Category Archives: Marketing

Apple – A Company that “Gets” Its Customers

While we are not currently Mac or iPod or iPhone users, we have a lot of respect for companies that focus on their customers, and inspire loyalty from them. 

Fellow blogger Rich McIver, in his blog InsideCRM, writes about this in his entry 12 Effective Strategies Apple Uses to Create Loyal CustomersHe discusses some of the techniques used by Apple to create customer evangelists.

    — Chuck Dennis

The Name Game

Selecting a good name is one of those things that many people think is an easy thing. Whether the name is for a product, or a company, or a service or a building, there’s more to the process than meets the eye.  The problem is that too often naming exercises are done without consideration for the world that surrounds the name.  Is it being used anywhere else?  Are there permutations of the name that could be confusingly similar?  And what about ownership?  Aside from registered trademark rights – who else might “own” the name?

Let’s take a trip down Route 9 in Natick, Massachsetts.  There is a shopping mall that has been there for 40 years, engagingly named “The Natick Mall.”  My first after-school job was in a restaurant there, back in the dark ages.  The mall has recently undergone a major expansion:  500,000 square feet of new stores, restaurants.  With a new and improved mall, it makes sense to embark on some new marketing and positioning.  All of that begs for a new name. Something that denotes the new status of the mall, creates some new buzz, describes what the mall is today.  Right?

The marketers of the mall labored over a new potential name.  End result:  the owners of the mall, General Growth Properties, selected “Natick” for the new name.  Of all the potential names that were generated, they decided to appropriate the town of Natick‘s name.  Besides displaying a singular lack of originality, thinking that it would be a good idea to use the name of a town as a trademark for a local mall seems naive. However, they went ahead and filed a trademark application for the name “Natick.”   Needless to say, the town of Natick objected.  Ultimately, the mall was renamed “Natick Collection.”  Funnily enough, this was on the list of names to begin with and it was rejected in favor of just “Natick.”  Granted, I’ve sat in my share of branding meetings over the years where weak names, copied ideas, and just plain silliness was bandied about as serious marketing, but this one struck me as one of the most short-sighted branding decisions I’ve seen in awhile.

The main point of a brand name is to differentiate the product or service from all the other alternatives.  At the same time, you want to connect to your audience’s preferences, recollections, memories, or sensibilities. You also want to consider your customer audience.  What will resonate for them? It seems like it would be a tad confusing for a resident of Natick to call a friend and say, “Let’s go shopping at Natick.”  Uh, where in Natick?   “You know, the mall, Natick.”  “Yeah, but WHERE in Natick?” Seems a bit like Abbott & Costello’s bit about “Who’s on First?”

So when you’re playing the name game, really think hard about the customers you’re trying to entice to your offering.  Will they be upset by the name?  Confused  by it? Oblivous to it?  Rule number one:  don’t use another entity’s name!  The customer you offend or confuse may be your own!

–Lisa Dennis

The Colonel and the Pope

Recently, global fast-food chain KFC decided to offer a fish sandwich during the period of Lent (the forty day period of Christian fasting that precedes Easter).  Not satisfied by merely cashing in on a religious holy period, KFC has requested a blessing of their fish sandwich from the Pope!  Holy Endorsements!

Now, certainly, I can see the marketing appeal for hard-core Catholics, but could this have a reverse effect on Protestants, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Devil-worshipers, Atheists, Agnostics, and members of the Saint John Coltrane Church?  And anyone else who does not see the Pope as an infallible entity?  I mean, how much sense does it make for a fast food chain, or any secular business, really, to draw a line in the sand and ask for a Papal endorsement?  You run the risk of alienating as many, if not more, people than you attract.

And, not to delve too deeply into religious matters, but what does it say to Catholics everywhere if the Pope does offer his endorsement to the KFC fish sandwich?  Can we expect to see a Nike Swoosh symbol on his mitre?  Stock car-like logos all over the Popemobile?  This is a slippery slope, and I am surprised at KFC for even venturing to ask the Pope for such an endorsement, and I am surprised that the Pope’s office has not immediately and categorically refused the request.

  — Chuck Dennis

Homophobia Sells???

