Being a consumer is a full-time job. It takes time, patience and persistence, which I don’t really have. So as a consumer, I appreciate companies that make my job easier. And I will continue to be your customer, if you do!
Over the past month, I had two very different experiences with two online retailers – Zappos and Overstock.
I ordered a new pair of running shoes from Zappos and selected their ground shipping option, which is free. But in less than 24 hours of ordering my shoes, they were on my front porch. Amazing! Zappos apparently likes to sometimes reward its customers with free overnight shipping… which I love!
However, the shoes didn’t fit, but no problem. The next day I logged onto Zappos.com, printed the return mailing slip and dropped off my box at the UPS box. The best part about it is the return shipping is free!
I will be ordering new running shoes from Zappos as soon as I get my “store” refund. I’m already guaranteed free overnight shipping again for doing this rather than Zappos crediting my credit card.
(Warning: This section is meant to be lengthy and exhausting to read. It was a long drawn out process that is still sucking the life out of me.)
I found a great coffee table and end table on Overstock.com. The furniture had great reviews by Overstock customers and the shipping was free so I felt I couldn’t go wrong.
After about 10 days of waiting for my furniture to arrive, I checked the tracking report. To my surprise it said the shipment was sent back to the warehouse. I called Overstock and the representative said he didn’t know why that “happens.” I couldn’t believe that this seemed to be a reoccurring issue and they weren’t doing anything to fix it. Nonetheless, the rep assured me they were sending me another shipment direct from the warehouse as soon as possible.
I waited another week or so and checked the new tracking reports I was sent from Overstock. They came up blank. UPS had no information on the shipment. By this point, my blood was starting to boil. I called Overstock again and the rep said their tracking department would look into it, but of course that would take another 1-2 business days.
In the meantime, I received the end table, opened it and the furniture was not the same color that Overstock had pictured online. I called Overstock and asked that they just stop the shipment of the coffee table. This wasn’t an option, and I had to wait for the shipment to be sent and then return it. Which was no surprise to me because Overstock does not pay for free return shipping, and shipping furniture is not cheap.
I complained a bit and the rep agreed to free return shipping. I eventually received the coffee table, but a few days later, I got the same shipment again! Now instead of 3 big boxes sitting in the house I had 6, one of which seemed pretty beat up.
I contacted customer service online using the online chat option, an option Overstock pushes pretty hard on its web site and even when you call their toll-free number. The rep agreed to have UPS pick up the merchandise at my house (since I now had 6 big boxes instead of 3). I communicated at least twice that I needed return shipping labels for 6 boxes. Well… I only received 2.
I called Overstock again and explained the label issue. The rep I spoke with said I should have called to communicate this rather than using the online chat. What? Then why do they promote online chat?
So after a month of this back and forth with Overstock, I still have 6 boxes in my house waiting to be picked up and no coffee table or end table! You can be sure that I will never again order from Overstock.
The Bottom Line
Since both these companies sell commodity products, customer service and the overall brand experience is the only way they can set themselves apart from their competition. Zappos clearly nailed it and Overstock didn’t. It is unfortunate that this is my first and last experience with Overstock.
Brands beware that you only receive one chance to make a good first impression. And unfortunately more people tell their friends, family members and co-workers about the bad experiences compared to the good.
Ad Age reported today the results of a Forrester survey revealing that time spent online has leveled off at an average of 12 hours per week.
Meanwhile, back at the ranch…
Nielsen Media Research reported last November the average American watches 142 hours of TV in a month. Last season the typical home had a television on for eight hours and 18 minutes each day. That’s up an hour per day from just 10 years ago.
And the older you are, the more TV you watch. Nielsen said Americans aged 65 and up watch more than 196 hours per month.
Back at Ad Age…
Forrester contends that as consumers become more accustomed to the Internet, they also become more efficient.
I guess that makes sense, but then how do you explain the seemingly endless increases in TV viewing? Certainly we have all become accustomed to the TV enough to become more efficient with our utilization. Right?
Wrong. Americans love their TV. All-in-all, Internet use has flattened out, newspaper and magazine reading has flattened out, even Major League Baseball attendance has flattened out (actually it has dropped).
