Facebook and the Media Identity Crisis

Do consumers really know the media outlets they view content on?

Recently, Vice CEO Shane Smith made the comment that Facebook bought 2/3 of the media companies in the world without spending a dime. His point is that Facebook is taking over the media business. And he is dead right….

Do you know what you read?

I was interviewing a recent college graduate looking for an opportunity in digital marketing and primed with a hint to do some homework, we ask the candidate what pieces of content they have been consuming. They express they have been reading hours of content everyday and I ask, “What is your favorite site to read content and who are some of your favorite authors?” The response I received? “I have no idea.” I initially thought he didn’t actual read anything and thought he was not being truthful.

But then I thought about Mitch Joel….

Almost a year ago on the Beancast (or maybe longer), Mitch Joel made the comment that to many people “Facebook IS THE INTERNET.” This comment is a perfect segue to Mr. Smith’s point.

Facebook’s Catch 22 User/Attention/Advertising Problem

Facebook has always had the audience, but lacked the rich content consumers wanted to enjoy. Facebook was great at putting this content in front of their massive audience, but what was Facebook’s problem? You leave the site to go to the media platform. Exit Facebook’s experience and enter the media company’s funnel. Bad for Facebook.

Facebook slowly pinches off organic reach until the media outlets (and brands) need to pay Facebook to reach the same customer. If you are Facebook, why wouldn’t you charge them. You are using YOUR platform to drive customers to their funnel. People bark and complain, but quickly adopt to the pay for play model and Facebook’s revenue from advertising continues to increase.

But Facebook still has the fundamental problem, users leave their site. Why can’t they keep the customer within the Facebook ecosystem and still enjoy the content? Enter Facebook Instant Articles. Now you do not have to leave the Facebook walled garden to enjoy the content that OTHERS already created. The media outlets initially jumped on board, drunk off of the previous success they saw with Facebook and googly eyed over the audience. Until the constant stream of consumers slowed down.

Now, media outlets are less likely to put content directly on Facebook and they are going to go back to using Facebook as a customer acquisition medium, through advertising. This is bad for Facebook.

However, Facebook continues to hold the cards because the consumers want content and they do not care who they get content from. Thus, the identity crisis amongst the media landscape today.

Commoditization of Media

Think back to the last few articles that you read. Do you remember where you read them? Was that site syndicating the content or were they the author of the piece? Are you sure? Many media sites are syndicating content originating on other sites and masking it as their own and continuing to increase the identity crisis.

Facebook is in a ripe position to absorb media companies/publications/etc. and bring the content that consumer request, native to their platform. Why hasn’t Facebook done this yet? Perhaps they are trying to squeeze media outlets tighter and tighter until they lose their value, or Facebook wants to preserve the advertising revenue. If publishers top buying ads in search of customer acquisition, no revenue increases every quarter.

This is quite the predicament for Facebook, but with the unwavering interest of consumers thirsty for a constant stream of new content from countless sources makes the stakes quite high. If consumers never have to leave ‘the internet’ and could consume their content, quickly and easily, from outlets they trust (even that isn’t necessarily required), and it is easy to share, they would surely spend more time on the platform and allow more monetization of their attention.

When Facebook is the landlord, be prepared for rent increases, and dwindling apartment sizes, especially when they are buying up all of the available units in town.

 

WhatsApp: Next Round on Facebook’s Unquenchable Thirst for Monetization

1.71 Billion Users on Facebook (as of Q2 2016)
1 Billion Users on WhatsApp
500 Million users on Instagram (as of May 2016)
Facebook (as an organization) has amassed an audience so great in a short 10-ish years, that they are going to get to a point of saturation. A point in which growth slows and shareholders squawk about long term valuation. According to Statista, Facebook earns roughly $13 per user in the US & Canada, however, roughly $4 per user Worldwide, with Asia/Pacific driving the lower average.
Since becoming a public company, Facebook has increasingly brought more revenue generation strategies to market. A few examples are bringing ads into the Timeline, adding remarketing, Facebook Audiences, and monetizing their other own assets, such as Instagram. Estimates show that Instagram will generate over $3 billion in advertising by the end of 2016 and since Facebook earned over $17 billion in 2015, up from roughly $10 billion in 2014, Instagram is a strong driver to keep that number growing.
Facebook Revenue Growth

Mission: Monetize WhatsApp

With the recent announcement that Facebook’s WhatsApp will be sharing data with Facebook, this is the inevitable next step for Facebook finding a way to monetize the ‘pseudo’ non-monetized application. As of right now, WhatsApp is monetized by users who have been a member longer than 1 year, who are charged $1 a year. But without a timeline or right rail region for ads, it makes it difficult for Facebook to find a place for ads…. unless… they introduce a timeline or even place ads within messages.
This would allow Facebook to use similar methodologies for Messenger, which has been the platform Facebook has been innovating a great deal. Could they find a way to monetize yet another platform in Messenger with a similar methodology that they could use for WhatsApp? Chances are Messenger would be first, but this could allow them to grow beyond the Timelines.

