Archive for November, 2010

Gee, I wonder if songs from the Beatles are on iTunes?!?

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 17, 2010 by matts76

Alright, so you’ve no doubt figured out that a variety of songs and albums and “special” collections from The Beatles are now available on iTunes.  Hell, just click the link to either website mentioned in the first sentence of this post and you’ll be bombarded with the same message.  With the announcement of the availability of The Beatles’ music on iTunes, I’d fully expect a big push online since it’s clearly been a long, drawn out legal battle to get the approvals to offer their songs.  An online push for an online presence of digital files is a natural fit from a marketing perspective.  Then, buzz should grow organically as people, hardcore Beatles fans in particular, start spreading the word that the music is now available.

However, I was turned off by sooo many media outlets giving airtime to this drivel as a major newsworthy tidbit of information.  The economy as a whole is still in the shitter, infighting amongst political parties has taken a new turn for the worst, we’re still at war (with a notable headline today of a living soldier receiving the well-deserved medal of honor after heroic efforts in the ridiculously dangerous Korengal Valley — as an aside, if you’re not up on your geography, check out the documentary Restrepo to get the download on the Valley), and yet, the f’ing Beatles’ songs being available on iTunes stole headlines in every outlet from the WSJ to your local evening news.

From a marketing perspective, I obviously get it that creating dialogue amongst customers and prospects both online and off and driving sales is the name of the game.  However, it seems that the push to grow awareness was over the top in this example.  Given that iTunes is already the top source for music these days, which is pretty impressive given that the service has only been in existence for around ten years give or take, I think plenty of folks would have figured out that The Beatles can now be downloaded.

The organic growth that is spurred by die hards tweeting, facebook posting, sharing links, etc., etc. also drives positive buzz in its own right.  The positive organic growth is now muddled by, and must do battle with, countless posts out there from people who share the “who gives a f*ck” that The Beatles’ songs can be purchased in another way” sentiment that’s been spurred by marketing overexposure.  Those who’ve been beaten over the head with this marketing message in every conceivable media form…online, print, television, radio, word of mouth…you can’t escape! are voicing their opinions.  An organic approach could have kept negative posts to a minimum. Sometimes, a conservative approach to marketing helps to prevent negative impressions of a brand or service that overexposed messages in a short period of time that cause people to yell “enough already” helps grow longer term returns.  That’s all I’m saying.

 

Unsure if Playboy’s Latest Sales Promo is a Golden Ticket from Shrinking Subs

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts with tags , , , , , , on November 15, 2010 by matts76

I’m really curious to see how the latest promotion for Playboy magazine shakes out.  Just in case you live in a cave and don’t know what I’m talking about, I’ll enlighten you, and won’t subject you to the same cliched Willy Wonka comparisons that every other media outlet has made.  Playboy kicked off a “golden ticket” promotion last week whereby newsstand copies of the magazine will potentially include one of ten golden tickets that entitle the reader to attend Hugh Hefner’s Midsummer Night’s Dream party at the Playboy Mansion in addition to other prizes. 

It’s no surprise that sales of the magazine have slumped in recent years, following the trends of the print publication market in general.  Figures from August 2010 indicate that sales of Playboy are off 34% when compared to just a year ago.  Truth be told, the average teen has probably sexted something more explicit than anything that’s ever been in the pages of Playboy.  Also, the wealth of free online porn that exists these days, so I’ve been told ;), severely limits the magazine’s possibilites of filling a void in this space.

This is what makes the latest golden ticket marketing push all the more intriguing.  It’ll be cool to see if this produces any longer term gains, or, just short term buzz and newsstand sell outs.  In doing a web search, a few Twitter feeds report that local copies are sold out in various places around the country.   This is interesting, as it could enhance this marketing effort by boosting perceived scarcity, which, as we all know as consumers, the fewer of something that exists, the more we want it.  Online, there is also a cool “countdown” map that will be filled with push pins as golden tickets are discovered.  I like this site as well, as it engages and gives consumers the perception that “there’s still a chance” to win.  Everybody loves a good challenge.  I do wonder if discovered tickets will have a delay in being reported on the site to keep the momentum going for awhile.

