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Posts from the ‘marketing’ Category

a bad judgement call, I think

October 26, 2012


I’m a member of the ROM (Royal Ontario Museum).  Have been for years.  I’ve lost track of time, I guess.  Turns out my membership is due for renewal next month.

A day or so ago there was something in my mail from them.  A ‘renewal’ package.  Not surprising.  They want to make sure I do renew.  It’s the right thing for them to be doing.  The fact that they are trying to get me to commit a month early is interesting.  Times are very tough for all not-for-profits these days, so I applaud them for being so proactive.

That’s the good news.

Here’s where I believe the flaw in their thinking is:  What they’ve sent out is an elaborate, full colour, direct mail package.  It’s got flaps cut on the diagonal.  It’s printed on glossy, heavy, stock.  It’s personalized in several places.  It’s closed with a seal, which had to be done by hand.  The reply envelope is postage-paid.

All no-no’s in the not-for-profit world.

First of all, strictly from the perspective of appearances, this gives the wrong impression.  Even if they got a deal, even if it was done for free, it looks too expensive.  When you’re asking people to donate money to your cause (especially in these troubled times), whether you represent a disease, a school, a charitable foundation or a member of the arts community, you have to be very careful how you present yourself.  Looking like you’ve got all the money in the world won’t help your cause.  Nor is it appropriate.

  • It should have been a simple letter, mailed in an envelope.
  • Wherever possible they should use email instead of regular mail.  Much less expensive, quicker, simpler, etc.
  • The reply envelope should never be postage-paid.  Usually there is an outline of where a stamp should go, with a message that says something like “When you use a stamp, it allows us to put your donation to better use”.
  • Hand assembly costs a lot of money.  The seal may look cool, but its use resulted in unnecessary costs.
  • If the costs of producing the mailer were donated, I still wouldn’t have done it, because a potential donor would have every right to think the donation would have been of much better use if it had gone to the Museum, instead of producing the mailer.
  • At worst, though, if the costs were donated, and if the folks at the ROM did decide to accept the offer, then it was imperative to have a line of copy thanking the donor.  At least that way those of us on the receiving end, would know the Museum hadn’t been foolishly extravagant.

But here’s what makes what they’ve done even worse.  A day or two before I got the mailer there was an article in the Globe & Mail about the ROM; and how they are thinking of charging caterers who work in the ROM, a very substantial fee.  This fee would put these caterers on a list of ROM-approved suppliers.  If they don’t agree to pay the fee (double digit thousands), they wouldn’t make the list.

And in case you’re wondering, the fee does not guarantee they’ll get work out of it, in the end.  It would merely put them on a list, for consideration by those individuals who would be thinking of holding an event at the ROM.

The reason stated is because the ROM needs money.  So on the one hand they’re thinking of extracting money out of their caterers, while on the other hand they’re spending money on glossy mailings.  I have to be honest.  It didn’t make me want to renew my membership.

Personally, I think both moves should have been more carefully thought through.  When I read the article it left a bad taste in my mouth.  In some ways it’s like extortion.  Pony up or find yourself off the list.  If I was a caterer, I’d certainly have to think twice.  It’s a lot of money to pay out, with no guarantee of any work coming from it.  Risky in these times.

And as a consumer, it just pissed me off.  It will impact the choice of caterers I have.  And I can’t believe that those costs won’t ultimately be passed along to me.  The cost of catering will, no doubt, go up.

And you already know how I feel about the luxurious mailing piece.

Having said all this, I know just how difficult things are for charities these days.  They are all scrambling.  Government funding has all but dried up.  Consumers have been suffering financially for a long time now; and there’s no let-up in sight.  Donations go under the ‘discretionary spending’ column in our own budgets.  Which, for most of us, is getting smaller every day.

So out of the box thinking, on the part of the ROM, and everyone else in the sector, is definitely required.  They just need to be more strategic about it.  Maybe think twice next time.

mind your manners, for your brand’s sake; and your business’s

September 12, 2012


Have you noticed how no one answers their phone any more?  And how everyone hides behind voice mail.  Everyone but me, that is.  I always get the same reaction from people when I answer my phone:  Shock.  “Oh”, they say.  And then they stumble around for words.  Because they assumed they’d be leaving a message, not talking to a human.