Meanwhile, somewhere in my head…
I am reminded of a Terrence Mann monologue from the popular movie Screen of Dreams:
People will watch Ray. The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been television. America has rolled by like an army of steamrollers. It has been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt and erased again. But television has marked the time. This set, this screen: it’s a part of our past, Ray. It reminds of us of all that once was good and it could be again. Oh… people will watch Ray. People will most definitely watch.
Heck… who wouldn’t for $928 million? I honestly don’t see Zappos Chief Executive Tony Hsieh living high on the hog though. I saw a story a while back that he only made $30,000 a year and doesn’t believe in sitting in a posh executive office. In fact, he sits in a cubical right along side his employees.
Zappos did not sell out to Amazon. This is only a testament to the business that Tony Hsieh built. Since Amazon couldn’t compete, they purchased the main competition. So kudos to Amazon for such a great move. Also, according to news reports, Amazon is not changing a thing about Zappos. And why would they… apparently Zappos knows how to do it better.
The only aspect that concerns me as a Zappos customer and admirer is now they are public. That tends to change how things operate. But based on my purchase last night from Zappos (I had no idea at the time about this Zappos/Amazon deal), I can tell you that business is as usual at Zappos. I even received an email last night that Zappos upgraded my shipping from standard to overnight! You cannot beat that for customer service.
One of my co-workers is looking for some top bloggers on health products, health supplements, fitness, etc. The plan is to send free product to bloggers to talk about the product… have any tips?
Director of Operations, Canadian health supplements business
By Kayleigh Fitch, Guest Blogger
Assuming the health products are being targeted at consumers and that blogger relations is just one element of a bigger, broader strategy, start by developing a blogger list or database of bloggers you want to target – bloggers who write about health products, supplements, fitness, etc.
1. Start by running a general Google search for fitness and health bloggers.
2. Take time to visit and read the blogs that come up as top results. Get a feel for topics each blogger is interested in writing about.
3. Identify the blogs that appear to be the best fit – based on content – for the products you want to promote.
4. Most influential bloggers host lists of related blogs on their own web sites called blog rolls. Use the blog rolls of the first bloggers you identify as starting points to learn about other influential blogs in the health and fitness industry. You can simply click on the name of a blog, and it will link directly to the home page. Now you can scan these newly identified blogs to see if their content is relevant to your product.
5. When you identify a relevant blog you want to include on your list, use free measurement tools to measure the influence of that blog. At www.compete.com, you can track how many unique visitors the blog reaches each month. Using the search function at www.technorati.com, you will learn how many other sites link back to the blog (Authority) as well as the blog’s rank among all other blogs (the lower the number the better).
Keep track of these numbers, and only include blogs on your list that have the highest unique visitors per month, or authority rankings greater than 10.
If the blog isn’t very influential based on these statistics, but the blogger is an active participant in other social media endeavors such as Twitter, consider including the blog on your list.
As you research blogs you will notice certain bloggers are routinely linked to or referenced by other blogs and web sites in the industry, indicating the more popular and/or credible sources. Popular bloggers are often referenced and sourced by the traditional media as well.
6. In addition to measuring the influence of each blog, it is important to ensure blogs are not spam blogs or “splogs”, artificial blogs using unoriginal content created to promote or increase search engine rankings of affiliated web sites. Splogs often lack contact information for the author or a simple blogger profile and are missing a human voice.
Ultimately, you should visit and become familiar with every blog in your database. It is a lot of work, but worth the effort in order to establish a quality database.
That, of course, is the easy part. Now, to run a campaign…
1. Determine the primary goal of your campaign: Do you want to promote product trial and positive reviews? Do you want the campaign to drive traffic to your web site? Do you simply want to build brand awareness and create impressions?
2. Based on your goals, decide whether you would like the blogger to simply review your product, conduct a giveaway for blog readers, or participate in a more involved challenge.
3. Craft an email to send to the bloggers introducing and describing your company, why it would be beneficial to test/review your product and share results with their readers, and what specifically you would like to offer. Be honest and upfront in your email about what you will provide to the blogger and what you expect in return. Bloggers prefer a more conversational tone when communicating as opposed to business speak. Your information should be more like an invitation than a news release.
