A Lovely Holiday Spam

Earlier today I received an email consisting simply of a graphic card wishing me a happy holiday. What a nice thought… with one problem. I had no idea who this couple was! I racked my brain, asked my husband, and looked through various school and other membership directories to see where I might know them from. Since we’re new to the area, I thought maybe they were people I’d met somewhere and forgotten. I felt awful that these nice people went through the trouble of including us in their holiday wishes and I had no clue who they were. I even considered sending them an apologetic email asking them to remind me where we knew each other from.

Then my husband noticed that the graphic image was hosted on an eponymous website for our apparent friend Stuart. We went to the website and it all became clear. The headline “Stuart Waldman Democrat for Assembly” revealed that this dose of holiday cheer was simply a cynical attempt to con potential voters into thinking friendly thoughts toward the candidate.

If the card had added a line at the bottom with something like “Stuart Waldman, Democrat for Assembly” or even just the URL of his website, it would have made it easy to find out who he was. But as it was, it pretended to be a card from people I know. I am certain that I never gave him my email, and if other incumbent politicians are harvesting my email address from letters I have sent regarding legislation and giving it to him, that’s just sleazy. Spam by any other name would still taste gross.

I don’t appear to be in his district, but I certainly wouldn’t vote for someone who doesn’t mind being deceptive — or even who is just clueless about the niceties of using digital media. The holidays are not a time for spam. And full disclosure of who you are is always in season.

Unlike this guy, I genuinely wish you a happy and peaceful holiday. Thanks to all my readers for giving me your precious time and attention, for leaving great comments, and — in many cases — for your real and virtual friendship.

UPDATE: Stuart kindly sent me an email responding to this post explaining what had happened, which I am publishing here with his permission:

Dear Nedra,

My name is Stuart Waldman, and, now as you know, I am a candidate for State Assembly. I noticed the posting on your blog regarding my holiday greeting, and I apologize for any inconvenience my holiday card may have caused.

I am sorry that you were offended by my email. You are a registered Democrat in West Hills, and your email address came up on a list of registered voters. My election is in June and I thought that I would send out the card, simply to wish you a happy holiday season. You are correct that I should have added a disclaimer that the card was from me. I can assure you that there was nothing sleazy or devious in my intention; it was really just a lack of computer skills and an error on my part. I was having trouble with the computer program and the graphic holiday card, and the footer didn’t show up. I have removed your email address from my list, however, you will still likely be receiving postal mail from my campaign.

If you had replied to the email I sent you, I would have happily told you who I am and why I sent the card, and I’m sorry you felt you couldn’t do that. I am accessible and available to you and this community, and always respond to emails and calls. Please feel free to give me a call [Ed.: cell number deleted] or shoot me an email should you have any more questions.

I hope that you will consider voting for me in spite of my email faux pas. I have been active in the non-profit world for more than a decade, having served on numerous boards. I would be glad to have your support.

I look forward to hearing from you.

Stuart Waldman

Good for Stuart for being on top of what people are saying about him online and responding so quickly to this issue (I received his email the same day, but permission to print it a few days later).

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Sorry, Wrong Number

How is a lovesick penitent like a bad social marketing campaign? Let me count the ways.

Today I received the following text message on my phone:

this cant be the end. An like i said it wuz a mistake (the message) an i apoligize…dats wat i want u 2 understand…i luv u 2 much 2 do that 2 u.

Talk about a wrong number! I picture the sender heartbroken, desperately trying to win his lady back, hoping she’ll change her mind, frantically texting … and sending it to the wrong person. While being moved by the raw human drama embedded in this message, we can also callously extract some social marketing lessons (ah, is there anything in life we cannot somehow tie into this blog’s content? not so far!).

Some thoughts:

  • Don’t make the message all about you and what you want. Show the people you are talking to why it’s in their best interest to do what you are asking them to do. (e.g., “If u give me another chance, I’ll treat u like a queen.”)
  • Be very careful to make sure your messages are reaching your audience. If you talk in the forest and nobody is there to hear it, do you make a sound?
  • If you send out messages that end up backfiring, you may not get another chance to make it right. (I’m intensely curious what the initial offending message was — a message meant for someone else but sent to her? Something he didn’t realize she would be so touchy about? And somehow I’ve decided that it must have been a man sending this, tell me if you think I’m wrong.)
  • The most important things in the world to us and our programs — critical, life-changing issues — may be completely irrelevant or unactionable to other people. Don’t assume that what’s top of your agenda means anything to anyone else.
  • Use multiple methods of reaching your audience rather than putting all your eggs in one basket. I sure hope this guy tries to reach his lady love by phone or in person too, rather than relying on this one text message to convey his request for forgiveness.