Same with email.  Unless you’re writing a friend or family member, a colleague or close business associate, you can consider yourself lucky if you ever get a response.  Ditto with snail mail.  It drives me insane.  And then, what I hate the most, are the lies and excuses that inevitably follow:  “Oh, really, I didn’t get an email from you.  Oh, are you sure you called the right number?  Oh, I am so sorry, I have just been crazy busy, I was planning to get back to you.”  And then you see them posting drivel on Facebook or tweeting.

It even happens with blogs.  I follow a lot of blogs.  I very often comment on posts I like, or that resonate with me.  At most, I get a reply 10 – 15% of the time.  It’s interesting, though.  Everything you read about blogs, and how to increase your readership, tells you to “like”, “follow” and comment on other blogs.  All the experts say this is the best way to get more exposure for your blog (and yourself) and grow your audience.  But none of them add that you should also do it because it’s common courtesy; that if someone has taken time out of their busy day to read your blog, and then takes the time to leave a comment, it is rude of you to ignore it.  Why?

I think it’s because we’re smack in the middle of an epidemic of bad manners.  And we’re completely self-absorbed.  It’s all about ‘us’.  To hell with you.

Several years ago I had a new business idea.  I had an individual in mind I wanted to target.  After sending him two letters, his assistant contacted me, presumably at his request, to ask me to elaborate on a couple of points.  Which I did.  Never heard back.  I’m in no way suggesting he was under any obligation to have the slightest interest in what I was pitching.  But if he asked me for additional information I believe I was entitled to a response.  Even if it was a form letter, or a two-sentence reply written, and signed, by his assistant.  Whereas I once thought of him as confident, inspiring, responsible, respectful and open I now think of him as arrogant, rude and dismissive.

In my eyes his brand is tarnished.  And while he may not think of it this way, his personal brand and his corporate brand are entwined.  So he should care what I think about him.  Because it will influence my decision about ever becoming a client.  And while I may not be in a position to become his client today, we never know what tomorrow will bring.

A long time ago, when I was in my second to last year of art college, I decided to look for a summer job.  I would even have taken an internship position.  I just wanted some real life experience.  The man I interviewed with at the first art studio I visited was very pleasant.  He took time to go through my portfolio; and also talked to me about what my longer term goals were.  Although they didn’t hire summer students he did suggest that, once I’d graduated, I should try again.

Which I did.  He was one of the first prospects I called and we arranged a date and time to meet.  When I arrived for my appointment, the receptionist asked me to wait, as he was in a meeting.  I waited 15 minutes.  30 minutes.  40 minutes.  At which point I asked the receptionist to see how much longer he’d be.  She made a couple of calls and then told me that he’d be unable to see me, after all.  He’d been called away.

Funny, I was right there in reception.  Unless he’d climbed out of the window in his office, I would have to have seen him leave.  That is, if he’d ever even been in the office, in the first place.

I was disappointed, but what could I do.  I had another appointment, not all that far away, so off I went.  I had about a half hour to spare, so I decided to have a cup of coffee in a coffee shop that was located at the back of a pharmacy, in the building where I had my meeting.  Lo and behold, the a-hole who had just kept me waiting for almost an hour was sitting at the table, right next to mine, laughing it up with a friend.  Where he’d no doubt been all along.  He didn’t recognize me.  But I recognized him.

Fast forward about five years.  When he called, asking for an appointment, I remembered his name.  This time I was buying.  And he was selling.  No, I didn’t stand him up.  I was there, waiting for him.  I let him go through his entire spiel.  Then I asked if he remembered me.  He didn’t.  I filled him in.  And then I let him leave, empty-handed.  Not totally out of spite.  No.  I declined to do business with him for this reason:

Once upon a time I hadn’t been important enough for him.  I was small potatoes, easily dismissed and forgotten.  Would a small or medium-sized project of mine get the same treatment?  Would he only put his best team on the job if it came with a big budget?  Would only large, high-profile jobs get his full attention?  “Probably”, was my guess.  And just before I let him go I told him exactly why I was taking a pass.  He had himself to thank.  All he’d had to do was man up and cancel the appointment ahead of time.  How difficult is that?

