Tuesday, December 7, 2010

New Home

Thanks to everyone who has followed my blog. I've started a new blog, and am taking this whole blog thing a lot more seriously. The new home can be found here... http://seldomtypql.com

Friday, October 22, 2010

What does Facebook betting on “groups” say about culture, the census and how we define ourselves?

"When I was four years old
they tried to test my I.Q.
they showed me a picture
of 3 oranges and a pear
they said,
which one is different?
it does not belong
they taught me different is wrong…”

Ani DiFranco

As the 2010 Census is being compiled one thing that we can most certainly be assured of is that we’ll probably recognize America as considerably different then it was say 20 years ago. We will see far more examples of other races, religions and ethnicities. While the census is used for lots of very important things, in the past it has been the single greatest overall driver of marketing decisions.

This being the case we can also be assured that marketing to said demographics will become increasingly challenging as well as remarkably inefficient and hardly cost effective. This is in large part because of what I like to refer to as “cross-culturalization”. This is simply where people from multiple ethnicities, races and religions share like interests.

In the past, marketers have traditionally marketed to people by finding the most similarities possible to reach the largest swath of people generally via demographics and household income otherwise known as “buying power”. Just consider the term, “general consumer”.

Is there really still such a thing?

Furthermore how people define themselves will hardly be answered by the census.

Zuckerburg would have you believe that Facebook’s fate to continue to remain relevant rests largely with the growing of the “Groups” functionality. No doubt he’s read Seth Godin’s “Tribes”. Interestingly enough today there was an editorial in the New York Times by David Brooks about “Flock Comedies” and shows like Dick Van Dyke, The Waltons and The Cosby Show being replaced by shows such “Friends”, “Sex and the City”, “How I Met Your Mother” and “Glee”. The editorial makes the argument that these “…shows also serve one final purpose. They help people negotiate the transition between dyadic friendships and networked friendships.”

Arguably the Internet has exploited people’s ability to group themselves and congregate together well before Facebook. Following a blog might be the simplest means of identifying with an interest or a group.

One question Facebook may want to confront is whether a group’s identity or brand is diminished by it being on Facebook. By its sheer size, Facebook is the Wal-Mart of social media regardless of whether or not it cares to admit it. ASMALL WORLD would not be the brand that it is if it were on Facebook. Perhaps there could be opportunities for Facebook to private label groups able to utilize Facebook’s functionality. But, let’s be honest, one thing about associating with a certain group is the notion of exclusion and to be a part of a certain group requires a degree of legitimacy or street cred.

Then there is the very real fact that there are some groups that people don’t want to be openly associated with. Take being gay, in which Facebook was recently accused of likely “outing” gays.

One of the simplest descriptions of Facebook I ever heard was, “It’s a TV channel I can turn on to see what my friends are doing.”

So let’s run with that. One could make the assertion that Facebook is really akin to an original big three TV network before cable where at any given point a marketer can reach the largest number of people. Let’s call Google the largest of the big three. Google however will always have search relevance for its ad platform. With Facebook though it has to provide relevance by interest. And here Facebook is actually becoming cable before our very eyes with groups becoming channels such as the Disney channel or Spike or Lifetime. However the same way marketers struggle to get a relevant message across requires understanding your audience.

And this is where groups come in.

What Zuckerberg isn’t saying is that basically groups will become a giant ad serving platform. Take for example the group “Mom’s Who Need Wine” which has about 336K+ followers on Facebook. Not too shabby a number, right? And where better to offer up any number of specific offers, Groupon like capabilities and so on based on hosts of data and data mining and insights to prospective advertisers.

At its core, I think Facebook is right culturally about the concept of groups. But I think Facebook has some considerable uphill battles. One is trust. The other is why Facebook? Facebook Groups is where the wannabes will live. The legit groups will be places like ASMALLWORLD or ShredUnion. As an advertiser, do you want to be where trends begin or where trends go to die (e.g. Wal-Mart). For that I suggest you ask Grant McCracken, author of “Flock and Flow”. Furthermore, if you start a group like “Moms Who Need Wine” why should Facebook make all the revenue off a group they didn’t even start?