From a marketing perspective, this promotion may be a good short term shot in the arm, but I question whether it will grow any sustainable subscriber growth.  It may be better for the magazine, which relatively recently went through a refresh of its look without changing much content too drastically, as Mr. Hefner is a creature of habit, to refocus on attracting a younger demographic in other ways.

For example, the true dirty little secret about Playboy is that it’s legitimately a good publication that offers quality content.  As a subscriber, one may perceive my opinion as biased, but read on, please and get over the old “I read it for the articles” stereotypes.  The magazine offers great fiction from the likes of Ray Bradbury to Stephen King, and still runs exclusive short fiction pieces from them, along with interviews with celebrities and people in the current spotlight.  Additionally, opinions presented in the magazine’s “Forum,” from the legalization of marijuana to censorship are featured monthly.  I recall grad school marketing coursework where some of these articles were cited as legitimate sources.  Further, most college libraries have subscriptions of Playboy presumably because there is information of value within its pages versus, say “Hustler” or “Swank” which don’t provide quite as much depth of content….though they are respectable publications in their own right…wink wink nudge nudge.

In reading some of the mags to which my wife subscribes, I was hard pressed to find much content of substance and more ads than anything else.

The recent documentary Hugh Hefner: Playboy, Activist, and Rebel further substantiates the depth of the brand beyond the magazines dwindling sales and further supports marketing efforts that will enhance the brand and consumer preferences longer term, beyond a golden ticket.  I won’t get into a detailed breakdown here, hence the link, but the documentary provides a glimpse of how the magazine helped to spark efforts in support of everything from civil rights to humanitarian aid.  A marketing vehicle in of itself, I’m curious as to whether it will open up new markets to help the magazine, either in print or digital format.  Whether it’s women, civil rights activists, or younger Gen Xers or Gen Yers who tend to have greater philanthropic interests in general, it could help grow the market.

It would be interesting to see Playboy go after younger, educated consumers (male and female) from a literary or “source of topical information that’s still somewhat taboo in mainstream media” perspective.  While the golden ticket will undoubtedly drive a bit more buzz on Twitter, in print, and on TV, few will probably remember it in the coming months.  Further, running more pictorials of Kendra or Pam Anderson or similar generates a ho-hum amongst younger readers who are out there these days.  Presenting more on the other content that’s part of the overall mag, like interviews with controversial subject like Cornel West or Pee Wee Herman, could help drive interest more sustainably.

As an aside, when I opened this month’s issue, there was no golden ticket for me.  I’ve got my fingers crossed that Hef will read my post and send it to me.  I’m sure it was an unintentional oversight 🙂

Jos. A Bank – Numbing Promotional Sales

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by matts76

In this installment, I want to cover the increasingly frequent promotions that I’ve heard on the radio as well as received via e-mail, from Jos. A Bank, the men’s clothier.  Per company information that’s listed on Scottrade.com, the clothier generates business through their retail stores and direct marketing efforts.  I’ve shopped at the company’s stores in the past as have friends and family.  However, recently, I’ve noticed and have become numb to frequent marketing messages from the company that all promote deep discounts, BOGO or buy X get X free promos, and so on.  As an example, I’ve included a shot of my e-mail trash box, showing promotions from the company that arrive on nearly a daily basis.  All offer some form of deep discount or saving, so, as a consumer, I’ve pretty much tuned them out because of their frequency.  These days, I check the box next to the e-mails without even reading them and they are deleted.

Worse, from a marketers standpoint, the constant bombardment of sales and discounts has tarnished my impression of the clothing brand and the perceived quality of suits, etc. that are sold.  For example, if I purchase a suit and get two or more for free by doing so, what is the quality and workmanship involved?  It could be very good, but, such offers make me think “hmm…they can barely give these things away…” and ultimately rethink my purchasing options.  Suits are a relatively high involvement purchase, as they’re frequently part of “first impression” scenarios, whether they are interviews, business meetings, presentations, etc.  Most consumers fear embarrassment in its various forms, so avoiding purchases that could cause this is normal.  Offering consistently deep discounts can cause an impression that the quality isn’t very good, so, offering volume discounts makes up for it.  This isn’t necessarily true, but can be perceived that way.

