Category Archives: Huh?

Quit Nagging Me To Death

I’ll state at the outset that I’ve always had a thing about being nagged. It’s probably a mother issue that stems from my tendency to procrastinate or maybe I’m just a rebel at heart. Either way, I don’t like being nagged. You probably have some sensitivity to it yourself.

With that in mind, I’m here to remind all of us that nagging is just as bad as a marketing tactic. Instead of the desired result (a sale), it might lead to the exact opposite (a cancellation, a return, or a vow never to do business with you again). Let me give you an example.

I received yet another email the other day from one of the golf publications to which I’ve subscribed for at least a decade. The email said in big bold letters that

This is your LAST CHANCE to renew your subscription and give a FREE gift.

OMG! I don’t want to miss an issue so I’d better renew right now! Except it’s a lie – my subscription doesn’t expire for well over a year. I went back and looked in my email trash and on average, they send me an email every 3 days urging me to renew. This is on top of the physical mail they send enclosed in an envelope with each month’s magazine as well as the occasional piece of stand-alone snail mail. Enough! Basta! Genug!

Fortunately for them, I enjoy the publication so I’m not going to cancel, but there are a few things any of us can learn from their constant nagging. First, I’ve become numb to whatever they send me. I toss the snail mail and I delete the emails, unopened. I can read the mailing label to see when my subscription really does need renewing. Second, the offer they’re extending really doesn’t benefit me. It’s not a particularly different renewal rate and none of my golfing friends are musing that their lives would be better if only they had a subscription to this magazine. It only benefits the publication – they get a renewal and a new subscriber at a low cost of acquisition. Presumably, they’ll start nagging my friend soon after the first issue arrives.

This publication is far from the only nagger in my life. Amazon’s daily emails, several golf schools, and many others continue to send me nagging messages every day. I do unsubscribe, of course, but new naggers seem to take their place. The messages seem cold and impersonal to me since most of them aren’t personalized beyond the name. I appreciate that people who put things in shopping carts and leave your site might need a little reminder to finish their order or that when you truly have something special going on it’s to the consumer’s benefit to know, but the daily barrage of crap just makes people numb at best or angry at worst.  Deliver value to the consumer. Educate them about your product without nagging them to buy. Explain the benefits in their terms. And don’t nag. After all, nagging is the leading cause of divorce and you can’t have customers divorcing you! What do you think?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?, Reality checks

Can We Distinguish Fact From Fiction?

How good are you at distinguishing fact from fiction? As I’ve written before, I think that is one of the two most important things anyone can learn in their professional (and personal) lives, with the ability to express your thinking clearly orally and in writing being the other. The folks over at The Pew Research Center studied whether members of the public can recognize news as factual – something that’s capable of being proved or disproved by objective evidence – or as an opinion that reflects the beliefs and values of whoever expressed it. The results aren’t particularly surprising but they also are a good reminder to any of us in business.

First, the results. I’m summarizing here but you really should read the entire study – it’s fascinating and gets to a lot of what’s going on in the country today:

The main portion of the study, which measured the public’s ability to distinguish between five factual statements and five opinion statements, found that a majority of Americans correctly identified at least three of the five statements in each set. But this result is only a little better than random guesses. Far fewer Americans got all five correct, and roughly a quarter got most or all wrong. Even more revealing is that certain Americans do far better at parsing through this content than others. Those with high political awareness, those who are very digitally savvy and those who place high levels of trust in the news media are better able than others to accurately identify news-related statements as factual or opinion…Republicans and Democrats were more likely to classify both factual and opinion statements as factual when they appealed most to their side.

In other words, confirmation bias comes in quite a bit of the time.  I raise this because I think it happens all the time in business as well. We receive data that doesn’t support the direction in which we’re taking the business but we reject it as biased. We get complaints from customers but dismiss them as opinion even when there are facts to support the customer’s unhappiness. It all comes back to what the study measured – many of us can’t distinguish fact from fiction.

