Thursday, July 25, 2013

Protecting Your Social Self

A former coworker recently started a new company that aims to protect job seekers from themselves.  In short, the service will flag any questionable posts or photos from social media and allow the job seeker to delete them.  According to the founder, the service is aimed at helping people automate the process of managing their social self, especially since employers are relying on social media to learn more about prospective candidates.

While I don't doubt that there is a need for this service, it actually bothers me that this need exists.  Before facebook and social media, companies would bring in candidates to learn more about them as people.  As is so often mentioned by HR departments, especially at super-competitive employers like Google, they want to get a better idea of each candidate as a whole person and not just an employee.  In current times, however, our social profiles are yet one more filter that we are passed through before we can even speak to a person at a company.

This begs the question of what is really considered inappropriate.  I have a picture in my facebook albums that shows me drinking beer straight from a pitcher.  Would this banish me from some HR screening process?  Where is the line between "he's just having fun" and "he's not at all right for our company."  Further, who gets to make that decision?  My view of inappropriate behavior might be wildly different from someone else's.  Finally, what about context?  The picture of me drinking from a pitcher was posed.  It was also taken nine years ago.  I understand the concept of nothing dying on the internet, but when careers and livelihood is at stake, snap judgements seem like a flawed way to go through the process.

With the economy still on the path to recovery and with many employers trying to cut costs at every corner, hiring decisions are not made lightly.  Companies receive an overwhelming number of applications for each position, and no one can deny the need for a system to quickly thin the herd.  Unfortunately for job seekers, companies are using our personalities and our long-forgotten past to do just that.  Consider this just one more hoop to jump through.

While the founder of this company is a former coworker, in no way was I asked to promote his service or mention it.  The announcement for his company was only a starting point, as it got me thinking about the ridiculous process that is job-hunting.  Regardless of my thoughts on the process, I wish him the best of luck in his endeavor.

Thursday, February 2, 2012

The Big Game, Spoiled

With a general viewership of roughly 100 million people, advertising during the Super Bowl has become, well, the Super Bowl of advertising.  Just buying the airtime costs millions of dollars, and that doesn't even include the production costs.  Many firms spend the entire year working on a Super Bowl ad, all to enjoy the shining glory of those thirty seconds when the world finally sees the magic.

At least that's the way it used to be.  Gone are the days when Super Bowl ads were a closely guarded secret.  No longer do we wait in anticipation to see how companies will dazzle us.  This morning on "Today" Ann Curry was running through a list of ads for Sunday's game - and she was showing the ads!  Some of the ads have been released for a week already.  Many of the ads are circulating on the internet, and there does not seem to be any mystery or surprise about it.

So why spend the money?  Why are companies spending millions of dollars to air an ad that is already playing for free online?  Yes, the potential viewership is there, and that's hard to argue against.  At the same time, are consumers going to feel as riveted to the TV if they know the same ads are available online?  If a viewer is not fearful of missing the ad because it's relatively accessible, doesn't that diminish some of the rationale for buying the spot in the first place?

Many arguments have been made that by showing the ads online and by revealing their content early it will generate buzz.  This buzz will extend to social media, which will extend the life of the ad (and justify its cost over the long term).  Seeing how much social media can make or break a campaign, this is certainly a valid argument.  At the same time, it seems a bit misdirected to use a Super Bowl ad to launch a social media campaign to support a Super Bowl ad.  It's fine to extend the life of a campaign via social media, but that will happen regardless.  

A good ad (or a very bad one) will take on a life of its own.  A truly stunning ad that amazes 100 million people will garner its own following on social media, without any prompting or prodding from ad-folk.  Instead of making ads that need to be propped up by social media, advertisers should be making ads that stand on their own.  If you do something amazing (or amazingly funny or amazingly stupid), it will get attention and the buzz will follow.  Stop showing us the ads early, start bringing back some of the mystery, and get back to making ads that are really worth talking about.  After all, we can all run to the bathroom during the game.