The marketing messages in this case also get lost amongst marketing “noise.”  As a consumer, I know that if I miss the current promotion, another is right on its heels, so, there is no urgency to respond to the message and there is nothing unique that is being offered.  The screenshot from the Jos. A Bank site reveals a great example of this.  The homepage offers two shirts, two pants, and two sweaters for FREE if a sportcoat is purchased.  This promotion is on top of the multitude of BOGO e-mails I’ve received weekly, and nearly daily, from the store.

Again, I also question the quality of items that are offered in multiple quantities at no, or severely discounted, cost.  You know what they say about first impressions and the thought that if something is too good to be true, it probably is.  In this case, the offers are valid from a reputable company, but, as consumers, we’re trained to be skeptics when marketing offers like these present themselves.

While Scottrade has shown that the company’s stock has taken a tumble in recent past, overall, performance remains strong, so, something is working.  In the current economic climate, those shopping for suits and similar clothing no doubt appreciate the incentives for purchasing that has probably helped the strength of Jos. A Bank’s performance.  The company recently was named to a Forbes top 100 list as well, which gives further kudos for strong performance.

From a marketer’s perspective, I do wonder what the long term impact on the brand will be from so many relatively short term promotions.  To me, my perception has shifted from a quality retailer of men’s clothing to a discount mill that sells suits.  I tend to look elsewhere for important clothing purchases because I perceive other retailers to offer better quality and I’m willing to pay for it.  I wonder if I’m the exception, or, if other consumers are feeling this as well.  Feel free to comment.

The takeaways here include:

1.  Don’t discount or offer promotions too frequently – they lose their luster and impact and consumers grow “numb.”  If a consumer finds no need to respond because the promotions occur all the time, sales can suffer.  Instead, try to offer more seasonal, to-be-anticipated sales or promotions that are truly unique and that make customers count the minutes until they can take advantage.  Keep price points higher and perceived, and hopefully real, quality are appreciated. Additionally, it prevents customers from perceiving your brand as “discount” rather than higher-end.

2.  Turn down the volume on the “noise” – Be selective in the volume of marketing messages that are sent to customers, especially those who’ve opted in to e-mail promotion lists, to prevent your message from getting lost amongst the clutter.   As stated earlier, along with the shot of my inbox trash folder, constant promotions get lost and deleted without even reaching the intended consumers.

3.  High-involvement purchases are expected to have premium pricing, hence, the high involvement – Whether it’s a home, car, furniture, or a quality suit, high-involvement purchases tend to have higher prices, so, more research on the part of the customer is common.  That’s marketing 101.  So, if you sell said products, remember this when crafting marketing messages and promotions and keep them as high quality and valuable as the products you’re supposed to be selling.

The Time I Thought Twice About Hooking Up with a Virgin

Posted in Integrated Marketing Thoughts, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , on November 14, 2010 by matts76

It’s about time that I update my blog with some new marketing wisdom, commentary, and humor.  I suppose taking a hiatus of over two years warrants some fresh content to be posted.  I’ve broken online marketing rule #1 which is the importance of keeping content fresh and current.  Ironically enough, this post digs into a topic that was current a few months back but that still has relevance in the realm of online marketing.  Based on the title of this post, you may be here just to satisfy curiosity or because you were *ahem* looking for something else online and search results brought you here.  Either way, I hope you learn something fun about the time I almost couldn’t hook up with a Virgin anymore.  Obviously, I’m referring to Virgin the company, or, more specifically, the Virgin America airline, rather than something shady. 

A few months back, in July, Virgin America ran an exclusive online promotion that lasted just a few hours and offered low rates on flights to specific destination cities to which the airline flies.  I recall receiving the e-mail, to celebrate

Three-Peat Win of #1 Best Domestic Airline by Travel + Leisure’s World’s Best Awards

, and immediately checked out their site for more details.  At the time, my wife and I were considering vacation options and thought the offer presented the perfect solution for booking airfare to LA to visit my brother.