We need to pay attention to the source of what we’re hearing. Does the data come from an unbiased, third party or is it an opinion? Is the person who is telling you something doing so based on first-hand experience or are they just repeating something they’ve heard elsewhere? Do multiple sources independently report the same information (not quoting one another, in other words) or are you basing a business decision on a single source? If you’ve spent any time in business, you know that even “trusted” sources – your analytics, your financial reports and others – can be manipulated. Always seek the unvarnished, fact-based truth and learn to ignore opinion unless it’s labeled as such. It’s hard to do that, but you’re up to the task, right?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?, Reality checks

Are You Gaslighting Your Customers?

I did something dumb but in the process of rectifying my error, I also learned that some companies are still doing something equally dumb, which is treating their customers as adversaries. Let me explain.

I bought tickets to a concert. As a part of the purchase, I was given the option to download the band’s latest album. As an aside, I’m finding this offer with quite a few of the bands I go to see, and it reinforces the notion in my mind that recorded music is a tiny part of the music business equation these days. The real money is in touring, and giving away an album helps increase the value of a ticket. Who knows – maybe it even gets some folks who might not otherwise go to a show to get out for an evening. What is the incremental cost of a digital download? Next to nothing, but the value is high to a fan.

It was with that digital download that I had my issue. I received an email from Ticketmaster, through whom I had bought the tickets, telling me to click on a link to start the download. It began without issue, but my computer locked up about halfway through the process. I rebooted and tried to restart the download to no avail. The link is single use and I had already clicked on it. The page said that if I’d had a problem to reach out via online help.

I connected to online chat. after a 17 minute wait (during which time they did show me what number I was in the queue), on came “Luis”, my customer service rep. I explained the situation and he went to verify my order, which he was able to do.

I do not show that this artist is part of our Album offer, did you get that email from Ticketmaster?

I cut and pasted the email copy. He asked for the domain that sent it, which I gave him. Here is where the real problem begins.

We have verified the email you have received and unfortunately it is not the same as ours.

Uh yeah, Luis, it is. You’re Ticketmaster and it came from a Ticketmaster domain. But it gets worse.

I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately Ticketmaster does not offer the album.

OK, now I’m angry. I feel as if I’m being gaslighted. They sent me an email about the download and it was in the confirmation email for my order, they gave me a link, the download got halfway through, the artist’s website says they’re giving away a download with each ticket order, and yet the person they have “helping” me is telling me that none of that came from them and there is no offer to begin with.

Here is the end of the discussion which followed my asking him exactly those questions. The time code, by the way, is the duration of the conversation, so we’re over a half hour of my time to clear this up:

00:32:12 Luis: Someone else may have gotten hold of your email address, and sent you the made up information.

00:33:31 KeithR : So let’s see – they know I bought tickets last night and they built links into Ticketmaster for a unique download code which now won’t redeem a second time?

00:33:36 KeithR : Is that your theory?

00:34:51 Luis : I do apologize for the inconvenience but unfortunately the email that was sent to you is not the same domain that is sent by Ticketmaster, unfortunately, since this artist is not part of the album offer shown on our end nor the artist page, we would not be able to further assist you.

Implied next sentence, don’t let the door hit you in the ass as you go away. I use Ticketmaster/Live Nation a lot. I think even they would admit that they are not a beloved entity, mostly because of the multiple and high service fees (most of which are NOT imposed by them!). Any company needs to sit on the same side of the table as its customers, helping them to resolve the problem and not sitting in the adversarial position Luis staked out for himself. By the way, I called Ticketmaster and within minutes had a customer service agent who did just that, aligning herself with my needs and sending an email to a supervisor to get my problem resolved.

I suspect I just got a badly trained or unmotivated agent the first time. I’d be curious if they’re Ticketmaster employees or an outside firm that’s paid on some basis (time on phone/chat, number of calls fielded) rather than on that aligns with customers (cases successfully resolved for the customer). Customers may not have a choice when it comes to buying tickets but they probably do when they’re interacting with your business. How are you treating them?

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Filed under Helpful Hints, Huh?, Music

The Ludovico Technique

One of the most uncomfortable scenes in all of film is the scene in “A Clockwork Orange” in which Alex is made to watch scenes of horrible violence for an extended period of time. His eyes are held open and his head is immobilized. This is part of the fictional aversion therapy known as The Ludovico Technique. It’s forced attention to something.