You never know when the tables might turn.  If he’d been familiar with one of my favourite quotes, perhaps the entire scenario could have been avoided:  “Be nice to people on your way up, because you meet them again on your way down.”

So what’s the moral of the story?  Be respectful.  Be polite.  Answer your damn phone when you’re sitting right beside it, and it rings.  Put time aside, every day, to respond to your emails and voice mails; and make this behaviour part of your corporate culture, so your employees follow your good example, instead of your bad one.  Delegate the writing of your ‘thanks-but-no-thanks’ letters to your assistant or a more junior colleague; and make it a personal priority to at least let people know that their letters have gotten to you; and you appreciate the fact that they’ve written you.

People can think the best of you.  Or the worst.  It’s up to you.  Just remember that ‘you’ are a brand.  And your brand is also a reflection of your company’s brand.

why I’m worried that brands are losing their power

June 22, 2012


I’ve grown up (personally and professionally) in the glory days of brands; and advertising, for that matter.

A time when companies spent millions of dollars every year to create powerful, meaningful, engaging brands.  Brands that really resonated with consumers.  Brands that conjured up memories of childhood, favourite family recipes and good times (Kraft).  Brands that united people, regardless of where in the world you happened to live (Coke).   Brands that made ugly, desirable (Volkswagon).

A time when advertisers took chances; and hired agencies based on their ability and willingness to take chances.  A time when agencies and clients alike hired people for their business savvy, strategic insights and creative talent — and created environments where they could be nurtured, where they would thrive and grow.

A time when everyone knew that it was brands that attracted, and kept, customers.  Products and services could, and would, come and go.  But brands … brands were aspirational.  And it was the values that brands stood for, the images they conveyed that meant something.  Brands were the reason why consumers picked one product over another, chose Company A over the competition.  And stayed loyal.

Can you say that now?  Not so much, in my opinion.  Today it seems to be all about slashing prices.

Don’t get me wrong.  I know companies are having a very tough time staying afloat.  But I don’t see businesses booming, even with all the headlines that scream “deep discounts, prices slashed, save up to 70%”, etc.

What I see is the killing of brands.  It saddens me.  And it worries me, because I know all about the power they have.

If you’ve got to put something on sale, put it on sale.  But don’t do it at the expense of your greatest asset — your brand.  Let’s say, for example, that you run a luxury hotel and have too much inventory.  In an attempt to increase bookings you decide to discount rooms or create special promotions.  All I’m saying is, do it strategically — within the parameter of your brand — so that your ‘luxury’ positioning doesn’t become a lie.

A strategy that should apply, by the way,  to any business category and every price point, regardless of whether you’re Holt Renfrew or Target, BMW or Kia, Four Seasons Hotels and Resorts or Embassy Suites, Bell or Wind Mobile, Special K or a no-name cereal.

We have to stop training consumers to forsake brands for cheap prices because all they’ll do is comparison shop.  And no amount of advertising will ever get them back.

dedicated to the folks at Loomis Express

April 18, 2012


With brands, like most other things, who you want to be and who you are, are sometimes very different.

It’s human nature.  We rarely see ourselves as we really are.  We prefer to see ourselves as we’d like to be:  20 pounds lighter, 10 years younger, with a full head of hair, more attractive to the opposite sex, blah blah blah.  The same can be said for CEOs, CMOs and the like — as it relates to how they want their companies and their brands to be perceived:  Client centric (all about the customer experience in today’s parlance), innovative, nimble, approachable, likeable, blah blah blah.

But whether you’re looking at yourself in the mirror, visualizing a hot blonde in a mini skirt instead of a plump matron in a Hilary Clintonesque pant suit, or you’re a head honcho briefing the agency, wishing does not make it so!!

What I am talking about is ‘authentic’ brands.  The real thing.