Because of the “limited-time offer” that allowed just a few hours to book, the offer was very popular.  I checked with my wife to gauge interest on booking flights, and, by the time I logged back into the Virgin America website, the response time was sluggish at best.   My theory is that, as people began to receive the e-mail promotion in their inbox, they were checking out the offer, forwarding to friends, etc.  Even Facebook generated a buzz under the Virgin America profile page as people began to talk about the offer.

As they say, patience usually pays off, so, I returned to the site several times to try and complete a booking.  As a member of Virgin’s Elevate flyer program, and a holder of a Virgin America Visa to allow even more points to accrue, I thought that the offer presented a great way to use points to complete my transaction as well.

This is where the company’s marketing problems started to rear their ugly heads.  Because of the popularity of the online offer, the Virgin America website crashed and nobody had a consistent experience when trying to take advantage.  I personally had experienced the site “hanging” and allowing me to book part of our airfare and then a site error message would appear.  Finally, I was able to get to the last page of the online booking process and was using Elevate points to complete it.  As I clicked to complete, I once again received an error page.  Uh oh.  I tried to refresh with no luck.  The site was down completely.

By this point, the Facebook comments were piling up on the Virgin America page.  Customer after customer was commenting that the site was down, that they couldn’t reach customer service at all because the phone lines were flooded and also down, and how they were generally unhappy with the way the promotion was working, or, rather, not working out.

For me personally, the problem grew much worse as I discovered that, upon logging into my Elevate account, that the site took my points but didn’t complete the booking transaction.  I tried to contact the Virgin America support number, but, like Facebook commenters, found that it was essentially knocked off line.

I decided that there was nothing more that I could do and that I’d contact Virgin America the next day.  A short time later, Virgin America posted that the online promotion would be extended so that those who were unable to book could log in and do so.  However, for me personally, this didn’t work either, as I had to work with customer support to get points restored.

The bottom line was that I did get my points restored after a few days but missed out on this marketing promotion.  For marketers in general, there are a few key takeaways.  Here we go:

1.  If offering a limited-time only promotion, especially one that is online and response is nearly instantaneous, be sure that your website’s load capacity has been tested and can handled the spike in traffic and that the e-commerce engine can handle the transactions.  Even if the promotion is executed flawlessly on the front end, the time that wasn’t taken on the back end to make sure that the volume can be handled can be disasterous and tarnish even the best of brands.

2. Should something unexpected happen that causes a hiccup–or in this case all-out heart failure–in the online promotion, be sure that the customer support team is prepared for additional volume.  This is important right after the promotion launches, in particular, as the response tends to be immediate and as the word spreads online, has a domino effect on customer volume increases.  In this case, Virgin America’s 800 line went down, cut people off while talking to customer reps, etc.  While I found the reps to always be personable when I did reach them, the added stress of non-functioning online and phone response mechanisms had them frazzled.  The human element is important for support, but have the tested tools, like adding capacity to 800 numbers and online customer service e-mail boxes, live chat, etc. is equally as important.

Ultimately, I continue to believe that the Virgin America brand is strong and customer oriented.  I’ve flown several times on their non-stop D.C. to LA service and the experience has been positive, from the quality food and beers that can be purchased to the “hip and cool” multimedia experience that is available in their cabins.  They’ve since run a multitude of promotions to celebrate company milestones, from being voted “best of XXX (insert best of whatever here)…” to holiday sales such as Halloween Spook-Taculars, to generally reasonable non-stop flights to the west coast.  Having a parent brand that is known for not being “stuffy” and an ambassador in Richard Branson who lives and breathes what Virgin stands for is also positive reinforcement for the brand.  Because of this, my trust was shaken too severely, especially when compared to other airlines where customer service is truly dead.

I hope that this particular marketing snafu didn’t ruin experiences for first time potential customers whose only experience with the airline was a stressful, fruitless promotional sale booking.  It’s just reinforcement that, when planning to generate buzz online and run a promotion, having all bases covered is important, because the results, good or bad, are instantaneous and today’s f-ups are tomorrows critical blog posts, twitter posts, Facebook posts and (insert whatever the next social media outlet is here) post.