That’s what a good chunk of marketing has become today. What got me thinking about this was the announcement by Snapchat that they will test a new ad format called “Commercials”, which will be unskippable six-second ads that run in select Snapchat Shows. You want to see the show? Then you WILL watch the ad. It’s not all that rare anymore for various media to force your attention. Been in a taxi lately? Maybe you were subjected to TaxiTV. Nonstop noise and motion that, unfortunately, we humans are wired not to avoid. Maybe your attention was grabbed at the gas pump. $15 of gas and a headache from the TV screen blaring the latest headlines and ads. Or perhaps you didn’t have your headphones on as you waited for your flight to leave and the sound of the overhead TV (and the ads) interfered with your reading. YouTube has a “skip” button after 5 seconds for longer ads but also sells unskippable 6-second ads.

All of these things as forced attention. Disabling the fast-forward button during VOD playback is another. I am well acquainted with the attention-value exchange. We give you free content, you give us your attention which we then sell to sponsors. I made a career in TV and media based on it so I’m a fan. I’m not, however, a fan of taking that attention without consent. You can always change the channel or flip the page if you want to skip the ad. The examples above don’t give you that option.

So where is the issue? Not with the media. Our job is to provide the sponsor with the opportunity to sell something. If the creative is awful, people leave. The focus needs to be on making ads that people want to watch. There is an ad running now with bulldogs substituting for bulls during the Pamplona run. I watch it every single time. There are many other great examples of ads you wouldn’t skip even if you could. Forcing consumers to watch is stealing their attention. It’s subjecting them to a bombardment of crap with any shelter available. Does that sound like a great way to do business?

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Filed under digital media, Huh?

Selling Sneaky Vs. Selling Right

I got called an idiot this morning. OK, not in those exact words, but I was reading an article on social media marketing and a pop-up asked me to download a whitepaper. The choices I was given via the two buttons were “YES, sign me up” or “No, I don’t want the latest research.” It’s a classic example of what is called “confirmshaming”. This is the act of guilting the user into opting into something. If you choose not to, the option to pass is worded in such a way as to shame you into compliance. You can see numerous examples of it here.

That’s just one of the sneaky things marketers do. The worst, of course, is tracking you without your permission. Did you ever hear of a company called InMarket? Me neither, but if you installed one of 800 apps, they’re tracking your every move without your permission. You can read a very well done piece about it in Adweek. Is it legal? No one seems to be sure. Is it ethical? Oh hell no, not in my book. 

Marketing has never really been held up as a paragon of ethical behavior but I’m not sure why many of the folks in the field decided to head for new lows. Maybe it’s because digital tools have made it all much easier, maybe it’s because there aren’t enough grown-ups in the room when these decisions are made, maybe it’s because the drive for money has overtaken common sense. Witness the ongoing effort to force “influencers” to disclose when they’ve been paid to say nice things about a product or service. Besides that requirement being the law, it’s also the right thing to do.

Some more examples? Designing a website or email to focus your attention on one thing in order to distract your attention from something else such as an opt-out button. Asking you to upload your contacts to give you some sort of social or informational benefit but using your address book to spam your friends. Not posting all of the charges and fees until the very last step in checkout or, even worse, hiding them in such as way that they’re hard to find. I think I’ve seen examples of those things just in the last few days. They’re not rare.

Why is there an aversion to the truth? Why can’t we call advertising by its name rather than some misleading name such as “sponsored content” or “special section”? Why can’t we treat consumers as we would a family member rather than a mark?

I’m not naive and I realize that this is about selling stuff. Given the high cost of getting caught, both in dollars (millions of dollars in fines!) and in reputation (check out the latest 20 Most-hated companies and why), those sales derived from the methods described above and others probably aren’t worth it in the long run. That’s my take – what’s yours?

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Filed under Huh?, Thinking Aloud

NECCO Wafers, Sky Bars, And Misplaced Effort

Sky Bar

(Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Our topic this Foodie Friday is the plight of The New England Confectionary Company, makers of NECCO wafers (did you know the name was an acronym?), Sky Bars, and Sweethearts, among other well-known candy brands. There is a fair chance that the 120-year-old company will soon be out of business. Their factory was sold and the company is actively looking for a buyer. The company has notified the city and state that layoffs may soon be coming. The situation is pretty dire.