Let’s hope our errant Romeo reads my blog or at least figures out some of these lessons for himself. It sounds like he’s going to need to market himself quickly to his audience of one or be back out in the meet market again.

Photo Credit: Macgidtosh

Seussian Marketing

I just came across Stephen Dann‘s fun slideshow on the marketing lessons we can draw from Dr. Seuss. He says,

If Kotler is widely seen as the father of marketing, then Theodor Geisel (aka Dr Seuss) should be proud to be marketing’s funny uncle. Between 1950 and 1965, Dr Seuss inadvertently published a sophisticated range of marketing texts. At the time, these break-through marketing texts were unrecognised by industry and academia, who discarded the theories concerning relationship marketing, promotion, service recovery and product over complication.

“Cat in the Hat” is a lesson in service recovery. “Green Eggs and Ham” teaches us that “integrating the promotional message of trial adoption with a free sample in a low pressure environment provides a greater return than the high pressure awareness campaign.” And the Sneetches provide a case study of the social meaning derived from branding.

Let’s not forget other Seussian social marketing lessons like the Lorax as spokesperson for the trees, the power of community organizing (“Make every Who holler! Make every Who shout!”), and how the Sleep Book establishes social norms by showing that “everybody’s doing it.”

And with this advice, will you succeed?
Yes! You will, indeed!
(98 and 3/4 percent guaranteed.)

Rule Number One: The Product Must Work

I drink a lot of water, partly because I like it and partly on doctor’s orders. I’m not a water snob, and am perfectly happy to drink tap water when at home, but I always try to grab a bottle or two of water before leaving the house. To me, the advantage of bottled water is the convenience factor, and not the quality of the water itself (especially with the recent revelations that brands like Aquafina and Dasani are simply filtered tap water).

I bought a case of Arrowhead water bottles (a brand sold in the Western US) when they were on sale last week. The profile of the bottle looked more ergonomic, and copy on the packaging said that the new “Eco-shape” bottle uses 15% less plastic. Great idea! The narrow “waist” felt really good in my hand, but the plastic walls of the bottle were noticeably thinner and more flimsy. I wouldn’t have minded that, except that whenever I set the bottle down it tipped over or came close to doing so. This happened nearly every time I drank from one of the bottles.(See the picture I took above of the full bottle precariously tilting and the other that wouldn’t even stand up.) Sometimes when twisting off the cap, the bottle itself got twisted and would not open correctly.

So, as much as it’s commendable for the company to reduce its packaging and try to appeal to the eco-consumer, this change has ended up looking more like a cost-cutting measure than a customer-friendly feature. If the product doesn’t do what it’s supposed to do (i.e., provide a convenient way to drink water), this consumer at least will not buy it again.

When commercial products don’t work, they lose customers. Many people, including close friends of mine, have gone through Dell Hell and will never buy their products again. My husband recently had flight cancellation nightmares with United Airlines and has resolved not to fly with them when he has a choice.

It took a long time for electric cars to become widely adopted because, until hybrids came along, they were seen as less powerful than gas-fueled cars. Many have grumbled about the difference in quality of compact fluorescent lightbulbs while still replacing them throughout their homes. People may be tolerant of a slight degradation in quality in exchange for other perceived benefits, like eco-friendliness, but when the product itself just doesn’t work, the trade-off isn’t worth it.

Many of our social marketing products also either do not work the way they are supposed to, or are perceived by the consumer as being ineffective. When that’s the case, people may try it once and decide it’s not worth the effort. The person who gets a flu shot and has a mild flu-like reaction to the vaccine may decide that it didn’t work and therefore they will not bother getting the shot in the future. Exercise does not always live up to its billing as making you feel great and helping you lose weight, though over time it likely will.