Another random thought…

With Ad Blockers (and Facebook’s public battle with them) all the rage and consumer adoption reportedly increasing, if Facebook is able to monetize messaging, the encryption could prevent Ad Blockers from getting in and could provide the advertising ‘safe haven.’
If this could work, it allows personalization and arms marketers with the targeting that makes Facebook Advertising so much more beneficial and could allow a one up over Google.

Big Game Advertisers STILL Fumble, even with an Absence of Storylines

Today marks the 50th anniversary of the “Big Football Game that happens once a year and is a big spectacle” (of which I will not use the actual name for fear of the NFL smackdown) and has been an event the NFL has been looking forward to for years. They are opening a brand new stadium in Santa Clara, welcoming 1 (or maybe) 2 teams back to the West Coast, and again the nation’s attention is on the game.

Or is it…

There is a significant lack of storylines surrounding this game, which allows the ads to take center stage.

“Big Game” storylines

The storylines that are surrounding this game are obviously manufactured hot buttons that were generated to provide fodder to what has the strong potential of being a snoozer of a game. Take manufactured story #1…. Steroids use amongst one of the sport’s aging legends.  At least when this happened in baseball, it was after their aging legend broke one of the most untouchable records in sports, not coming off statistically one of the worst seasons in history.

Manufactured story #2… the race of the league MVP. With #blacklivesmatter and other social movements surrounding race as hot as ever, what is a way to stir up conversation? Race. Unfortunately, Cam’s demeanor and lack of bulletin board commentary failed to have this story gain much steam, except on the media outlets who are pushing this issue hard.

Here are the realities that are harming the potential ‘sexiness’ of this “Big Game:”

  • This will surely be a defensive game with little scoring, not exactly what satisfies the primary “Big Game” audience, the casual viewer.
  • This has the very, very strong potential of being an absolute blow out, similar to the last time the aging legend was a part of a “Big Game.” A blow out would be detrimental to all, including advertisers.

Advertisers: This is your 2-minute drill:

The reality is that with such little attention being spent on the actual teams, this allows the ads to take center stage and dominate the attention, and hopefully the water cooler tomorrow.

With the very public exodus of some prominent “Big Game” advertisers and the continued growth of streaming for the game, the Spanish telecast owned by another network, other live events garnering more interest, and the increasing consumer attention being thrust into our devices, the allure of advertising on the “Big Game” appears to becoming a fleeting advertising endeavor, or one ripe for new entrants to restore interest.

Historically, the “Big Game” was time for the advertising agencies of beer companies, car companies, and insurance companies to prove their worth; not by selling cars, policies, or beers, but by generating buzz and attention. Success is measured less by consumer conversions, but more by journalistic conversions, in the form of being in the top 10 lists associated with the games.

But the onset of digital marketing and measurable advertising have forced many advertisers to realize they are able to enjoy similar success, without having to allocate significant percentages of their marketing budget to the game (see Loctite from 2015’s game who bet the house on the “Big Game” and are not back for 2016).

This has focused the attention away from being the most memorable ads, but to being the ads that actually drive consumer adoption, interest, and most of all dollars. This tectonic shift has been happening over the past half decade, but needed a low football interest “Big Game” to make its debut… SB50, marks that day. However, you might want to tell the advertisers that.

Big Game Advertisers have fumbled in 2016

There has been little pre-game hype in the form of ad series, sneak peaks, etc. and most advertisers are taking the lazy way out and just releasing their ads in their entirety, weeks prior to the game. So much for build up… unless the goal is that journalistic conversion of yesteryear.

The big winner of the “Big Game” pre-hype so far has been Ritz, a NON-Big Game advertiser. Last year, the winner of the “Big Game” hype was Newcastle, another NON-Big Game advertiser.

TL;DR Version / Summary

In a year where the actual play on the field has less luster than a tarnished Big Game ring, the stage was set for advertisers to make that goal-line interception, steal the attention, and score big on measurable results.

The reality is those who invested a sizable portion of their marketing budget to reach the mass “Big Game” audience have fallen prey to the faults of their elders. Focusing more on journalistic attention and back pats, and less on conversions and understanding pre-game hype.