4. Send the email and wait to see who responds. Be prepared to modify your offering for an influential blogger with a specific request (i.e. more products to giveaway or a greater sample size). Most bloggers do not post their telephone numbers, so follow-up is generally limited to a second email. If you do not get the response you desire, you may need to improve your offer or send an email indicating the deadline for participation is approaching.
5. Once you have a final list of bloggers who have confirmed they will participate in your campaign, ship/mail products and immediately confirm by email when bloggers should expect the product samples. Be sure to include a personal letter to each blogger, information about the product, and tips for product usage in the package to ensure the blogger understands the key messages to communicate with readers about your product.
6. Monitor blogs for reviews.
7. If a blogger has accepted a free sample, but has not posted a review, follow up to ensure they received the product and discover if they liked/disliked the product.
8. If the blogger has an issue with the product, do your best to address it quickly. To provide the best information, refer back to proper use instructions and chemists or product engineers when possible.
Ultimately, if the blogger just does not like the product, he or she may choose not to post a review at all.
9. Finally, track campaign results (coverage and web site traffic) using Google alerts and analytics.
The Nielson Co. reported this week that the average U.S. home now has more TVs than people – 2.86/household to be precise. That’s a lot of TVs. According to the same reports, more than 114 million homes in the U.S. have at least one TV; if my math is right, that’s 90% (the Census Bureau reports there are now 128 million “housing units” in the U.S.).
I don’t know – maybe it’s because I’ve always loved TV so much – but 10% of households have no TV? I am amazed.
But then again, did you know…
• Less than 90% of Americans have a mobile phone.
• Only 80% of U.S. households have Internet access.
• There are fewer than 10 million U.S. Twitter users (some reports say only 1 million).
• Facebook claims to now have 250 million global members; that’s just 3% of the global population and only a sliver of the U.S.
• About 1,400 daily U.S. newspapers are currently circulated to 48 million readers.
• More than 200 million iPods have been sold worldwide.
And of course there is the radio – in your home and in your car and in your office and on your mobile device. And there are books and movies.
But TV remains the king of all media. At least for today.
“Television is an invention that permits you to be entertained in your living room by people you wouldn’t have in your home.” – David Frost
By Jennifer Manocchio
The short answer is yes.
Blog reviews can increase brand awareness, product trial, SEO rankings, web site traffic and retail and Internet sales. Blog reviews can have this influence because many people read blogs regularly and consider the blogs they follow to be credible resources. Consider that of the 42 million female Internet users in the United States who participate in social media, 43% visit blogs for advice or to get recommendations according to the 2009 Social Media Study.
The key is to identify the goals you want to achieve, identify the target audiences you want to reach and design a campaign that will specifically help you meet those goals. It is also imperative the campaign include a method for measuring the results.
For example, if your goal is to increase product trial among stay-at-home moms, a positive blog review in top “Mommy” blogs will accomplish that goal by alerting followers that it is a good product. You can enhance product trial by also offering giveaways to the blog followers. Most bloggers appreciate giveaways because they engage followers and keep them coming back to their blog.
If you want the blog coverage to drive traffic to your web site or a microsite, employ promotional offers – like coupons, product samples or giveaways – on your site to encourage bloggers to provide a link to your site.
A Case in Point
Sweeney launched a blogger relations campaign for One TIME Wood – a leading outdoor wood sealer – during the second quarter of 2009. The goal of the campaign was to create product awareness, drive consumer traffic to its web site, and increase online sales.
To achieve this objective, the agency created an interactive blogger relations campaign that allowed bloggers to test and compare One TIME’s product against competitive products. Sweeney created the One TIME Wood Protector Challenge and invited the Internet’s top home improvement and mommy bloggers to test One TIME Wood against any traditional wood sealer.
Participants received a challenge kit, including: One TIME Wood Protector, wood sample, paintbrushes, competitor’s sample and instructions. One influential home improvement blogger was given enough One TIME Wood Protector and One TIME Stain and Sealer Remover to refinish an entire deck.
