Church of the Customer: Companies behaving badly archives
February 04, 2008
Selling word of mouth
Watch out for taxi drivers in London. They may be doing double-duty as secret salespeople.
Monetizing person-to-person conversations is simply another form of spam, lacking merit, value or ethics.
January 03, 2008
Is a shoplifter a customer?
Here's a stupid rule Whole Foods could eliminate in 2008: Automatic firing for touching a customer.
Here's why: Store employee on break gives chase to shoplifter. Catches shoplifter. Store manager orders employee to release shoplifter, who then gets away.
Employee is fired for violating the "never touch a customer" rule.
November 29, 2007
The worst product in the world
Its reason for being is simple: When citizens don't immediately cooperate or follow instructions, police officers or people in authority positions simply shock them into submission with a searing jolt of electricity.
Even pregnant women who are clearly in distress.
November 28, 2007
It's still the customer experience
Why advertise? Because store visits are down 1% from same time last year. The stock price is falling. You could say that Starbucks is officially middle-aged. It's no longer the exciting whippersnapper.
Is that because Starbucks has finally reached a saturation point? Or is it more complicated, the result of a series of decisions that has compromised its roots of authenticity?
I believe it's the latter. To save money, Starbucks has:
- Switched from hand-pulled espresso shots to automatic espresso machines.
- Eliminated the aroma of ground fresh coffee in stores in lieu of "flavor locked packaging."
- Streamlined store designs; today, they lack the customized funky cool of yore.
Starbucks wants to please Wall Street, so it's chasing the P/E carrot by opening stores at breakneck speed. To exploit new revenue sources, Starbucks has:
- Delved into movie producing.
- Launched a record label.
- Started selling shelf space for book promotions.
With this new-revenue recipe, coffee is the appetizer to the big pie of entertainment. Eureka: store visitors are captive audiences. Turn up the Marketing Machine. When you start dreaming of monetizing seats or places in line, you change the nature of what you once delivered.
Will a brand-building TV ad campaign make people visit stores more often? Probably not. Some think the ads might drive people into competitors' stores.
Starbucks is a beloved brand because of the quality of the store experience. Period. End of story. Slurp! It took years for McDonald's to re-learn that.
November 21, 2007
Meet the new boss, same as the old boss
It was a year ago that the Webby Awards recognized pop star Prince as "a visionary who recognized early on that the Web would completely change how we experience music." Now the Purple One has decided that citizen marketers are members of the axis of evil.
It began this September, when Prince said he would sue YouTube, eBay and other sites for encouraging copyright violations with his music. That means everyday people who lip-synch his songs or use them as background music are going to get served. Even babies shaking their booties to "Let's Go Crazy" drives Prince nuts.
But then it got crazier. Prince's lawyers recently sent cease and desist letters to Prince fan sites, demanding they remove all photographs, images, lyrics, album covers and anything linked to Prince's likeness. Even photos of Prince-inspired tattoos and license plates were off-limits, they said.
But the age of the citizen marketer does not mean blind obedience. Fan sites banded together to form a protest site: PrinceFansUnited.com, or PFU. Yes, Prince fans formed a site to protest Prince. Strange, certainly. But they argue, correctly, that the Prince-inspired content they create is within the laws regarding freedom of speech and fair use. They want Prince to reconsider his position. If not, they say, they'll defend their position in court.
If that wasn't enough, things took a turn for the weirder on Nov. 8 when Prince sent the protesters a song called "PFUnk" (MP3 here). In it, Prince calls fans "punks" and "turncoats." Sample lyric: "The only reason u say my name Is 2 get ur 15 secs of fame." (Lyrics here). Either way, there's a lot of FU going on.
To top all of that off like a purple cherry, the objects of his derision say "PFUnk" is one of Prince's best songs in years.
We're usually not surprised when overly lawyered companies attack against fans who freely promote and market their products. The mechanics of message management have largely withered away, which frightens those accustomed to dictating relationships.
But this is the "visionary" Prince, whose "New Power Generation" band seemed an apt metaphor for a seismic shift in the creation of and influence of music.