The reality is those who invested a sizable portion of their marketing budget to reach the mass “Big Game” audience have fallen prey to the faults of their elders. Focusing more on journalistic attention and back pats, and less on conversions and understanding pre-game hype.

First time advertisers should listen to Wanamaker and the rest of the Advertising Folklore as it pertains to that whole frequency thing… They satisfied the reach, hitting the biggest audience of the year, but miss the important frequency aspect, with the whole ‘one and done’ mentality. Pre-game hype, sneak peaks, contests, user generated activity, etc. press that frequency button, get more mileage out of your investment and keep your brand in front of the consumer more often leading up to the game. This allows your “Big Game” ad to be the climactic ending to your story and one that hopefully garners the consumer interest needed for sustained, measurable growth. Unfortunately, your ‘ad leak’ 3 weeks before the game does not satisfy frequency, it increases your chances at Cannes.

Let’s remember that the audience will be on 2 devices the whole night and create immersive experiences, not consumption plays in which you hope that the consumer is watching, interested, not on their device, and most of all able to recall your brand 20 seconds after your ad airs, when the next hail mary ad from the next advertiser is shown.

It is not about football or advertising

The “Big Game” event has less to do with the game and more to do with the experience. The experience of getting together with friends and family, enjoying wonderful edible delights, potentially adult beverages, but most of all laughter, TV yelling, and consumption. Why can’t we as marketers and advertisers do better. We invest huge budgets in an event that we probably perform the worst at. It is like us being the starting QB in the “Big Game” and going out drinking the entire week prior.

Consumers deserve better. Marketers deserve better. Let’s be better.

Why Google Really Doesn’t Need @alphabet on Twitter

Similar to have the media destroyed Google after the announcement of Alphabet, swift searching pundits also pointed out that Alphabet doesn’t even own the Twitter handle @alphabet. How amateur hour of Larry and Sergey. Don’t they know that the real estate claiming process is the most important part of social media? Rookies….

But the fact is that the @alphabet twitter handle isn’t important, for many reasons.

  1. Many parent companies do not own the Twitter handle associated with that parent company’s name.

For example, parent company extraordinaire Procter & Gamble own the Twitter handles of @tide, @crest, and @charmin, but they do not own @pg, which is secured by PG Holmlov and his 573 followers. Staying within the P&G family, Shulton is the entity behind Old Spice, but @shulton is an account with 8 followers.

It is also more than just P&G, as Johnson & Johnson owns Twitter handles for  but they do not own the @jj handle, which is owned by Josie Jeffries and her 3000 followers.

Owner of everything in the universe, Warren Buffet and Berkshire Hathaway do not own @berkshire, @berkshirehathaway, or @bh.

The fact that pundits were hammering Alphabet for not claiming the @alphabet Twitter handle is again, shortsighted.

  1. Do parent companies need a Twitter handle?

Similar to that of the other brands listed above, is there a real need for a parent company, who does not produce a product with the name Alphabet to own a Twitter handle? What would this handle share? Investor information, new acquisitions, product features? This outward only messaging goes against everything that successful Twitter accounts possess today, making it dated methodology.

  1. Who will need @alphabet when you own the platform

Ok, ok, this one might be a bit speculative, but what is the need of owning @alphabet when you can umm own the platform it is on. If G is for Google and then T is for Twitter! Add W for wings, C for Calico, L for Life Sciences, etc. to the mix and you are filling out the err… Alphabet.

As if the claiming of a Twitter handle is a barometer of success for an organization or parent company announcement, Alphabet chose not to claim any property on Twitter. This move apparently showcases their lack of interest in having a public facing Twitter entity to handle the parent company entity, owning the rest of the mothership. As I mentioned in the first part of this series, we would be incredibly naive to think that the senior leadership at Google just happened to miss the development of a Twitter handle for Alphabet, as well as claiming the .com TLD for the new entity. This move was incredibly well thought out, and missing these two obvious web culture requirements wouldn’t have gone unnoticed.

Why Google REALLY Doesn’t Need Alphabet.com

Unless you have been living under a rock for the past week (and if you were living under a rock, I would imagine Internet is hard to come by there), you already know about Alphabet, Google’s new parent company.

Shortly after the new launch, reports are that consumers went flocking to Alphabet.com to read learn more about the umbrella company, and they were met with a BMW owned Fleet Service, ironically named, Alphabet.

Commence widespread panic, Google bashing, domain squatters, and the like throwing around opinions on how short-sided the name choice was, and how could they imagine choosing this name without buying the .com TLD first, let alone the Twitter handle…. The HORROR!!

Why Alphabet.com doesn’t matter:

The truth is that owning Alphabet.com doesn’t matter to Google, as the .com real estate grab is just the dated and archaic type of thinking that Larry dispels in the announcing blog post/press release.