Like Apple.  Yes, they are innovative.  Yes, they are all about the customer experience.  Yes, they are friendly.  Yes, they do make it really simple to use and enjoy their products.  Yes, they are insanely great.  At all of the above — and at customer service and problem resolution and anything else you might think of.  And yes, their advertising totally reflects their philosophy, their products, their commitment, their passion, blah blah blah.

Unfortunately there aren’t many Apples.

Think of the companies you do business with.  Who’s your wireless provider?  Who’s your telco?  Where do you bank?  What soap do you use?  What cereal do you eat?  Now think of their advertising.  Do you think it’s consistent with your experience with that company or brand?

Okay, while you’re re-running commercials in your head I’m going to tell you a story:

It’s tax time.  For many good reasons despite the fact that I’ve lived in Toronto since 1985 I still have an accountant in Montreal.  This past Monday (April 16) I was ready to send him all my tax stuff.  Because I wanted to give him as much time as possible (April 30 is fast approaching), I decided to send it overnight courier.  Usually I use FedEx or UPS, but on Monday I was rushing to get to a client’s office for a meeting.  On my way I passed a business supply store and thought:  “Hmmm, wonder if they have a courier depot in there.”  Some of them, like Staples, do.

Sure enough they did.  DHL (for overseas) and Loomis for domestic.  I arranged for, and paid for, overnight service with delivery before noon the next day.

I have to admit there were a couple of times during the transaction where that inner voice we often pay no attention to, was whispering in my ear.  But I ignored it.  So when I got home at around 5:30 I decided to go online and track my shipment — to see if it had actually been picked up from the store.  The url the guy in the store had given me was wrong.  So I called the store and was given an 800 number to call.

Here’s where the brand part comes in:

While I was on hold for 25 minutes (before I hung up) I was forced to listen to what I can only describe as ‘commercials’:  “Receive your shipment on time for your afternoon meeting”.  “Reliable service door-to-door”.  “Attention and careful handling”.

  • I called 3 times.  Each time I was on hold for at least 25 minutes before I hung up.
  • I finally figured out the correct url and on Tuesday went online 5 times to try and track my shipment.  The only information available was that the package was picked up from the store.  I called my accountant at 5:30 and he had not received it.
  • I called the 800 number and was on hold for 20 minutes before I hung up.
  • I called the store.  They called somebody and called me back with a reference number and an assurance that a ‘tracer’ had been put on the shipment.  I was also assured I’d be called within 4 business hours with news.
  • It is now Wednesday.  I went online this morning and this time instead of tracking by the waybill number I tried to track by the reference number.  No such number existed.  So then I tried the waybill number.  Same info as Tuesday.
  • I called the 800 number.  Definitely getting tired of their commercials that promise all that good stuff.  Thankfully I was only on hold about 10 minutes this time.
  • Told the rep my sad tale of woe.  Was told that the individual who was tracing my shipment would not be in for another 20 minutes.  I left my number.  65 minutes later he called me.  Asked for Monica.  Despite the fact that he was looking at a paperwork that had my name on it, he couldn’t get my name straight. That did not bode well for my package.
  • About 30 minutes later another ‘tracer’ person called me.  She asked for Ivan.  Seems she couldn’t get my name straight either.

Attention and careful handling?  Reliable service?  Are you kidding me?  But there’s more:

  • ‘Tracer’ person #1 assured me he would call me throughout the day to check in, even if he had no news.
  • At 2:30, having not heard from anyone, I called him and left a message.
  • At 3:30, I blocked the caller I.D. on my phone and called back.  Lo and behold he answered.  No news.  No information either because he informed me that his supervisor had taken over the case.  Probably because I told them I’d be giving them a free ad campaign on social media if they didn’t find my shipment — pronto.  Canada Revenue isn’t going to cut me any slack because Loomis lost my receipts.
  • Oh yes, ‘Tracer #1 also told me that they couldn’t do a thorough search of their facility because they didn’t have enough staff available; and they’d have to wait until they had more staff.  When might that be?  Your guess is as good as mine.

Attention and careful handling?  Reliable service?

What do you think?  Does Loomis Express have an authentic brand?  (Still haven’t heard a word, by the way.  It is now 5:20 on Wednesday).