Small- to mid-sized companies may have a heck of a time getting attention. Because of their size, they likely don't have the resources to afford integrated, enterprise-level solutions, and therefore rely on third parties to fulfill certain functions in a potential customer's web experience. These third party solutions may, in the short term, take users to a different domain or subdomain. They may or may not include:
And small- to mid-sized companies aren't alone. Even larger companies looking to be efficient with their budgets may run a trial program and hope to curtail some of the up-front development costs by leaning on the companies that specialize in these sorts of things.
So the question inevitably arises -- When people try to access these services, should we open a new window/tab, or should we direct them to the service in the same window/tab?
Marketing professionals tend to think that they lose something if the user navigates away from their site. Over the years, they've learned to focus on the wrong things.
Let's go ahead and put that baby to rest. People will leave your site. They will always leave your site. In fact, they'll probably spend most of their time on sites other than yours. Now relax. And focus instead on delighting your customer.
I've never looked into it, but I can imagine that Hobby Lobby probably attracts people who identify as Christian, just by reputation of the company. However, I wonder if there is a corporate culture that endeavors to teach how Christian principles meet everyday management and interaction with non-Christians. The Bible tells Christians to spread the Good News to all nations, but even as a company that (probably) attracts Christians, what mechanisms do they put in place to provide spiritual guidance to their workers to do that? How does that intersect with what they lawfully can do?
(As far as I know, Hobby Lobby does not discriminate against people for unlawful reasons. The above is conjecture concerning who they probably attract.)
The failure of Hobby Lobby in this case isn't about selling things for Hanukkah -- lots of companies don't sell Hanukkah stuff -- it's about teaching its people how to interact with honest, hardworking people, willing to spend money, who have a simple, unassuming question -- or even those who set out to trap or embarrass them.
The corporate office seems to "get" that the original interaction was flawed. Now we get to see what they do about it.
What does how we mourn tell us about what we value?
According to an article I read this morning, published Jan 18, this season, 29 children in the United States have died from influenza. That is 9 more than were killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary Massacre. Yet there were no flags flying at half-staff. There were no media hoards covering the heads-of-state making tearful speeches about this tragic loss of life. To the parents who lost their children, one tragedy is no worse than the other. The end result is a lost innocent life.
It got me thinking about how and why we react the way we do to tragic events.
In 2009, a single gunman murdered 13 soldiers at Fort Hood, Texas, and wounded 29 more. Again, flags were flown at half-staff. Leaders gave moving speeches about the way they lived useful lives. Halfway around the world, there have been nearly 1,800 casualties in Afghanistan and Iraq between then and now. There were no special national days of rememberance for these who gave their lives willingly.
What makes one life more worthy of being remembered? Or 20 lives more worthy to be remembered than 29? Or 13 more than 1,800?
Why do we express outrage at mass shootings like Sandy Hook or Fort Hood, while we conveniently disengage when it comes to the everyday loss caused by acts no less evil, against victims no less innocent, and for deaths no less tragic?
Could it be that our speeches, our chest-thumping, our grandstanding is more about ourselves than the victims? About building for ourselves a better brand by capitalizing on concentrated tragedies rather than the everyday?
Maybe it gives us a greater sense of control over the narrative of the human experience... that if we can give meaning to the deaths, we think we can exert some sort of control the evil that lies in the human heart.
I wish I had a clearer picture to paint. - Cam Beck
A few months back, I had a very negative experience with my energy company that cost me $1500 in unexpected electric bills. I was so frustrated and so sure of the righteousness of my cause that I nearly came out of my self-imposed exile from blogging to publically rip the company in violation rules 1-3 of my "10 Somewhat-Flexible Laws of Blogging About Companies."
Never talk ill of a client or potential client.
Almost everyone is a potential client.
If you must violate rule #1, don't mention the company name.
I'm glad I didn't. Even though they never reimbursed those excessive fees, they eventually implemented a program to make sure my situation never happens again.