A while back, in this space, I commented on the Dodge commercial with the little Tinkerbell type character who flew around, changing big powerful things into cute things, but she couldn’t change the Dodge automobile, which apparently was so tough that the blast from her magic wand knocked her into a brick wall, where a tough-looking guy laughed at her, calling her a silly little fairy.  She then zapped him into a wearing a matching sweater and shorts ensemble, and changed his macho dog into a group of three pekingnese or poodles, as he squealed "Ohhhhhh!"

Well, apparently, Madison Avenue still thinks homophobia is a big hoot, and will sell product.  During the Super Bowl a few days ago, where companies roll out their big money commercials, the Mars candy company ran a commercial for their Snickers brand candy bar.  The ad had two big burly guys working under the hood of a car.  One guy popped a Snickers in his mouth while working, and the other guy was so enamored with the candy bar that he bit the other end of it.  Then both guys proceeded to take bites of the candy bar until it was all consumed, and their lips briefly touched.  They were horrified when they realized what had happened, and decided they needed to do something "manly" to compensate for this accidental buss.  So they decided to rip out handfuls of their chest hair.

Curious.  Is this funny?  Is it zany?  Is the thought of two men kissing so preposterous to some ad writers, producers, and executives, that they think it will sell candy bars?  I continue to be stunned that in this day and age, homophobic ads still get written, and more incredibly, produced and approved, for airing on national TV.  And for the Super Bowl, where millions are viewing, and the ads cost gazillions of dollars… what genius decided that Snickers would do well to be known as they official candy bar for homophobes? 

Political correctness aside, is it good business to alienate anyone? 

Tonight, I heard on the news that Mars has pulled the ad.  I did not hear that any apology was given. http://money.cnn.com/2007/02/06/news/companies/snickers/?postversion=2007020614  Basically, all they had to say was that the intent was not to offend.  Wonder what the intent was?

  — Chuck Dennis

The Power of Visuals

We’ve all heard the expression that a picture is worth a thousand words.  Well, what about a gesture?  How many words is that worth?  It depends on how serious you are about the image that your company is trying to convey out in the world.

Last week, the power of the gesture struck me as I was leaving a Dunkin’ Donuts in Rhode Island.  As usual, the place was packed and I parked behind the building, since all the spaces on the street were taken.  After getting my extra large, iced French Vanilla, cream and three Equals, (I’m always fascinated at how specifically everyone orders their coffee – often much more complicated than my “usual”) I got back in the car and attempted to leave the parking lot.  Unfortunately, there was a white van blocking the driveway.  It wasn’t blocking it a little, it was directly across the entire driveway.  Luckily, there was someone behind the wheel waiting for his partner to bring back the coffee.  So I tooted my horn.  The van moved up about 6 inches.  Given that my car isn’t six inches wide, I tooted again.  Let me be clear here – I didn’t lean on my horn – just a quick toot.  Well, on the 2nd toot, he moved about another 4 feet.  I was able to just about squeeze through without scratching his fender and my passenger door.  As I was making a right, it was touch and go trying to navigate the turn with this van literally right on top of me.  So this time I hit the horn.

Now, if you were blocking a driveway and you knew you were blocking a driveway (there was a sign that clearly read “Don’t Block The Driveway” right across from the passenger window of the van), you’d assume that you’d get some flack from people trying to get out of the driveway, no?

He didn’t move another inch.  As I came around the van, I noticed that it had the name of a company in Fall River across the side in bright blue letters.  Name, logo, location and phone number. As  I drove past the van, I looked out my passenger window towards the van driver.  He looked right at me and put his arm up against the window with his middle finger pointing to the sky.  Aside from the obvious rudeness, what really struck me was the image of this hand right next to the company logo.  It would have made a great picture.

As I was driving down the street, I decided to circle back, so I made a u-turn, and jotted down the name and number of the company.  The juxtaposition of the company’s obvious effort at trying to portray a professional organization, next to their driver’s “brand statement” was too much to ignore.  I wondered if they would want to know how they were being portrayed on the street to potential customers by this driver – whose job it is to represent them.

So I called and asked for a manager who was in charge of their fleet to discuss a problem I encountered with one of their vans.  A manager came to the phone, and I related to her what happened, and followed it with my comment that I was guessing that this wasn’t the image they wanted to send to potential customers out on the road.  She was shocked and repeated to me, “Our driver gave you the finger?!”  “Yes,” I said, “it was rather striking next to your company logo.”  The manager asked for any other details (location, time, etc.) and assured me that the person would be dealt with and that this was NOT the impression they wanted to give.  She made the point to thank me for bringing this to their attention, and she sounded very sincere in those thanks.  I told her that I was the president of a marketing and sales firm, and that I know first hand now how hard it is to get a positive message out there.  It seemed a shame to have it squandered by an employee who simply forgot that he was not in his own car, representing himself.  He was being paid to represent a company.