Zuckerburg and the team at Facebook will position groups as what Facebook users want. And truth be told, that’s a load of crap. Groups is a way to make money. In interviews with Facebook staffers, nobody talks about the needs or wants of consumers… they talk about not being “… surprised if only 5% or 10% create groups,” noting “that’s 25 to 50 million people — not a small number by any standard.” Those are Nielsen numbers. Another factor to consider is what are real groups such as “Mom’s Who Need Wine” versus fad groups such as "Sorry But I Can't Hear You Over This SunChips Bag" which currently has more than 51,000 friends.

So the question is what consumers do. And that, as I think we’re readily aware by this point, is anyone’s guess.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Is "Customer Service," Marketing?


So this is hardly a new topic but I thought I’d throw my two cents in there after an experience at an AT&T store the other day.

I was in need of a new phone but I had been avoiding going to AT&T because I wasn’t sure if I was eligible for an upgrade and didn’t want to pay full price for a phone. I was avoiding the store because I didn’t want to have a fight about being an AT&T customer for the better part of 12 years and why couldn’t they give me the promotional price for a new BlackBerry Torch.

I was avoiding the store to AVOID customer service.

However being at my wits end with my failing phone, I put my head down and headed in. Fortunately I was eligible for an upgrade and actually had a very good customer experience.

The same can’t be said for the lady next to me however. This poor woman was from another state visiting a sick relative in the hospital. Her phone died and being unable to fix it and having no contact with home she came into the store. The staff at the store was also unable to fix it and said she would need a new phone but she was two months and a day away from being eligible for an upgrade and thus would have to pay full price ($220) to replace her phone.

As my lovely sales agent was getting me all set with my new phone I stood there and listened to this woman exasperated deal with two sales agents and one customer service representative on the phone to lobby to be granted an exclusion to get a new phone. Ultimately she was given a new phone with a new contract but what it took to get there seems preposterous.

I went into the AT&T store fully ready to take my business to Verizon and although I left moderately pleased, I still left with an overall negative impression.

Folks. Customer service IS your brand.

Is “customer service,” marketing? You’re damn right it is.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Best Love Letter to a Company Ever (And one of the best online portfolios you should be advertising on but probably aren’t)

A friend of mine, Joe Cronin, owns a company called Edvisors.com (@edvisors). It’s a college student marketing company.

(Full disclosure: Joe is a close personal friend and my company sub-leases space from him)

Joe started the company about 12 years ago by buying up just about every URL related to education and student loans and has built it into a nicely profitable business that employs about 12 people and has its own corporate foundation. The business is essentially an intermediary between college students and service providers. Joe is one of the nicest guys on the planet. His company doesn’t deal with shady lenders and a great deal of his sites are dedicated to helping people navigate the college universe.

He’s got a database of about 2 million students and pulls in about 150,000 new users each month. His site is the epitome of the little engine that could.

Early on when we moved into his office space we were in the kitchen and I noticed a lined piece of notebook paper on the fridge. I took a look and it was a handwritten, single spaced, double-sided letter from a college Sophomore majoring in mechanical engineering from Texas Tech University. He was writing to say thank-you.

First of all… who hand writes letters anymore? Let alone thank-you letters? To companies? Let alone college Sophomores?

This letter in particular was addressed to ScholarshipPoints.com. The way it works is simple.

1) Sign-up to ScholarshipPoints.com

2) Earn points by completing simple, fun activities (surveys, etc). Each point you earn is worth one entry into the free scholarship of your choice.

3) Enter your points into multiple scholarships, or use all of your points towards one free scholarship to increase your chance of winning.

The site has more than one million members and is growing at about a rate of 100,000 members a month. In 4 years they’ve given away more than 60 scholarships between $1,000 and $10,000.