When Prince waged a public battle with his record label years ago over who owned his music, it was a fight of musician vs. big, money-hungry corporation that would capture most of his earnings. Prince changed his name to an unpronounceable symbol and etched "slave" onto the side of his face as protest. Rock on! Fight the power!
But now it's big rock star vs. the new, new power generation, the 1 Percenter fans who have the power to influence multiple layers of other fans.
Who knows if all of this is an evil-genius plan to manufacture controversy or simply a sign of a middle-aged man turning fuddy-duddy. No matter the outcome, it seems that Prince has become what he once despised.
October 30, 2007
Fakers are bad for business
People hate fakers when it comes to buying stuff. In fact, more than half of the people asked for a recent survey said they avoid buying from a company if they even suspect a paid professional is secretly behind the review of a typical, everyday person.
This comes from PR firm Burson-Marsteller and its new study about "e-fluentials," people who are more likely to share their opinions and experiences with others because they typically speak with 50% more people than the average person every day. About 30% of the survey's respondents said fake reviews are a big problem, compared with 20% in 2001. That rise in concern largely mirrors the findings of a recent Nielsen study.
To keep momentum building for user-generated content sites, at least two things should happen pretty quickly:
- Opinion sites must dramatically improve vetting systems for reviewers. Amazon set the standard a few years ago with its Real Name functionality. It's time for the biggies like Yelp, Trip Advisor, and CitySearch to step up.
- Companies of any size, in any industry, must understand that giving yourself glowing reviews using fake names (or hiring or encouraging others to create fake reviews) is not only unethical but bad for business. The amateur Internet detectives always find out. Of course, they're not shy about sharing their findings.
October 10, 2007
Please hammer, don't hurt 'em
Following up on fun with Comcast:
Mona Shaw, a 75-year-old granny in Virginia, got so fed up waiting for Comcast to change her phone service that she smashed up a few items in her local Comcast office with a hammer, all the while shouting, "Have I got your attention now?!"
And 16 months later, Brian's infamous "sleeping Comcast technician" video is still going strong. It's now been viewed more than 1 million times. Google "Comcast" and the video still shows up on the first page of results.
For most companies, these would be iconic stories that would illustrate how bad word of mouth eventually devastated them.
But Comcast isn't like most companies.
September 06, 2007
The Marie Digby head-fake
With a few million views of her homemade music videos on YouTube apparently leading to a rash of TV appearances and a song being featured in a high-profile MTV show, musician Marie Digby seems to be the latest break-out amateur star discovered by the grassroots.
But in another example of how shortcuts on the road to authenticity eventually lead to a cliff, the WSJ tells us in a page-one story that Digby's do-it-yourself music videos were part of her record company's carefully crafted plan to feign amateur status. It's the amateurs who often benefit the most from grassroots-driven word of mouth in our social-media world.
Digby never disclosed her record label affiliation as she worked her way through the world of social media, an important consideration for many music lovers in the search for Artists Who Matter. Digby's MySpace page checkbox for "record label" was blank until the Journal started asking questions (now it says "major" for "record label.") At a recent gig in Los Angeles attended by her own record company executives, Digby said of her YouTube videos, "I just turned on my little iMovie, and here I am!" Nifty-presto!
The fuller story was that her record label, Hollywood Records, had signed her 18 months ago, gave her a Mac, consulted with her on what songs to videotape and even created a studio-level recording of "Umbrella" to post to iTunes.
So Hollywood did what Hollywood does: it airbrushed out parts of reality to create a better illusion, and Digby played along. The grassroots bought it, just as it did for another nubile amateur-out-of-nowhere, Lonelygirl15. Like that young and sweet-faced ingenue, Digby had plenty of professional, behind-the-scenes help.
But if Lonelygirl15 taught us anything (she was quite the precocious type) it's that once the facade of amateur status is broken, a significant portion of the grassroots crowd feels duped. Buzz built on trust dissipates.
When it was announced this summer that Lonelygirl15 was killed off -- she was sacrificed by a cult for her blood... yeah, happens every day around here! -- the world yawned and scratched itself.