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

The Art of the Cross-Sell

I don't like people.  More specifically, I generally don't like to interact with people when I can accomplish the same thing online.  It is easier and preferred if I can order a product online or otherwise complete a task virtually.  If this is not an option I would prefer to handle things over the phone.  In our modern society, nearly all tasks and services can be completed via these two methods.  There are still some hold-outs however, but even those are not what they used to be.

I recently had to order a new ATM card.  Because the account is a joint account and the other person already has a card, I had to call my bank instead of just requesting a card online.  During the course of my conversation the person on the other end of the phone made two comments that were alarming.  The first comment was that while reviewing my account information, the rep may suggest products or services that may be of interest to me.  The second comment was a phone number for me to call to discuss options for renter's insurance.

As it turns out, the computer system was down so I couldn't order my card over the phone.  I actually had to go into a branch to complete this request.  While sitting with a real live person, and while he was clicking a few things to order my card, he asked me a question in a very nonchalant manner.  "Do you have any credit cards?"  I said that I did, and that I was happy with them.  He proceeded to tell me all of the virtues of this specific card, and what benefits I would receive because I was an account-holder at the bank.  When I politely declined he snapped out of it and said my debit card was on its way to my mailing address.

While driving back to the office I pondered the incredibly invasive experience I just had.  Two different employees of my bank tried to cross-sell me a handful of different products, all while looking at my personal financial information.  What's worse, the cross-sell was scripted and not really tailored to me or my situation.What was intended as a way for the bank to deepen our relationship ended up kind of creeping me out.

As advertisers we are taught how to cross-sell.  As an agency or vendor it's vital to the company to have this skill; it's easier to grow existing business than to win new accounts.  Several of my career highlights and successes are a result of cross-selling, but my methodology was significantly different than my experience at the bank.  Here are some helpful tips to make cross-selling effective without being creepy.

1 - Know Thy Audience: Don't offer me renter's insurance if I am a homeowner.  Try to make the product a good fit for the person you are selling to.

2 - Improvise: There are few things worse than scripted communications.  It's ok to write down a few notes to keep yourself organized, but it's not ok to read directly from the screen.  Personalize your message.  It shows that you have taken the time to know your customer.  It also shows that you aren't lazy.

3 - Be Natural: Try to make the sell a natural part of the conversation, or a progression of the relationship.  Don't fill silence with an up-sell.  Don't randomly interject with new offerings.  Wait for it to come up naturally.

4 - Know when No means No: Your cross-sell may be rejected.  This does not mean that it is a bad idea.  There are a number of reasons why it may not be a good time and/or fit for the customer.  In order to preserve the relationship you have already cultivated, know when to back down and know when to re-introduce the idea.

One of my former clients is a clothing retailer.  Our agency was already managing the paid search campaign and I was managing the comparison shopping campaign.  Because we had success with those offerings and because the client trusted our judgement, it was easy for us to suggest that we manage the local placement listings for their physical stores.  By making this a natural progression of our relationship, and by understanding how this offering addressed some of the client's overall business concerns, we were able to easily sell them this additional service.

We successfully sold this client on an additional offering that they never would have brought to us.  By knowing our audience and by listening to the client's needs we were able to tailor our pitch and guarantee favorable results.

Thursday, December 8, 2011

Kevin James and the Bro-nanza

To say that Kevin James is typecast is an understatement.  He's a bit on the chubby side, he generally plays a bumbling moron, and he is sometimes accompanied by an unrealistically hot female counterpart.  As women have gained more equal status in the workplace and society in general, the stereotype of the masculine and providing male has morphed men into Kevin James.  Nowhere has this been more evident than in advertising.

While women have been making strides in the working world it is still generally accepted that the woman of the house still makes the purchasing decisions.  Ads for most household items are still targeted at women, and they even play to the "I'm Leah Remini and my husband is Kevin James" mentality.  Many of today's advertisements not only alienate men from the purchase decision, but they are downright crude about it.  No ad is more offensive to men than the Avery Full Stick Label commercial called "Fantasy Football Draft."

The wife demeans and emasculates her husband and his hobby.  She does this with a smirk as he shrugs and sulks in the corner like a child that has been reprimanded.  Not only is this commercial generally accepted by the public, but it's viewed as humor.