Bloggers were encouraged to report the challenge results on their blogs (positive or negative). As a benefit to the blogger and their readers, One TIME offered a 10% off promotional code for the purchase of One TIME Wood. This also allowed Sweeney to track the sales.
One hundred percent of the participating bloggers raved to their followers about One TIME’s unique performance. In turn, the blogger reviews generated awareness, traffic and sales. In fact, the company experienced 16% increase in Internet sales as a direct result of the blogger relations campaign.
Following is a representative sampling of the actual reviews:
In all, the campaign:
And because these blog reviews are online, they will remain available for consumers to read for many months and years to come.
Have a marketing, public relations, social media or advertising question? Post your question below or email exeqnation at gmail dot com. We are committed to answering your marketing questions real time. And if we don’t know the answer, we’ll contact one of our valued partners who will.
Once upon a time, while a Mass Communications major at Cleveland State University, I conducted a research project to prove a three-part theory:
Part 1: Most newspaper readers mostly read headlines and not full stories
Part 2: Most headlines are sensationalized and do not reflect the true content of the article
Part 3: Lots of people assume the content of the story based on the headline and share it via word-of-mouth
My research supported my theory and I was all fired up about this, but then I graduated and I became an agency professional and time went by and then newspapers started dying. But I had a dream last night about a rather strange and globally read newspaper – Alternative International News Times. Here are just a few of the headlines I remember:
White House Gives Trillions to Business, Then Takes It Right Back With Health Care Plan
• • •
Best Buy Offers Preferred Parking Status to Big Screen TV Owners.
• • •
Indians Finally Win World Series; Forced By Congress To Change Team Name To Cleveland Caucasians
• • •
Michael Jackson Still Dead; Larry King Still Alive
• • •
US Department of Labor Blog Says Twitter Negatively Impacts Productivity
• • •
Study Says Coffee Cures Cancer, Causes Heart Failure
• • •
Tiger Woods Finally Wins 15th Major; Apologizes To Fans For Long Wait
Jimmy Kimmel To Replace Conan; Conan To Replace Jimmy Fallon; Jimmy Fallon Not That Funny
Legalized Pot Rescues California Economy; Legalized Pot Rescues California Economy
All the news that fits, we print.
Sometimes I feel sorry for the color green. It is much maligned and often misunderstood.
A green light is a good thing. It is a sign of approval, as in: “You are good to go.”
A green thumb is a good thing. It indicates that one has the ability to make things grow.
A green person is a bad thing. It is a sign of inexperience and/or jealousy.
And a person who is green around the gills is not a good thing. It implies you are not looking too well.
But the most popular meanings of “green” today – at least in the United States – are money and the environment. To have some green is a good thing. Likewise, keeping the planet green is a good thing. So, green is good.
But wait just a minute. Aren’t we all in agreement that the endless quest for “money” in the U.S. is what is primarily responsible for the destruction of the “environment?” The factories pumping toxins into the air and into the water, the coal miners stripping away at the land, the lumberjack’s destroying the forests, the cars and SUVs sucking up gas and spewing out pollution.
And isn’t the new green the enemy of the old green? Doesn’t Al Gore want smaller, more efficient cars and more land with trees and less coal mining and fewer factories?
So doesn’t that make green good and bad at the same time? I am so confused.
Fortunately, WalMart has it all figured out. They know it is just a matter of time before Al Gore and his goon squad of dogood treehuggers create some kind of ridiculous legislation that requires manufacturers and retailers to be greener, which in turn will cost them truckloads of green in order to be in compliance. So WalMart is being proactive and creating its own environmental regulations.
Sure, it will cost suppliers some extra green, which in turn will cost consumers some extra green, but in the end, WalMart will make a lot of green and eventually become the universal symbol for green… and of course, for green.
This planet has — or rather had — a problem, which was this: most of the people living on it were unhappy for pretty much of the time. Many solutions were suggested for this problem, but most of these were largely concerned with the movements of small green pieces of paper, which is odd because on the whole it wasn’t the small green pieces of paper that were unhappy.
