing some innovative, customer focused services, like USAA, MoBank, or the other banks on Mint's Best Bank Account List.

For the New York Times consistent ads: Good format, lousy content. Hopefully the online ad creatives will step up to the plate more, now that we have better tools.

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