Young singer-songwriter Marie Digby is, after all, a real person but launching a promising career (or product, or company) with such careless consideration for authenticity demonstrates remarkably poor judgment about the nature of word of mouth.
Update: Buzz built on trust dissipates because disappointed or even angry buzz can be toxic. There's plenty of the latter spreading hours after the Journal's story appeared. A few of the comments now on Digby's YouTube profile page:
- "It was a lousy thing to do to her true fans."
- "Thanks for selling us out to the corporate machine and lying about who you actually are."
- "The very *reason* so many of us liked her was *because* we thought she wasn't a fabrication of corporate marketers."
- "Building your career on a lie, instead of trusting your own talents and abilities enough to let them do the talking, it won't pay, not in the long run."
Digby has talent and her evangelists are trying to neutralize the naysayers, creating a classic showdown in the theater we cover. Too early to tell if all of this will harm or help her career. After all, publicity built on controversy requires the context of purposeful intent; Marie Digby isn't Madonna, Marilyn Manson or even Mark Cuban, intent on changing the game.
The real point here is that as Bob Dylan once sang, "To live outside the law, you must be honest."
August 14, 2007
Control is (still) out of control
When everyone is a publisher, a broadcaster or a community organizer, the remaining few who cling to withering models of control and censorship may as well put themselves on the endangered species list.
That's why when they suddenly appear, we stop and stare as if they've just been run over on a busy downtown street.
All because David Berlind at ZDNet wanted to host his own after-party with computers and wifi (and free food and drinks) so company exhibitors and journalists could meet, talk and get more info for their stories, including photos and video. All, basically, that would promote the event.
After the company issued its threat, Berlind retorted with a scathing blog post calling on tech journalists to boycott future events. A competitor, ShowStoppers, recognized the opportunity and issued an open invitation for Berlind to organize any gathering he would like after their events. Touche.
As Berlind says, "With the blogosphere and the Net operating on a need for speed basis, [ShowStoppers founder Steve Leon] understands how perfectly complementary a physical social networking event... would be to his events."
Then there's the story of a little-known organization called Morality in Media, a conservative religious group that the New York Times says has been hired by the U.S. government to harvest and review complaints about "obscene matter" on the Internets for possible prosecution. A congressional earmark funds the group's existence, another one of those head-shaking government funding stories.
Other than collect names (and money), Morality in Media has had zero effect. How could it? With over a billion world citizens online, message control or content evaluations imposed by the government, big corporations or just about anyone else has never been weaker. Like ShowStoppers, the blogs and video-sharing sites merely scoot around anything that bows to censorship pressure.
Control has been redirected to the people, no matter how wrong or dangerous that seems to the remaining few.
(Hat tip to Darin Velin for telling us about David Berlind.)
July 31, 2007
A different kind of pigskin
The National Football League takes in over $7 billion per year. I admit, I contribute to that astounding number. I'm a big football fan (go Steelers!)
But the league's wheels seem to be coming off. One of its stars stands accused of despicable crimes of to-the-death dog-fighting. Some of its players are routinely in and out of jail. It refuses to acknowledge a link between players' concussions and their frequent mid-life dementia. It can't be bothered to pay adequate pensions for retired players. This season, it will limit the amount of time web media outlets can show game highlights to 45-seconds. The league has gotten so big and powerful that perhaps it's incapable of recognizing the boundaries of arrogance.
But the latest kicker, if you will, is this: The league is placing advertising space on the backs of photojournalists who cover the game. This season, photographers for local and national media will be required to sport red vests emblazoned with logos of Reebok and Canon.
The photojournalists are not employees of the NFL. Why should they be made to follow the NFL's field-level marketing machine? It creates unwanted conflicts of interest between journalism and advertising.
The NFL says the vests will make it easier for security to identify credentialed photographers on the sidelines. Fine. Take off the logos.
I fear this multi-billion dollar organization is destroying the game I love with a greed-driven mania to monetize every square inch of its reach. Even Advertising Age magazine calls the logoed vest idea "ridiculous."
If you feel the same and want to send a message to the NFL, go here.