While it may seem harsh that I called and reported him, as a business owner consider how you might feel if a gesture sent a message that you never ever intended.  How many words is that worth?

— Lisa Dennis

A Rose by Any Other Name? I Wonder…

What’s in a name? That which we call a rose
By any other name would smell as sweet.

 

William Shakespeare, Romeo and Juliet

 

Shakespeare’s words make for beautiful poetry, but do they ring true in today’s market-driven business world?  Not really.  A variety of similar products may “smell as sweet” as one another, but the name by which they are known will have much to do with how well they sell in the marketplace.  Whether you are talking about a product or a service, the name by which you are known says a lot about you, on a number of levels.

So what causes me to wax poetic today?  I just read that the Ritz-Carlton Boston was sold, and will be re-named.  Now, as a customer-oriented guy, who has a background in trademarks and brand names, this makes about as much sense as poking yourself in the eye with a pointed stick.

For the past 100 or so years, the name Ritz-Carlton has been synonymous with “legendary service” and “gracious elegance,” if I may quote the Ritz’s web site.  Furthermore, the Ritz-Carlton Boston has been the cornerstone of this hotel chain’s glamorous history, dating back to the early 20th Century.

So, while the new owners of this property, Taj Hotels Resorts and Palaces, one of Asia’s largest hotel groups, undoubtedly have great pride in their own organization, I wonder how strategic a move it is to drop one of the most timeless of all trademarks in order to promote their own organization.

The CEO has already said that he intends to keep all the management and employees currently working at the Boston Ritz, and that’s great.  These folks are already trained in the Ritz-Carlton “way.”  So why boot the name, in favor of something reminiscent of Donald Trump’s gaudy house o’ fun in Atlantic City?  Names with the sterling reputation of “Ritz-Carlton” don’t come along every day.  So unless there is some stipulation in the sale agreement that the Ritz name specifically can not be used by the new owners, I’m thinking they are making an egregious mistake.

— Chuck Dennis

Dodging a Bullet?

I like a laugh as much as the next guy, and to be honest, I am not above low-brow humor.

However, I have to wonder about the intelligence of major corporations that use humor that suggests a bias against certain demographics.

Specifically, there is a Dodge ad on TV these days, with a little Tinkerbell-type character flying around and turning mundane things into "cute" things.  But try as she might, she is not able to make the rugged Dodge vehicle "cute," and in fact the beams from her magic wand bounce off the Dodge and back at her, and bounce her off of a wall.  At this point, a rugged guy, walking a rugged dog, sees this and scoffs, "Silly fairy!"  At which point, Tinkerbell zaps her wand at him, and in a flash, he is wearing a little shirt and shorts ensemble, with a sweater tied around his neck, and is now walking three matching Pekingnese dogs, and says "Oh!" in a high-pitched exclamation. 

Now, whether or not we think this is funny is immaterial here.  This is a TV ad, shown on national broadcasts, by a major corporation.  I have to wonder how many people had to approve this idea, from its initial creation, through production, to its airing on national TV.  No doubt, a high-priced advertising team came up with the ad, and in order for it to be produced, it had to be signed off on by some high-salaried executives within Dodge. 

Did they think this was so subtle that it would not be recognized as making sport of gay men?  Granted, Dodge is known for their big, manly pick-up trucks and high-performance muscle cars, but does that make gay-bashing acceptable?  Or am I too uptight, and finding fault with an innocent little joke?  I can’t say I was "offended" by this commercial, but it did make me think of all of the approvals it had to go through in order to be shown on network television. 

On the one hand, many of us like edgy humor.  On the other hand, does this mean anything goes, in pursuit of selling product?

— Chuck Dennis

Post Script: apparently, I’m not the only one who had some questions about this ad.  Check out http://www.adage.com/columns/article?article_id=108621

Survey Like You Mean It

My wife is becoming a customer evangelist for JetBlue Airways.  And with good reason, it seems.  Not only are their flights comfortable, roomy, on time, and best of all, inexpensive, but they are becoming known for their customer-focused attitude.