On the flip side of this coin is the other type of advertising geared at men: What I like to call "the Bromercial."  These are the ads that portray all men as rowdy frat boys who like to break free of the shackles of family life (and nagging wives who ruin his Fantasy Draft).  These ads show a guy hanging with the guys.  They portray life as chummy and shallow, with men being only in pursuit of "non-feminine" activities.

I read a story this morning about a new campaign Pepsi Max is running in New Zealand.  If you enter a code from a bottle of Max you can test your "Bromitment" and be entered to win a trip to go skydiving or a vacation to go to Spain during the Running of the Bulls.  Obviously all men want to do manly things like get gored by a bull.  This is, after all, the only decision that a man can make on his own; buy a Pepsi and jump out of a plane.

As these incorrect male stereotypes continue to be perpetuated by advertisers, brands are going to miss out on more and more male-directed spending.  A Yahoo study about dad-driven consumer behavior found that most men feel isolated and left out of the purchase of child-care items.  Men are playing a more equal role in parenting, and some men are even stay-at-home dads.  Marketers need to understand this shift and stop portraying men as dumb frat boys or dumb pushovers.  Women in advertising are portrayed as the diverse and multi-faceted beings that they are.  It's about time men in advertising get a fair shake too.

Monday, December 5, 2011

That Personal Touch

Over the past two weeks I have had two different interactions on twitter that I want to share.  Both involve a company responding to a general comment I made about each company.  Both interactions show the company going above and beyond, and really adding that personal touch.

I pack a yogurt every day for lunch.  I'm not much of a milk drinker so I like to get calcium elsewhere.  On this particular day I was excited to eat a Key Lime flavored yogurt that I purchased at Wegman's (a high-end grocery store in the Northeast).  I am a huge Key Lime Pie fan, so this was going to be a treat.  As I started eating the yogurt I noticed a lack of any real flavoring, Key Lime or otherwise.  I posted a comment on twitter stating "i think this yogurt is missing its flavoring.  thanks @wegmans for denying me my key lime fix."

My intent was more humor than anything else, and I was surprised that a representative from Wegman's responded within minutes.  We traded a few messages back and forth, mostly about the product code and other ways for Wegman's to check and QA their providers.  Less than an hour after my initial tweet I had provided Wegman's with my contact information and a coupon for a free yogurt was on its way to my home.  By writing my initial tweet I never expected a free yogurt.  It's not like the one I had was bad, per se.  I did finish it after all.  Wegman's took the effort to monitor their mentions and they wanted to make it right with the consumer, even if it was only a $0.50 yogurt.

Under The Influence
This past Friday I decided to have a lazy night.  Instead of making plans or trying to have a night on the town I kept it low-key.  Feeling a bit nostalgic, I broke out my original Xbox and started up Project Gotham Racing.  Since it was Friday, I was relaxing with a beer or two.  Again, trying to add some humor to my twitter feed, I sent a quick update to my followers: "Does it count as DUI to play Xbox driving games while drinking beer?"

I didn't think anything of this comment until the next morning when I saw that @xboxsupport was now following me.  I noticed a mention in my timeline from Xbox Support: "maybe PUI? hehe either way have fun and let us know if you ever need some help ^BB."  This was a completely unnecessary comment, and obviously unsolicited.  My original tweet had no hash-tag or @ mention.  Someone at Microsoft is following mentions of Xbox so closely that my tweet was found anyway.  In an effort to make sure I know where to turn for support, BB at Microsoft added a quick joke of his (or her) own and left it at that.  It is a quick personal touch that took a few seconds to do, and here we are two days later still talking about.

Both of these interactions are small-scale.  This is not as scathing as United Breaks Guitars or the Delta military fiasco.  This is not as impressive as Shankman's airport steak delivery.  That does not diminish the personal touch and lasting impression, however.  The main objective of social media is being social, after all.  By empowering twitter response teams to engage and interact with customers, companies can easily have a positive impact in the minds of consumers.  By ignoring the social aspect of this medium, some companies are missing the point entirely and missing out on effortless opportunity.