A Series of Unfortunate Electric Bills
In July, I received a bill that was about 4.5 times the normal amount (for activity in the month of June). Convinced this was a mistake, I called my electric company about it, and they advised me to have my meter re-read, and that it would take about 10 business days for this to take place, but that they would contact me when the read was done.
I did not hear from them again until I got my next bill, which was also 850% more than it was over the same period the previous year. At that point, I wrote them again on August 7 and asked why they hadn't let me know what the results of the re-read were so that I could look at different options. When they responded (2 weeks later after promising a 24-hour response), they said they never put in a request for a re-read.
While this was happening, I contacted my apartments to have them check my air conditioning to make sure everything was working right. They said it was, but that they cleaned the appliance regardless.
Whenever I called the electric company, instead of helping me figure out why my bills were so high, kept trying to sell me a fixed-rate contract. Sure, doing so would have saved me some money, but the scope of their "fix" would have saved me $10-$12 per month, not $500-$600, which is what I really needed. They had their script, and they were sticking to it. It took escalating the issue two levels before I got someone at the company to admit that something seemed "off" about my bill situation.
In the middle of a brutal Texas summer, with my dog staying there and while the bill was in dispute, the electric company shut off power to my apartment to force me to pay at least part of the disputed bill (I later found out this was in violation of the Utility Customer Bill of Rights).
How Energy is Delivered and Billed in Texas
Getting to the bottom of this, I got quite the education on how electricity is delivered and billed in Texas.
Essentially, the company that delivers electricity has nothing to do with how electricity gets billed, and the billing company (which can be one of several) is ready to lose you quickly, because customers are easily replaceable. It can be TXU, Reliant, Green Mountain or any other electric company. All they do is service the billing. Which you choose as a consumer is based on the rates and service you expect to get.
Thanks to the help of a knowledgable friend, I finally found the real cause of the issue, I called the electric company and asked if they would help with the part of the bill due to their lack of responsiveness. They refused. Eventually I protested through regulatory channels, and a very small portion was refunded.
Customer Service: It Is Your Job
I finally spoke with a representative of the office of the president in response to this official complaint, and suggested that they need to be more responsive and help people between bills realize if something is happening between billing periods. Not only did she disagree that their lack of responsiveness imparted on them any responsibility for three months of outrageous bills, but she directly told me that, regarding my suggestion that they notify people when their usage seems to spike 850%, "That's not what we do."
Then I took to Twitter, hoping to find someone higher in authority than the last person I spoke with.
The person who monitors their Twitter channel is a marketer, not a customer service person. She had no authority to help resolve the issues of customers, which only further frusterated me, because though she asked me to tell my story, she could not help. To her credit, she seemed sincere in her concern for my frustration (If she wasn't being authentic, she at least faked it well).
"Remember, it is easier to train a good customer support representative to use social media than to train an experienced social media user to be a good customer support professional."
As for the representative within the office of the president, she was just intent on getting me to pay three months of outrageously high bills, not helping me solve my issue or even making me feel heard. She took a very "That's not my job" approach, not only for herself, but also for their entire organization. Had she met me halfway, had she hinted that she understood why I was upset and her company's role in that frustration, my tone in this article would be much different.
So, normally I would have cut off ties with the company regardless. End of story. Although I'm better equipped now -- having learned an awful lot about how electricity works in Texas -- I had no faith that this is the company I wanted to do business with should I ever have any difficulty again. Then the organization did something that suprised me.
They implemented my recommendation.
Now, I receive a weekly email between bills that tells me my usage for that week. And I am able to spot if something is amiss and don't have to wait an entire billing period -- while the meter is still running -- to discover it.
Now, I don't presume that I was the first to provide that recommendation, or that they went through with it because of my issue. Something like that takes more time to develop and execute than they had from the time of my first complaint and suggestion.