To underscore their dedication to service, JetBlue sends out an email to customers returning from a flight.  They say that, in order to better serve their customers, they invite you to take a brief customer satisfaction survey.  Nothing too revolutionary about that.  But here’s the cool thing…

Right below the link that you need to click to take the survey, there is a beautiful sentence.  Beautiful in its simplicity, beautiful in its message.

"If you have an urgent concern or a comment that you believe requires immediate attention, you may send your comments directly to a Customer Commitment Specialist who will assist you directly."

And then there is a link to contact their customer service department. So simple.

You want your customer’s input on their service experience.  If it was a positive experience, there is a survey to relay your feelings.  But if you had a negative experience, JetBlue wants to hear about it immediately.  That is putting your money where your mouth is.  And a great way of getting candid feedback, which will help them improve their business.

— Chuck Dennis

Customer Royalty: To Whom Are You Speaking?

Here is an interesting tidbit, taken from the weekly e-newsletter from eCustomerServiceWorld.com (http://www.ecsw.com/):

STATISTIC OF THE WEEK: CUSTOMER IS KING?

“Customer is King”: 4,440

“Customer is Queen”: 29

Results of a Google search carried out by Stephen Farber.

SOURCE: Quoted by Tom Peters when he was presenting for us recently. Tom uses this figure in a section of his talk that deals with how women have the real power as customers, but that most suppliers are too ignorant to notice.

This is an important observation, as far too often, businesses get caught up in trumpeting worn-out cliches, instead of really thinking about WHAT they are saying, and to WHOM they are saying it.

So, who are your customers, really?  Who are the decision-makers?  Are your marketing, sales, and customer service messages speaking directly to them?

    — Chuck Dennis

Marketing with Service

The soap box  I spend a lot of time standing on is always about the intersection of Marketing, Sales and Service – so here is an example that I think merits a comment.

Service in and of itself is one of the best marketing tools that any organization has.  It’s pre-sale, during sale, and post-sale impact can boost or blast a company’s reputation and image.  One of the best examples of this is Gentle Giant Moving Company Feet http://www.gentlegiant.com  – where service is one of their primary marketing weapons.  Proudly emblazoned on their website are the following service awards:  2002 Small Business of the Year – Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce, Local Torch Award (2002, 2003, 2005) Better Business Bureau, Improper Bostonian’s Business Best – 6 time winner, and Best of Boston 5 years in a row.  Phew!   Just for the record, I’m a repeat customer – 3 times to be exact.  Why?  Service.   Above and beyond service.

So how do they market service?  They strive to win these awards consistently and then they tell people about them.  In their interactions, on their website, on their "on hold" message when you’re waiting to be connected to a service associate.  They offer a real service guarantee http://www.gentlegiant.com/guarantee.html and aren’t afraid to spell it out.

On my first move with them, the crew leader introduced me to every member of the team (4 guys), and then said that they were going to make sure that I was competely satisfied, and when I was, they were going to ask me for a testimonial letter.  Talk about setting expectations! 

Here is the key.  Instead of wasting my time marketing to me by telling me a lot of things that any moving company may say – they just focus on the one thing I care about the most: that I’m going to get great service.  And if for some reason I don’t, they’ll address it.   How can they make such a claim?  Easy – by delivering every single time.  And then doing extra.  For example, after my first move was done and everything was in place, they asked me if I was happy with the position of the furniture, because they would be happy to move it around some more until I had everything in the perfect spot (an offer even my husband doesn’t make).  They offered to help me insert a water pan under my washer and dryer (which came with the house and was already in the unit and hooked up when they got there).  They thought a plumber would charge me too much to do this. So they did it for free.  On move #2, they fixed a broken door in my basement, and again offered to move any of my furniture that was already in the house to a better spot, if I was so inclined.

And better yet – they focus on service for their employees AND their customers.  In my upcoming move this week, the service associate asked me if I had any pets.  I told them they would not be moving into this new space and that all the furniture was coming out of storage. He then asked me if they had ever been around the things that were being moved.  "Yes," I said.  "Why do you ask?"   The answer was that they wanted to be sure not to assign any moving person who might have pet allergies to my move if there was risk of exposure.  What an amazing thing to even think about that – and to engage your customer in providing that level of service to your employee.  I’ll tell everyone I know who needs to move about that one simple but amazing thing.  How powerful is THAT kind of marketing?

   — Lisa Dennis

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