Thursday, December 1, 2011

As American as Cheap French Fries

Today's Living Social deal is for McDonalds.  Let that sink in for a minute.  Living Social, one of the major players in the very crowded "daily deal" space, is running a one-day deal with McDonalds, the largest fast food company in the world.  Just $13 gets you five Big Macs and five orders of fries, and you only have today to partake!

While you are contemplating a $13 coronary, consider this also: it is just before 9am and 32,000 of these have already been purchased.  This is likely going to be the largest deal for Living Social (or any daily deal site) for quite some time.  Getting such a name as McDonalds to sign on also legitimizes the company and solidifies their business.  While Groupon has been struggling with valuation math errors, compaints from customers and merchants, and a sinking share price after a questionable IPO, Living Social has been quietly humming along in the background making snappy commercials, adding new service lines like food and travel, and securing additional funding from investors.

This particular deal is not like the standard Living Social voucher.  Typically users are emailed a voucher that can also be stored on an iOS or Android app.  The user presents the voucher at the place of business, and the discount is applied.  For McDonalds the buyer is actually mailed a coupon book, which I imagine will be much like those that used to be available at Halloween.  With coupon in hand, the buyer is entitled to one free Big Mac and one free order of fries.

Previous complaints about daily deal sites have centered around the experience at the register.  In some businesses the employees are completely unaware that a deal is circulating.  In some cases the employees had knowledge of the deal but no knowledge of how to actually ring it through.  It's my guess that McDonalds is using coupons in order to minimize this effect and to also account for the scope of trying to train all cashiers on a new process.  Having a physical coupon will also allow for easy tracking of redemption, although the figures may be skewed as the coupons do not have an expiration date.

Living Social and McDonalds are both taking a risk with this venture.  Living Social has tried to present itself as a company that wants to introduce you to adventures and new experiences.  It's safe to say that a Big Mac is neither of those things.  Living Social is also putting itself at risk in terms of fulfillment (if they are the ones sending the coupons).  McDonalds is certainly at risk just like any other merchant that uses a daily deal program.  Any of the complaints that a mom-and-pop pizza store face are possible at McDonalds; with McDonalds, however, the complaints will be magnified by about 13,000 (the number of US locations).

It's taken me about 20 minutes to write to this point, and another 7,000 deals have been purchased.  At this pace McDonalds will sell half a million voucher books today worth about $13 million (based on average value of $26).  As the sales tick up over the course of the day, and as these coupons start to get redeemed, it will become clear if this was a smart move or not.  McDonalds is likely banking on coupon users making additional purchases while in-store.  Living Social, however, is likely banking on this to bring in more large-name companies as their nearest competitor continues to expire as fast as a daily deal.

Friday, November 18, 2011

Reputation Mis-Management

I'll fess up - I follow some brands on twitter.  I like a discount or a coupon as much as the next guy, and I also like to keep tabs on brands that I am truly interested in.  I don't generally interact with these brand accounts, but I have on occasion.

One thing that I notice brand twitter accounts doing is retweeting positive messages about their own brand.  For example, if a random twitter user sends a tweet saying "just had a great flight on @delta" it is common practice for Delta to retweet that.  It's a little self-promotion, but it's generally accepted in the twitterverse.

Brands need to be cautious of this, however, as it may not always convey the best image about the original poster.  I was browsing my twitter stream this morning when I came across this retweet by Mandalay Bay (image at right).  I checked the clock and saw that it was 11:49am.  That would make it 8:49am in Las Vegas.  I was just a little appalled at the thought of drinking a Guinness and eating BBQ at 9am.  I applaud the original poster for his iron stomach, of course.

It was only then that I noticed the little time-stamp of "12 hours ago."  There is nothing wrong with beer and BBQ at 9pm.  That's perfectly normal, even a little tame by Vegas standards.  In the haste to promote their brand and give a little self-back-pat, Mandalay inadvertently made the original poster look like someone who really enjoys his Vegas.  While this case is a little amusing with little harm done, it's always best to be careful what and when you retweet.  Just because you walk in at 830am with a list of mentions, it always helps to use a little common sense when you decide which ones to re-share with the world.