We all knew it was coming. Even the Federal Trade Commission is adding bloggertising (undisclosed blog advertising) to its hit list. But this morning when I came across the Forbes article “Ted Murphy engages bloggers to write on behalf of corporate sponsors. Marketing genius–or payola pimp?” I couldn’t help but be annoyed.
According to the Forbes article, Ted Murphy, founder of Izea Entertainment – a so called social media marketing company – gave popular bloggers a $500 Kmart credit to shop at the store and in exchange, Kmart received rave reviews on the participating bloggers’ web sites. Now certainly their experience could have been sincere; however, knowing that a nice fat carrot was dangled in front of their noses, it is hard to consider those reviews credible.
But that really isn’t what set me over the edge… it’s the $3,000 Murphy’s agency pays bloggers to write reviews for major brands like SeaWorld, Sears, Dirt Devil and Hewlett Packard. Kudos to these bloggers that are brining in the cash and tisk tisk to the marketers and companies buying into this pay for blog model. Not to toot my own horn, but Sweeney could have gotten better, more credible results at a lower investment.
I realize that Izea Entertainment is not the only agency or company participating in these types of activities. But unfortunately, it only takes one incident like this to give marketing and public relations a bad name. And whatever happened to social media marketers preaching that it’s all about transparency?!!!
When we conduct blogger relations for consumer clients, we gladly send bloggers products to test and include additional product for giveaways, but this isn’t any different than how we approach the media. We actually stay away from bloggers that request compensation for reviews. Although, I’m not sure consumers can tell the difference and this is precisely why the FTC is getting involved.
With the FTC blogger regulations, it will soon be necessary for bloggers to disclose that they received a product for free or were compensated to write about their experience. What is unknown is will bloggers be required to completely disclose the amount and/or form of compensation. Will paid trips to company headquarters to test products be considered compensation?
Regardless of the FTC regulations, I’m sure there will still be gray areas and bloggers not disclosing the required information. And agencies like Izea Entertainment will still make money and corporations participating in compensating bloggers will still get excellent reviews. Our only hope is for true and ethical marketers and bloggers to take a stand against bloggertising.
As more and more manufacturing jobs move overseas, American companies go bankrupt and merge, will consumers look to continue to support American-made products? According to a Yankelovich poll last year, 83% said buying U.S.-made products is important to them, but only 37% said they are willing to pay at least a little more for American-made products.
I have to be honest and say I personally never have purchased a product just because it was American made. Not because I’m not patriotic, but rather I am always looking for the best product at the best price (just ask my husband).
For example, as a marathon runner, shoes are a very important purchase. I need a shoe that is lightweight, does not give me blisters, supports my high arches and feels comfortable. After trying various brands, I continue to purchase Asics. Even though I don’t base my running shoe purchase on price because I feel my body is worth the investment, I’m not going to switch to New Balance just because it promotes its products are made in America. When in fact, according to an Advertising Age article in June, only 25% of New Balance’s footwear is made in the United States.
From a marketing standpoint, companies that manufacture products in America should absolutely use this as a key message; however, it most likely will not be the primary or even secondary message. Perhaps it is just a mention on the product packaging or on the web site. Also, the New Balance example brings up the ethical dilemma of when is it appropriate to market that your products are made in America? How much of the manufacturing process needs to take place here – 25%, 50%, 75% or 100% – to make it a valid claim?
It is probably safe to say that the FTC is unlikely to set a standard for “Made in America” like it is currently doing with “green” products. But it will just make you consider what the term “Made in America” really means and how much value it should be given.
My son is a brilliant chemist with a Master’s Degree in Food Science Technology. Despite his advanced education and superior knowledge he is able to communicate with great clarity all the processes and procedures involved in his highly technical food and beverage research. So why is it so very difficult – if not impossible – to get “professionals” in the marketing and communications industry to speak plain English?
Between the contrived language, artificial terms and unnecessary acronyms (UAs) you need a secret decoder ring just to know what they are talking about.
Think I am kidding, or worse, exaggerating? Fine. Following is a series of actual, unedited communications from industry professionals that I have either received in my inbox or read in industry articles and white papers over the past week. Do you know what they are talking about?
This first one is an actual e-mail to me from a vendor.