So someone besides me had to have thought it was a good idea. But the value of that idea did not trickle down to the customer service reps or to the office of the president, or at least they had no interest at all in acknowledging it, or admitting I had a valid point.
Though if they had, I'd not only be naming the company, but praising them to my friends about how well the company treated me, how awesome this service is, and how they should use this company for electricity as well.
How much better could companies do if they only trained and empowered their customer service reps to treat people as people and not means to and end? If they trained them to listen instead of follow a script?
And they're right. Also big sellers: gluttony (of a particular type), sloth, envy, pride and the rest of the seven deadly sins. But sustainable commerce isn't going to belong to those who market to our vices, but those who appeal to our virtues.
This is not to say that we are a virtuous people. A trip to Walmart on Black Friday would strongly suggest that we fall quite short of that standard. However depraved we really are, each of us likes to think we subscribe to some sort of higher calling.
There are two ways acheive this in advertising and marketing:
Encourage bad behavior and lead people to believe it is good
Encourage good behavior
Of the two, only the second option is sustainable. While necessary to communicate how a product or service advances the audience's self-interests, it's the relationship between that interest and a higher calling that keeps self-interest from devolving into envy and gluttony, which affect not only by the private market, but also public politics.
When it comes to commerce, every person is a hedonist, and every company is a narcissist.
In practical terms, this means that everyone is more receptive to products and services that A) reduce pain or B) increase pleasure, and every company markets to them in a way that belies a belief that they deserve more attention (Why else would they advertise?).
What are you selling?
If your livelihood depends on people buying your brand of beer, are you selling beer, or are you selling a responsible community?
Are you need people to buy trucks, are you selling power steering, or are you selling freedom to traverse vast distances to maintain familial relationships? Or are you selling the appreciation that comes when a friend takes an entire day to help his friends move?
As marketing budgets are shifted over the next few years from traditional to digital (including social media), it's useful to ponder what sort of company people will want to listen to regularly, and what sort of things they'll want to hear. Will it be endless promotions? Or will it be information and advice on how they can become better, more worthwhile people?
"I would rather have it said 'he lived usefully' than 'he died rich.'" - Benjamin Franklin
According to a Gallup poll conducted last year, the Advertising and Public Relations industry ranked #10 as one of the most hated industries in America. 37% of Americans view the profession negatively, which puts it squarely in the camp of "things you're not supposed to talk about in mixed company." Why this vitriol for the sponsors of free television and radio entertainment since the dawn of mass communication? Do people really hate advertising that much?
I don't say this without disappointment. I've long advocated transparency and honesty in all marketing endeavors, and I continue believng that permission-based marketing is still the mold to follow in the 21st century. Advertising should be expected, welcome and invited.
So why the controversy?
When asked, people will say that they hate being marketed to. They're frightened by the spectre of privacy violations, even if it's based on observation of their own behavior. It's hard to blame them. What people do in private and what they think rarely mirrors the persona they wish to convey to the public. The manner in which data is collected and results are fed back to the consumer may matter -- if consumers really understood it. But it's clear that they don't, or that they don't believe it will stay this way forever.
The industry should have a modicum of self-awareness in admitting that the particular methods of interruption-based advertising we've engaged in over the decades have accelerated the rate at which people have learned to ignore and distrust advertising. But dig a little deeper... People hate feeling like they're being manipulated because they feel like they should control their own decisions and destiny.
Apparently their pricing and value was a fair deal before they discontinued their sales and reduced prices across the board. However, as it turns out, something needs to get people through their doors rather than the doors of their competitors.
Sometimes, people need to feel like they're being wooed. What's your take?
I've been actively considering a new car purchase for about a month now. Back when I was only anticipating this time to come, I considered Ford a strong candidate for a new car. First of all, their cars have simply improved. As far as quality goes, they've come a long way since S&P downgraded its credit to "junk" status in 2006. The "Bold Moves" campaign, while not one of their more memorable, gave us a glimpse into their advertising and PR push they've been doing since then, up to their very wise hiring of former Crayonista Scott Monty in 2008 and their use of Dirty Jobs frontman, Mike Rowe, as their spokesperson.