If the product either does not work some of the time or for everyone, or if it is perceived as being ineffective, there are two choices: either change the product or change the expectations. Because we often do not have any control over the actual product we are “selling,” we need to be careful of the benefits we promise or we risk losing credibility with the audience. Condoms were initially touted as the answer to HIV prevention, but the fact that they are not 100% effective against HIV and STDs led to somewhat of a backlash. A more realistic understanding of the place of condoms in HIV prevention has emerged over time.

Change the product or change the perception, but remember that if the product doesn’t work you may as well pour your marketing money down the drain.

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Jazz Marketing

I recently came across an article called I Would Rather Be A Jazz Programmer. The article distinguishes between rockstar programmers (which are apparently what companies are looking for these days) and jazz programmers. Before I even read the content, the title got me thinking about what being a jazz marketer might mean.

Far better, I think, to be a jazz marketer, as opposed to a rockstar marketer, who may only have one or two hits that they play over and over again unchanged, even twenty years later. Sure, some people might still want to hear Men Without Hats singing “Safety Dance,” but if that’s all the group can do, they’re not very relevant for today’s listeners. Rockstars may shine brightly, but they can also crash and burn quickly when their audience decides to move on to the next big thing.

On the other hand, jazz marketers have staying power and can quickly change what they are doing to be where the audience is. Jazz marketers…

  • …can improvise on a central theme. They may somewhat change the melody, harmonies or time signature, but the song (or brand) stays recognizable.
  • …know the musical rules and are able to innovate within the traditional structure, as well as break the rules when necessary.
  • …stay on their toes so that when something in the piece starts going in an unexpected direction, they can either go with the flow and make it look like that’s what was supposed to happen all along, or rein it back in if needed.
  • …incorporate influences from many different styles of music. Social marketers particularly draw on disparate fields, from marketing to medicine to anthropology to epidemiology.
  • …let their music come from the grassroots. Rather than originating with royalty or record companies, jazz came straight from self-taught former slaves who were playing what the people wanted to hear. Jazz marketers take their cue from what resonates with the people they are trying to reach, not from what the top brass likes.
  • …can make do with whatever musicians are available. A jazz band can be as effective with two different instruments as with ten. Jazz marketers are able to use many different types of tools, choosing the right ones to suit their audience, budget and objectives.
  • …are too cool to worry about being cool. They are much more interested in doing what works than in what the current fashion happens to be. Both style and substance are important, but substance should win out every time.

So, as you think about what kind of marketer you want to be, try to model yourself more after Dixieland and Chick Corea than the Dixie Chicks.

[If you are more of a classical music buff, you might like this post I wrote back in February on the music of marketing.]

Photo Credit: Fixed Image

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One Word

This afternoon I attended a bridal shower for my daughter’s beloved kindergarten teacher, thrown by the moms of the class. In addition to the requisite food and games, one mom led what I found to be a moving and meaningful activity. She had brought a clear glass vase with a “lucky bamboo” plant inside. She gave each person a smooth dark stone and passed around a silver permanent marker. We were instructed to write a single word on the stone, which would serve as a piece of advice or “word of wisdom” for her coming marriage. Each person then explained why she wrote that word, and put the stone into the vase so the word could be seen through the glass. As the roots of the bamboo plant grow and wrap around the stones, so too will her marriage be putting down its roots with those concepts as its foundation.

Some of the words people wrote included “love,” “cherish,” “communication,” “laugh,” “blessings,” “compromise” and “fun.” One person broke the rules and wrote two words — “sex” and “food” — reflecting the advice her own mom had given her when she got married, that all it takes to make a man happy is to walk into the room naked carrying a sandwich (wasn’t that a Seinfeld episode?). My word was her name, “Shannon,” with the wish that she always remember who she is and not lose her sense of identity when she gets married.

This exercise got me thinking about the idea of finding one word that summarizes my most important piece of advice for marketers (social or otherwise). After thinking for a while, I decided that my one word mantra would be “LISTEN.” Listen to your customers, your target audience, the people you are trying to reach. Ask them about their needs, their wants, what’s important to them. Find out what their lives are like, what they are thinking, feeling and doing. If you don’t listen to them, you will have a hard time designing a marketing strategy that will resonate with their lives.

Now it’s your turn to play the game with me. What would be the one word of advice you would write on a stone for a new marketer? Or what would be your one word of wisdom for success in life? Take your pick and leave it in the comments.

Photo Credit: _McConnell_

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