“We’ve long believed that over time companies tend to get comfortable doing the same thing, just making incremental changes. But in the technology industry, where revolutionary ideas drive the next big growth areas, you need to be a bit uncomfortable to stay relevant.” – Page

The expansion of gTLDs has been widespread as you can now purchase .cool, .ninja, .io, .pub,and a countless number of other iterations, including the now famous .xyz, in which Google chose to give Alphabet its home on the web.

In late 2014, Google entered the game and launched nic.google, which redirected to their gTLD registry page. Subsequently, Google is now in the business of selling gTLDs and with that being said, why wouldn’t they look to make a splash on a gTLD that is NOT .com? What better way to move forward from the fossilized thinking of the .com movement, then to ignore that gTLD altogether.

Product launches are in Google’s DNA. From wickedly unsuccessful launches (G+, Wave, Orkut, etc.) to a myriad of tremendously successful launches (Hangouts), Google routinely gets product launches right. So now that they are creating a NEW PARENT COMPANY, who will own the entire mothership, which allows them to fund projects to make self driving cars, now is the time they will be so shortsided that they overlook the need to buy Alphabet.com? We would be naive to think that the senior leaders are Google/Alphabet didn’t think of the unavailability of Alphabet.com when they were kicking around names internally. We would be EXTREMELY naive, given the fact they ummm SELL gTLDs and knew that BMW had it for some time. Conversations would have been had with BMW and Alphabet would have known that the .com property wouldn’t be available.

The Dissolving of gTLD Importance:

The perceived allure of .com has eroded. Gone are the days that if you owned a .com for a prominent brand, that you could sell it for thousands and retire to Fiji. Google themselves has already made public that they treat all gTLDs the same (except for the .gov and other handpicked, coveted TLDs, even though they won’t admit that), so the necessity to purchase the .com for some sort of real estate buying endeavor, is short-sided and dated thinking.

The Branded Organic Search Effect:

Another reason why the .com and other gTLDs lack importance in today’s search landscape is the increased instance of branded organic searches. I have the luxury of reviewing over 80 different Analytics and Search Console data each month, and if you see data like I see data, you see a relatively large influx of branded searches contributing organic traffic. Additionally, use a tool like SEMrush or SPYfu and you will see these are some of the strongest organic traffic drivers for many sites. Consumers aren’t really that interested in whether you are a .com, .net, .eat, .foo, or whatever you want. They understand your brand and look to connect with you there.

The Voice Search Effect:

Voice Search adds a whole other factor to the erosion of gTLD importance. When a consumer utters the words “OK, Google” or summons Siri, they perform a search or request information which goes directly to the default search engine, NOT to a specific webpage. Cell phone manufacturers and operating systems are making it easier to search from anywhere on the phone, and it ends up being significantly easier to just search for the website you are seeking, vs. actually opening your mobile browser, and typing in the URL address (cross your fingers you do not make a keystroke error or you could end up at a sketchy site).

The Future Homes of Alphabet:

I will admit that my initial thought was that Alphabet will launch Alphabet.Google as an homage to their roots, as well as a showcase of their shiny new brand gTLD, but I think that is too obvious. I also do not feel that .xyz is the future either, despite the countless domain squatters scooping up every iteration they can think of. Again, we take Google for absolute amateurs if we think they haven’t already had the internal discussions about what gTLD properties they need to own, BEFORE they announce this.

We also seem to forget that Google paid upwards of $25 million to own the entire .app universe and with the unpacking of Google+ into many parts, and the deconsolidation of ‘super apps’ capable of handling many functions, and the .app landscape appears to be a fruitful investment.

The fact the media was so critical on the fact that Google didn’t have the ‘foresight’ to scoop up the .com property for their new venture is a dated mindset. Perhaps Google chose the name Alphabet ON PURPOSE, with the intent to dispel the myths about how it is .com or bust. Perhaps this was a deliberate move to introduce their bevy of new gTLDs, or perhaps some other methodology is in place. We just need to move past the point of .com being the holy grail of TLDs, and embrace the likes of thatsdelicious.coffee, and numberone.dad.