Right now we are in the process of performing QA in our virtual development environment. Once that is complete, and browsers have been verified we will be ready to schedule a code push. The team can then proceed with regression testing to ensure no other impacts.
If you are under the impression you have just read a transcript from a NASA pre-launch sequence, you would be wrong.
How about this copy from an article in an advertising trade magazine:
But even if reviews offer structured data, it’s not easy to make them an integral part of a company’s internal process and the ones who do have well-defined methods... We use tools to track buzz, track mentions of products and brands and there’s a method to the madness but I can’t say anyone’s discovered it.
Or that anyone understands what you are talking about.
And then there is this:
This data will be used to contextualize the value of integrated business intelligence functionalities and their ability to drive additional cost savings for enterprise IT and telecom departments. Recommended actions: Develop or acquire a full telecom lifecycle management solution to manage the enterprise telecom and network deployment… Choose a solution with a pre-integrated BI solution in place… Implement role-based assignments for telecom and IT-related spend reports.
Yeah, that’s what I would do.
Maybe it’s just me. Maybe I am not as smart as I think I am. But just consider this: If I am in the industry and don’t understand what these people are saying, what chance to those outside our industry have? Unless of course you are simply trying to fool them with your idiomatic doubletalk and gelatinous jabberwocky.
Regardless, just stop it.
Just today Gold’s Gym launched a new membership drive campaign – Say No To Cankles. One of the ads states “Friends don’t let friends get cankles.”
According to the campaign’s microsite (Saynotocankles.com) “Millions of people across the country are currently affected by Cankles and millions more are “at risk.” In fact, it is estimated that if current trends continue, by the year 2012 Cankles will surpass Love Handles as the number one aesthetic affliction in the world.”
I’m sure this is all light-hearted fun, but where did these stats come from? And most importantly, this campaign is a bit offensive. If I had cankles or was overweight, I certainly wouldn’t be joining Gold’s Gym because I would fear people there would look at my cankles, love handles, saddle bags, muffin tops or moobs.
Also, if I refer a friend… will he or she think he or she has cankles?
As a committed Gold’s Gym member, I think this campaign is a bit over the top. It will definitely catch people’s attention, but I’m not convinced it will drive membership.
Is it just me or are we living in incredibly divisive times?
My dog’s faster than your dog,
My dog’s bigger than yours.
My dog’s better ’cause he gets Ken-L Ration,
My dog’s better than yours.
Does Ad Age and/or Abbey Klaassen really believe that we should just forget about Twitter and Facebook now that a couple of corporate executives have figured out that online product reviews are nifty channels of communication? Apparently they do.
According to the story, “for all the ink spilled on the importance of Twitter and Facebook as feedback and customer-service channels, there’s another social-media tool marketers are increasingly finding useful, not just as an online-shopping tool but as an internal, culturally changing consumer-criticism channel: the humble product review.”
Sheesh, that’s high praise for a tool that has been around for more than a century. Ad Age does know that product reviews are not a new idea, right? Well, maybe not.
Regardless, was it necessary for Ad Age and/or Abbey Klaassen to throw the formidable tag team of Twitter and Facebook under the bus just to shower praise on Product Reviews? According to the story, the problem is that Twitter “conversation” and Facebook “chatter” are interesting and important, but not structured.
So, if I tweet my network that Key Bank sucks because they place a 24-hour hold on my deposits, but process my debits in real time, that is not something you can wrap your arms around? Or how about this: If I tweet a link to a product review on Amazon, allowing even more people to see it, does it not have tangible value? Or if I update my Facebook wall about the great time I had at The Melting Pot in Raleigh, NC, will it not resonate?
In point of fact, isn’t any channel of communication that allows organizations to learn more about their constituents (internal and external) important? What about the incoming phone call to customer service? What about the quiet e-mail or the fax or the letter or the business reply card? Aren’t they all important?
As the Ad Age article clearly explains, product reviews are easy to find, easy to read and easy to interpret (they are “structured” and “transparent”). In short, they are the low lying fruit. But I think it is naive and foolish to so readily dismiss other channels of social media simply because they present a challenge. And let’s not ignore the traditional channels; they remain robust and vital sources of insider information.