They made me a believer.
Consequently, I've been looking for an excuse to buy a Ford since they turned down the auto bailout to make their own way, so when their recent campaign to spotlight the testimonies of Ford owners who were critical of those who took the bailout, it really resonated with me.
Though no one at Ford will confirm it, some reports say that the White House put pressure on Ford to remove the ads. That bothers me. It bothers me a lot. But Ford's response, and the information that's come to light since then bothers me, too.
The focus of the ads is a moral one. The people giving their testimony clearly favor Ford on moral grounds.
Ford didn't take the money. The other guys did.
Implied in this treatment is a moral case for making your own way and not asking the taxpayers to foot their bill. That may make some people uncomfortable, but it was exactly what I was thinking. And the ads were popular, so I wasn't the only one.
Now... I did remember that they were right in the mix of the Congressional hearings during the bailout talks about the auto industry being "too big to fail," but when they withdrew, I wanted to believe they had second thoughts because they knew they shouldn't be asking in the first place. The cost for such assistance was too high.
As it turns out, though, they made the decision for business reasons. They supported the bailout in principle, which is to say, morally. They just thought their chances for success were better if they didn't accept the bailout. They supported it for their rivals getting it.
So why would they run ads that celebrate their "principled stand" when it wasn't anything more than the same self-interest that their competitors were using in their case?
I still need to get a car... And I can no longer select Ford on principle. There is no principle to defind. Consequently, I'll buy a Ford only if they have the best car for what I'm willing to spend.
"You know what the first rule of flying is? ... Love. You can learn all the math in the 'Verse, but you take a boat in the air that you don't love, she'll shake you off just as sure as a turn of the worlds. Love keeps her in the air when she oughta fall down, tells you she's hurtin' before she keels. Makes her a home." - Malcom Reynolds, Serenity (2005)
There's a scene in the sci-fi classic movie, Serenity, where, after a successful heist perpetrated against the evil Alliance, the crew's captain Mal takes the booty back to the job's sponsors, Fanty and Mingo, to give them their 25% commission and (hopefully) get another job.
"Well our end is forty, precious," says Fanty. One gets the sense that there was soon going to be a major fight when the dueling parties were distracted by an even more entertaining brawl.
Can you imagine a world without trust?
You're at the checkout counter of the grocery store. You need some ingredients for apple crisp. The clerk, who has been eyeballing you for your entire visit, refuses to put the groceries in the bag until he's seen the money. You refuse to show the money until you're sure he'll let you out of the store with them.
But back up. Because before you get to the checkout, you have to inspect all of the fruit. You want to make sure they're not old, rotten mush. You also need to inspect the bags of sugar to make sure they aren't filled with sawdust. The grocer doesn't want you to open the bags, out of fear that you'll replace his sugar with sawdust. So you'd leave without buying, because you don't trust that beady-eyed grocer.
But back up. Because you can't leave your house anyway to go to the grocery store out of fear that you'll get mugged by the ruffians that patrol the neighborhood. You've never seen them, but you're sure they're there. Anyway, the grocer could never have opened a store in the first place, because no one would trust him with a loan. You get your groceries from a garden out back, which is decimated with insects, because you don't have anyone to sell you pesticides.
Successful, sustained commerce depends on a lot of things. We talk a lot about them in the course of our work. Some of them have value, some of them are hogwash. ROI. CPM. Engagement. Usability engineering. Experience. Product, Price, Place, Promotion. Branding. Income statements, balance sheets, cash flow. Social Media. Customers service.
We go to school, conferences and seminars to understand or execute them better. We send wads of cash to Amazon and Barnes and Noble to gobble up Seth Godin's books. And there's nothing wrong with ANY of that. Why would I begrudge anyone from getting better at the technical aspects of their jobs?