rCommerce: Bringing Retail to the New Century

As I sit here writing this, eCommerce is all the rage, despite contributing only about 6-7% of purchases. The other 90%+ of purchases take place in a brick and mortar store, known as retail. While this is a humbling fact to those incredibly bullish on eCommerce (me being one of those), the death of retail is a bit pre-mature. However, there are fundamentals of the eCommerce experience that the retail environment should really think about, to improve the process.
Let’s face it, the retail experience kind of sucks. Waiting in lines, trudging through racks and racks of clothes hoping to find your size. After you fish through endless racks to find your product, you are ready to give your hard earned money to the retail store. You get ready to checkout and then without warning…. you have 30 people waiting to check out as well. Yet all of the consumers waiting in line have a device in their pocket 1,000 times more powerful then the registers they are about to hand a payment method.
What I find completely interesting and quite ironic about the whole experience is that any of the people waiting in line could pull out their smartphones, go onto the retailer’s website and purchase the exact same good, at most likely the same price, delivered free to their home. Yet, they are choosing to wait in line, all in the name of instant gratification. As a consumer base, we are just not ready for the 100% no-touch methodology of eCommerce, despite its ease of use and limitless benefits.
This is more than just hard goods such as clothing, furniture, toiletries, and entertainment that have consumers waiting in lengthy lines at retail, but the single biggest waste of our time in retail, the grocery store.
What is incredibly frustrating about the retail experience is that lines appears to be feast and famine, which makes it difficult for retailers to staff accordingly. When everyone wants to checkout, there are 2 cashiers, but when everyone is browsing 5 are available and doing nothing. Ugh!!
But I think that I might have a hypothesis on what could be the next big thing for retail and actually eliminate most lines completely and actually doesn’t require almost ANY technology.

The Birth of rCommerce

Why couldn’t we go to stores, wade through the racks and shelves, pick out what we want, and when we are ready to purchase, just grab our phone and checkout.
Think about it, almost every retailer you shop in has a mobile application, or at least a website. With technology available such as Square and Paypal, available as payment gateways for those websites, couldn’t we just enter the same items into our online cart, make a purchase, and walk out. This is basically Sam’s Club meets eCommerce. You pile what you want in your physical cart, add it to your online cart, complete your purchase online and when you leave, there is someone to check your cart. This person receives a printed receipt of your checkout (or up on the screen), confirm the items in your cart and allow you to leave.
Why couldn’t this work? Let me be the antagonist here.
  • People would steal: Losses happen everyday in regular retail transactions, but if you add the confirmation employees at the exit to confirm purchase, you reduce some of that. Eventually, technology should get to a place where it confirms purchase without human interaction.
  • People would still want to buy from a cashier: People enjoy lines? Why so they can all be in misery… nope. Lowest common denominator.
  • People aren’t comfortable buying on their phones: This is true in the exact time I am writing this, but I sense that will change.
  • eCommerce and Retail Operations are very siloed in retailers today: Again, this is true but progressive retailers such as Walmart will understand a true omnichannel approach with unified inventory, in which retail stores act as a warehouse for both eCommerce and retail transactions.
Because we already have eCommerce and mCommerce, I needed to think of something and rCommerce (even though it is lame) was born.
What do you think? Is this concept something you feel is viable?

My 3 Words for 2015

For several years, I have sat back and watched the likes of Christopher Penn, Mitch Joel and many others share the 3 words that will shape their year. Each year, I mentally develop those words and then store them into my private bank, choosing not to disclose publicly. The reason for this has little to do with privacy and had everything to do with internal accountability. I have always been the type of person who did not need to put goals in public in order to hold myself accountable. I prefer to keep goals locked inside my head as this allows me more satisfaction.

However, this year is different. I am proud of my 3 words in the fact that I want to showcase them publicly not because of accountability or even some sense of overconfidence. I want to share them because I feel they can inspire others to share similar goals and challenge themselves to not only go further in 2015, but do so in a tenacious manner.

1. Kaizen: This is one that I saw on Christopher Penn’s 3 words and it struck a chord. This absolutely sums up my mindset as I enter 2015. This past year has been a great year for me as I left the world of corporate america to solve the complex problems of brands with an agency. I was finally able to harness the mountain of ideas that run through my head on a daily basis and use them to do amazing things for our clients. I have also been able to lead an unbelievable team of online marketers who have challenged me, inspired me, and forced me to be better everyday. As I start this journey of 2015, incremental change is going to be how I get better. Planning for seismic change will do nothing to help me reach my goals, will lead to frustration and most of all… will not help me develop.

2. Probe: The quantity of content for which I consume on a daily basis is enough to reach someone’s monthly quota of content. I love content and I love learning even more. I am continuously trying to absorb knowledge for countless internet marketers, neuromarketers, life hackers, and even those outside of my direct lens (thank you TED talks). This has helped me build a massive archive of knowledge, which allows me to generate fresh ideas, understand the future of online marketing and keep my brain on its toes. In 2015, I want to spend more time probing, researching, and picking more at the things I read, see, and hear. This is going to include alot of my own testing, research, and the like, but I look forward to the challenge.