I’ll share with you a few excerpts from this letter…

“Dear ScholarshipPoints.com management,

Though I had no specific individual to whom I could address this letter, I am hoping all of you have the chance to read it because I intend it for all of you. I am continually thankful for and impressed by Scholarship Points! The site is such a generous philanthropic venture… I hope to be a winner at Scholarship Points one day also, but I am most thankful for the incredible information provided on the site.

I have been “money-conscious” since early high-school, but Scholarship Points’ articles, which I discovered late in my first year of college, were the catalyst to my becoming money-responsible! The site is the reason I got my first credit card (Citi Dividends!) and a large contributing reason to my use of ING Direct Orange Savings. The resources on your site sparked my investment in myself and personal finance and this new learning is inspiring me to pay off my loans while in school and graduate debt free. I’m finally taking real responsibility for my money and am so thankful for the resources and encouragement I found at Scholarship Points.”

He then goes on to very graciously ask several questions about entrepreneurship. The folks at Edvisors did answer him back.

He closes by saying…

“I wish the very best for the Scholarship Points program and the various sister sites united under the Edvisors banner. I am incredibly grateful for all I’ve learned there and I hope to become a scholarship recipient. I know the others probably expressed gratitude for your program by which this short letter is overshadowed! I hope to hear back from you and until then, I am

Sincerely yours,


In my humble opinion, this is one of the best love letters to a company I’ve ever seen and the guy hasn’t even won a scholarship yet. That it comes from a Sophomore in college gives me hope for the future. But in all seriousness it demonstrates a few very powerful dynamics:

1) The power of a good idea and sound business strategy will win most of the time. @edwardboches had this to say in one of his recent blogs about Panera's new non-profit endeavor, “This week's Fast Company declared that the most important leadership quality a CEO can possess is creativity. Not operations. Not finance. Not management. Creativity. Creativity means breaking with the status quo, trying things that have never been done, innovating on a regular basis.”

2) Having a company with good core values will win most of the time and it starts with the leadership. Of course Joe desires to make money but it’s clear a greater motivation is to provide avenues for more kids to be able to have access to higher education. For the record, Joe’s dad was once a state secretary of education and a president of a local university. Education is in Joe’s DNA.

3) Consistently providing valuable, relevant and meaningful content will allow for a strong and meaningful relationship with the consumer.

4) You can do well by doing good.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Yet Another Example of Not Getting It

Cadillac broke new work today by BBH. All I have to say is, why?

This work is no better than the last few rounds of work by Modernista! or the work of their previous agency. I will give Modernista! props for the “My Cadillac Story” effort but Cadillac a thumbs down for abandoning it.

The line “Mark of Leadership” is meaningless especially when they’ve been playing catch-up to the Europeans, Japanese and now Korean’s (Hyundai Genesis) when it comes to quality. Simply saying it does not make it so. Sure the blokes at Top Gear found new love for the second generation CTS-V but they weren’t making apples-to-apples comparisons to other Euro (M5,RS4, C63)/Japanese (IS-F). The comments in the AdAge article are all sadly accurate. Probably the best comment was about the tagline being “destined for the ‘one year and out’ dumpster.”

Most importantly what this shows me is that what Cadillac nor BBH seems to understand is that :30 spots aren’t necessarily the name of the game anymore. Start with a great product and build compelling content around that product at strategic touch-points. It’s great that Cadillac has a YouTube channel but judging from the total views of all of the work on their channel (885,329) the “content” is hardly compelling. You want compelling content? Have a look at Ken Block’s DC Shoes/Monster Energy Drink/Subaru“infomercial” which is at 14 million views and counting. The aggregate of the DCShoesFilm Channel is at 34 million views and counting.

Cadillac has a great story to tell. Did you know the gear shift pattern/pedal configuration as we know it is courtesy of Cadillac? It’s unfortunate that no one is able to help Cadillac try to tell it.