But what if we need something more elemental than all of that?
What if our deepest problem isn't whether we know how to calculate return on investment and successfully predict the future. Specifically, what if our deepest problem is that we don't love our neighbors well? And if that is true, what can we do about it?
What's more, how do we encourage each other to love others better? It seems a little self-serving. For when we say to our neighbors, "Love your neighbor," we're including ourselves in that group. We're saying to them, "Love us better." But as a man in the business of talking to others in business, my advice to all those who wish to be successful is this:
Love your customers better.
Thinking over the last decade, we've seen the likes of Enron, WorldCom, Bernie Madoff, Lehman Brothers -- the entire banking and investment industry -- industries run by "the best and the brightest," who went to the "best" schools run multi-billion dollar businesses into the ground as they sought to enrich themselves. It isn't a question of whether they knew how to do math. It was that they loved themselves more than they loved their neighbors.
Why is love so important to commerce?
You don't rob someone you love.
You don't try to swindle someone you love.
You don't overcharge someone you love.
You keep your promises to someone you love.
The apostle Paul tells us in 1 Corinthians 13 what love is and just how important it is. Let's look at what he says, particularly about knowledge or the ability to tell the future:
"And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing."
"Love never ends. As for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away… So now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love."
When you look at the last decade through the lens of improving technologies and products that change the way we communicate, it superficially appears to be a much different environment than in decades past. Could you have imagined Facebook and Twitter a decade ago? Could you have predicted its adoption?
What's more, people who are so inclined have more sophisticated methods to take advantage of/steal from others -- through economics or politics -- and that fosters an abiding suspicion of business, whether the suspicion is well founded in any particular instance or not.
But sometimes you have to take a step back from the pounding you're taking and get back to the basics. None of the things we do in business and marketing makes a difference if we have not love. What's most important to you? What do you want to accomplish? You want to see economic recovery? Then love thy customers. When you do that purely, the circumstances that follow apart from that don't even matter.
About three weeks ago, the inestimable Jay Ehret, AKA "The Marketing Guy" invited me to participate in a webinar about remarkable customer experiences. Jay's always been great to work with, and this project was no exception.
The funny thing was that I hadn't seen his part, so I had no idea what he was going to talk about specifically. I just know his work overall pretty well, and I was confident that our ideas would align. As it turned out, besides introducing and explaining how to use the Customer Experience Map, his other major theme was "How to break away from industry norms and create a
remarkable experience by framing your business with a metaphor."
My part could be summed up thusly: "Your brand is either the parachute or the pavement; your website is the ripcord."
You can get a brand new baseball, good for throwing, catching, and hitting, officially endorsed by Major League Baseball, on Amazon.
As of this moment, they sell for $17.75
Babe Ruth hit the first ever home run in an All-Star game. We still know where that ball is. Due to its age, it's probably less suitable for throwing, catching, and hitting, and Major League Baseball would never use it again in a game.
According the Forbes Magazine, this ball is worth $805,000.
Through a physical inspection, the new ball is far superior to the older ball. Yet the older ball is worth more because it has meaning to the people who care about baseball's history.
It is more than information; it is both a story unto itself and a small part of the story of one of the games greatest legends.
Meaning is not limited to collectibles. Marketing is replete with examples, but so are user interfaces. In both cases, failing to make meaning with intent can result in a failure for the project. In the first case, you're ignored, which is bad enough considering the costs of some of these efforts. In the second, you can be ignored ... OR you can annoy your target audience by failing to give a clear path that leads to the completion of the user's intent.
Likewise, brands have value commensurate with the meaning people give it. The channels you use to connect with your audiences can be stories to themselves as well as be part of the overall story of the brand.
Whatever limitations keep you from doing what you really want to do, never take the responsibility lightly. - Cam Beck