3. Journey: Not… I am not talking about seeing the great 80’s band in concert… I am talking about allowing myself to embark on mental journeys, to tell better stories, to see where things will lead. In our disposable and abbreviated society, many of us stop short of seeing the entire picture or allowing ourselves to go on the journey in exchange for the quick hit… the Cliff Notes as opposed to the book. The Executive Summary over the data of the report. But doing so causes us to lose the fun of allowing yourself to get lost in something, in a story. Sitting back and letting the story consume you and send your brain on a ride filled with emotions, questions, and reactions. This year, I want to allow myself the time to take journeys, both from media, and those caused internally. Each day, I have dozens of ideas for blog posts, research papers, outreach opportunities for my clients, etc. which most of the time go undocumented and prevented from flourishing due to artificially created deadlines. This year, I allow these ideas to see the end, to get the whole picture, to tell the whole story. This is going to allow me to be happier with the journey and allow my imagination to do what it is supposed to do, entertain, challenge, and enlight.

What are your 3 words for 2015? I hope that you will put some serious thought to those words and select ones that are attainable, incremental, and fun. While they say what is not measurable is not changed, I disagree in the sense that if you mentally commit and allow yourself to reap the benefits, what do you have to lose?

Low Moments in Marketing: Dave and Buster’s Racist Tweet

I love ads…

I see ads all the time. I am continuously watching commercials and pre-roll videos, listening to Pandora spots, and viewing online ads and banners. Most of this viewing has more to do with evaluation and inspiration then it does looking to make a purchase decision. I am in marketing, I understand the game that is played everyday with promotions. It is a game I truly enjoy and one I find to be one of the hardest challenges anyone could face.

Most of the time I just view ads and keep my thoughts about the ads internalized. My thoughts generally come out when I am in discussions with people of my own ilk or to myself when I am making my morning commute.

I decided to share some of my thoughts on a variety of ads and create a new series in the blog (a post more than 2 times a quarter would be a start…) called “Low Moments in Marketing” or L-MIM. This is the second post in the series.

Dave and Buster’s Racist Tweet sends shockwaves through social media

Race has been a heated and reoccurring issue among current events for months now. From the Ferguson shooting to equality in the workplace, race is a polarizing subject that our media continues to highlight. Most of the time race is enhanced by media, but when it comes to Dave and Buster’s ill-worded tweet, this one was just too easy to sit back and scratch your head in wonder.

It has been over a decade since my first ‘Taco Tuesday’ event that happened at a local watering hole in my hometown. This was a destination for the low priced Mexican cuisine and even better drink specials. This weekly ritual of gastro delight was a can’t miss event which brought together a gaggle of friends for a guaranteed night of hilarity.

In an attempt to generate buzz on one of the slowest days of the week for a restaurant, Dave and Buster’s sent a tweet with the intention of attracting those individuals craving some Mex-American cuisine and mindless gaming. Unfortunately, their choice of context is what got them into social media hot water. dave-busters-tweet-hed-2014

By now, everyone has seen the tweet (and I will include it below) but I want to discuss the mindset of this tweet. Was this a purposeful tweet with a motive of attention, or was this a tongue in cheek message gone wrong? While many believe it was intentional to gain more attention to Dave and Buster’s with the NFL playoffs right around the corner, I feel this was a slick attempt at humor gone wrong. I do not believe it has any ‘real’ negative intention, this should have gone through at least one filter on its way out.

Many times in larger corporations, one of the most junior members of the marketing team has the daunting task of manning the social media channels, garnering the ever-elusive engagement and fostering visits from a non-ROI generating medium. The constant attention and SPAM filtering is one of the major reasons why this incredibly important task gets volleyed over the wall to the junior members as a right of passage. Unfortunately, your social media channels are one of the few marketing arenas that has DIRECT access to your customers and ALLOWS YOU to have a conversation in a location they frequent. An analogy I use with clients (that I do not believe anyone has used previously) is social media is like being the bartender at a cocktail party with half a billion people. You are not integrated in their every conversation, but you at least have their attention while they are seeking something you offer.

The lesson out of the Dave and Buster’s tweet is one we have stated for years. Get a second set of eyes when you are attempting to integrate humor, coy, or tongue in cheek innuendos into anything that is forward facing to your customers. Now I am not a fan of the corporate bureaucracy that required 60-90 day approvals through the legal department and 25 other desks. This kills the real time nature of social media, but when you are attempting to deviate from your consistent brand message and toe the line of decency, get a second opinion.