Even though most of their brands are not really great candies (Sky Bar being the exception in my book), panic has ensued among fans of NECCO wafers. An article on Grubstreet highlights how fans have responded to  one candy-selling website:

The site says that during the month of March, after the panic began, it received 253 emails and 167 phone calls from customers looking for Necco-brand candies. Twenty-nine people offered to pay at least double the going bulk rate, and three reportedly said they’d perform free labor in exchange for priority treatment. One woman wanted 100 pounds of Necco’s glorified Tums, which she planned to vacuum-seal to keep her prepper stash fresh “for years.” (A standard 24-wafer roll weighs 2.02 ounces, so she was requesting about 800 packs.) Another woman said she’d trade her late-model Honda Accord for all of CandyStore.com’s remaining Necco candy.

There is a lesson in this for any business since these hard-core fans seem to be preparing for a funeral rather than figuring out how to cure the disease. All of their panic buying is misplaced effort since what they should be doing is trying to get the company the capital it needs to continue operations. While 420 people may have asked how to buy candy, only 73 people have donated to a GoFundMe campaign the CEO has organized. He, by the way, is apparently clueless about the difference between donation crowdfunding and equity crowdfunding since he had to amend his campaign to say he can’t offer stock:

We have been informed by several people that we cannot offer shares in the company in return for your donations. We are sorry, we do not know if they are right or wrong but we can’t take the chance . If you would like us to return your donation just let us know.

He is apparently in panic mode too and hasn’t sought advice from anyone who is familiar with equity crowdfunding or maybe even an initial coin offering.  Running scared will do that to you, although I know $20 million isn’t just laying around the street anyplace. I’d rather find customers than investors.

Worrying about the symptoms instead of the disease is generally a futile exercise in the long-term. I recognize that when someone is bleeding out you have to staunch the flow before you can worry about what caused it, but in this case, the efforts that have been made by fans of the company (buying up all the product) won’t be as effective as sending the money directly to the company. The company, for its part, hasn’t been very proactive. The factory was sold a year ago and this situation has been coming ever since. I don’t know how they involved their supply chain and their customers in stabilizing the situation, but the fact that they’re down to asking for money on GoFundMe (and it would be among the largest non-blockchain crowdfunding projects if it works) tells me that a lot of time was wasted.

Stay tuned!

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Filed under Consulting, food, Huh?

Flying Blind

I almost called this post “Nobody Knows Anything” but that might have been overkill. I’ll say what I have to say and let you be the judge. Let’s say that you buy a friend’s newborn a gift. You have it shipped to your house. The data says, correctly, that you bought an infant gift. That might also lead to an inferred piece of data that places your household into the “presence of infant” bin, leading to you seeing lots of ads for diapers. If you’re the one placing the ads for those diapers, you’re wasting money.

Lots of the data marketers routinely use is of that sort. It’s inferred. You can see that some thinking at work if you’re a Netflix user: the recommendation engine infers what you might like based on your past viewing. Of course, if your kids or someone else in the house watch something in which you have no interest, the accuracy of those recommendations is diminished (which is part of why there are separate profiles available when you log in). Inaccurate data is, sadly, more the norm than an aberration. Since this data is really what’s behind personalization and targeting, that inaccuracy is a big problem. Any business that buys data from third parties – and an awful lot do so – may be putting garbage into their system. Unfortunately, most don’t know that because there is little transparency in the data business and it’s impossible to verify what’s good and what’s not.

What should you do? Invest in collecting your own, first-person data. You can also demand transparency in any other data you use (good luck with that) with respect to how it was gathered and what it really represents. Is it inferred or does it come directly from consumers (did someone tell you they had a baby in the house or did you guess they did because they bought one infant item?). Who owns the data and was it gathered with the consumer’s permission?

When Facebook tells its customers (marketers) that they have data on 41 million adults aged 18-49 in the US and there are only 31 million of those adults living in the US, you know much of the data is inferred and also that we have a problem. A recent study that found that 70% of marketers believe that the customer data their organizations are using for marketing is low quality or inconsistent. Why bother to market at all when you’re just flying blind?

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Filed under Consulting, Huh?