Low Moments in Marketing: Walmart.com’s Fat Girl Costumes

I love ads…

I see ads all the time. I am continuously watching commercials and pre-roll videos, listening to Pandora spots, and viewing online ads and banners. Most of this viewing has more to do with evaluation and inspiration then it does looking to make a purchase decision. I am in marketing, I understand the game that is played everyday with promotions. It is a game I truly enjoy and one I find to be one of the hardest challenges anyone could face.

Most of the time I just view ads and keep my thoughts about the ads internalized. My thoughts generally come out when I am in discussions with people of my own ilk or to myself when I am making my morning commute.

I decided to share some of my thoughts on a variety of ads and create a new series in the blog (a post more than 2 times a quarter would be a start…) called “Low Moments in Marketing” or L-MIM.

Walmart.com’s tasteless choice of words to describe their plus sized costumes.

walmart-plus-halloween-hed-2014

from Adweek.com

On October 27th, Walmart.com used the term ‘Fat Girl Costumes’ to describe their plus sized costumes available for Halloween. While there are more traditional terms used to describe the larger male costumes (Plus Sized Costumes, etc.), the retail giant decided to use ‘Fat Girl’ to describe the female plus sized costumes.

While this appears to be just a major error in judgement by someone on the Walmart.com team, I think that there were ulterior motives in place. According to the Google Keyword Planner, search volume for [fat girl costume] equals 90 average searches per month. Compare that to [women plus size costume] at 30 searches a month and [woman plus size costume] at 10 searches per month. I think that there might some SEO games happening here.

Obviously, as soon as this gained steam, it was quickly eliminated from Walmart.com and they went on the defensive, trying to save face.

This is quite interesting and one that I feel wasn’t a mistake at all, but an attempt to rank well for a higher trafficked term.

The slippery slope of incentivizing customer service

I have been a satellite radio customer for almost 8 years. Having upwards of a 90-minute commute for many years caused distaste for commercials and station surfing that satellite radio felt like a good investment. They hooked me with a very attractive offer and a new customer was born. Shortly after my year introductory offer was over, I was met with a bill equal to double my introductory offer. I call the provider asking what the deal was, and when they told me that this is the ‘going rate,’ my excitement for the convenience of satellite radio quickly wore off. I was ready to cancel. Shortly after I muttered those powerful 6 letters, the customer service agent on the phone sent me to another department. Forced to reiterate the exact same story I told the previous agent, this customer service person wooed me with yearly rate, equal to my introductory offer. Feeling like I had won, I accepted and another year was born. Each subsequent year following this incident, I have made the same fateful phone call, each time met with the same offer and same commitment. It feels so rehearsed that most of the time, I don’t even make small talk with the initial agent, the other 4 words I expend effort to say are “I want to cancel.” Then I am met with the 2 level agent, who extends my almost laughable rate. This charade has turned into a sport.

A fiery lust, a conquest awaits

The quest for customer acquisition reigns supreme above all else. No matter where you look, brands are throwing everything and a box of candy at winning a new customer. Whether it is a cell phone carrier buying out a contract with another carrier, incredibly huge price cuts to win that first time purchase, or incentivizing your customers to be referral engines, a new customer instills a bloodthirsty lust among brand marketers everywhere. Brands look to woo prospective customers by showing up with roses, opening up the car door, paying for dinner, giving a back rub, and doing the dishes, all at once. The days of building a brand with such a unique and attractive lifestyle, seen to be superior enough to organically acquire your business, is sadly gone. Here are the days of FREE everything, introductory offers, and the abolishment of brand loyalty.

They are just not that into you anymore

But once the honeymoon is over and the brand has moved onto the new flavor of the week, their dedication to ensuring your happiness flames out like a summer crush in September. As long as you are paying your bill, continuing to buy their wares, and not causing a ruckus on social media, a brand could careless about your happiness.

The quest for acquisition is much more valuable then the quest for retention. Unless, your customer base is leaving at such a feverous pace, that your only method of customer acquisition, is through retention.

Enter Incentivizing Customer Service

By now, you have all heard about the now infamous Comcast call with AOL Executive Ryan Block. If you haven’t, here is a great piece from Slate that covers all of the juicy details. While most of the population gasped in awe of this one employee’s desperate attempt to hang onto a customer, continued details show that this employee (and thousands of others) is being so reluctant to cut the cord, because it takes money out of their pocket.

Yes, Comcast incentivizes customer service.

Their employee’s pay is based upon how many customers they can keep. Their retention specialists are trained in the art of persuasion, given detailed scripts and rebuttals, and regularly sell their soul to continue to receive their bonus. Most people, including Comcast themselves, blamed the employee as being a rogue and overly aggressive money grubber. However, the problem lies significantly deeper (or should I say, higher) than that.

The Problem with Buying Customer Service – The Employee

When employees fear financial hardship is at the precipice, they often react in a defensive manner. Clinging to the last bit of hope that the sale will turn around, that you will change their mind, and their money will magically reappear. Like it or not, money changes emotions, and money causes you to act in a manner in which you might not enjoy, if your paycheck was not on the line.

Incentivizing customer service does little to further entrench of the reputation of the brand, even amongst employees. Employees required to perform all tactics necessary to save that one customer, have very little loyalty to their organization. Customer service agents incentivized on retention are nothing more than mercenaries. Hired to pillage as much as they can out of the land, and then move on to the next patch of fertile soil, through no fault of their own. Organizations that incentivize their customer service agents choose short-term profitability over long term customer value.

In a day in age of transparency in customer service, those brands whose employees exude the confidence of knowing their organization values customers over profits, or even employees over profits, bleed through to the customer base. More often than not, customers value a positive experience before, during, and after the sale more than they do the best available price. If you do not agree, just look at Zappos, USAA, Amazon, Chick-Fil-A and many others who put the happiness of their customers first.

The Problem with Buying Customer Service – The Customer

Incentivized customer service has spawned a new breed of consumer, the brand hopper. A few short decades ago, our parents would be the epitome of brand loyalists. If your parents drove a Chevy, you drove a Chevy, and your children drove a Chevy. Not because you were giving some referral bonus for being a loyalist, but because you knew the brand cared about your business and you felt appreciated. Today, customers are forced to jump around, play the introductory offer game, and mostly forget all affiliation to a brand. The perils of being a brand loyalist typically leaves you spending more and getting less and less attention from the brand you are loyal to. An uncomfortable recipe that explains the Nielsen report that 78% of consumers are not loyal to a brand. Couple this with the Ernst & Young study that states just 25% of customers consider brand loyalty something that impacts their buying behavior, and you have the death of brand loyalty.

This Comcast experience is not unique, and all it takes is about 5 minutes on Twitter Search to see that this public display of customer dissatisfaction happens regularly. This particular incident just happened to be prominent news, due to the high profile victim.

The Finances of Good Customer Service

For many customers, a direct interaction with a brand is a make or break moment. These moments can result in anger or outright rage towards the brand, or conversely a euphoric moment of bliss that comes from a positive experience. But it means just as much for the brand. According to McKinsey, 70% of customers cite poor customer service as a reason not to buy from a particular brand. Couple this with the research out of InfoQuest that states a Totally Satisfied Customer contributes 2.6 times more revenue than a Somewhat Satisfied Customer, and you have a financial case for customer service, not just customer retention.

Every marketer will agree that the courting, qualifying and convincing of a customer to choose your brand over a myriad of other options is one of the biggest struggles they face. However, most marketers miss the gold mine that is their existing customer base. If you have ensured a positive consumer experience, you will surely stand a better chance of getting more money out of those customers. Data fromBIA/Kelsey states that a repeat customer will spend 61% more than a new customer. Treat your existing customers well, and they will continue to spend.

Lifetime Customer Value is something that is undervalued by marketers, left on the side of the road while they join the countless others chasing the new potential customer. Incentivizing customer service does nothing for the consumer and for the brand. It gives the customer yet another reason to shop other selections, puts a negative sentiment in their head, and forces you to continuously be on the hunt for the new unsuspecting prey. The churn rate alone, as it pertains to the perils of incentivized customer service, is exhausting and one that has no real obtainable growth in sight.

Reviews: The Green-Faced Cure to Incentivized Customer Service

The build up of continued negative sentiment only causes one thing, which can be more negatively impactful then one lost sale; a litter of negative reviews. With reviews equaling social currency, many brands go out of their way to ensure a positive experience for the customer, in hopes the customer leaves a positive review. According to eMarketer, 88% of customers leave a negative review to warn other people about a product or service. Additionally, according to Dimensional Research, 90% of respondents who recalled reading an online review claimed positive reviews influenced their purchase decision, and 86% said their purchase was influenced by a negative review.

A positive customer service experience can mean so much more than a won phone call, it could mean a loyal customer, in the age of choice. Brands cut corners, force retention, and degrade customer experience, all in hopes of maintaining profitability and low prices. But somehow, these brands do not understand that customer service elements (such as return policy, reviews, and support) are the primary purchase vehicles. So instead of focusing on your ‘deepest discount ever,’ try focusing on providing a joyful customer experience, one in which the customer feels like they matter, and watch your customers become your biggest advocates. They will fight your battles in the wild wild west of the web, and act as your unpaid customer service agents; ones that do not require continuous incentivizing and persuasion training.