Content + community + analytics = real-time marketing

On the iCrossing Content Lab blog I’ve been talking about how content marketing is a CMO-level priority, as have many other bloggers. But being a priority is one thing; how do senior marketers make content marketing a reality? To address that issue, today my employer iCrossing launched the Live Media Studio, which is the interactive ad industry’s first-ever resource dedicated to real-time marketing.

Based in New York, the studio uses analytics-based insights about digital consumers to develop branded content and engage communities for clients in real time.

In the studio, iCrossing plans and manages the daily editorial production and publication of branded content (such as videos, infographics, articles, blog posts, and tweets) to engage communities. The studio relies on a team of audience researchers, Emmy award-winning content producers, and WOMMA-trained audience managers experienced in real-time content creation.

iCrossing researchers use analytics-based approaches to understand the interests and behaviors of our clients’ communities. Their insights inform the content we develop and community management approaches we undertake.

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How to handle a customer divorce

How do you say goodbye to a customer who no longer wants you?

Smart marketers realize that ex-customers can help or hurt your brand depending on how you treat them when they want to leave. Here are two examples: one from a company that does not understand this reality, and the other from one who does.

The Bad: Earthlink

I recently decided to drop Earthlink for my Internet access at home. I grew tired of its bad service and of being harassed by my friends (“You use Earthlink? They still around? I’ll bet you’re a big fan of AOL, too.”)

After some easy surfing online, I found a phone number to call in order to drop my account. Well, wouldn’t you know? Right off the bat, I’m in phone-tree hell. After enduring the usual awkward voice prompts (“What are you calling about? Please say one of the following options”) and a lengthy hold time, I got through to a human being — who, of course, was disappointed to learn that I was calling to say goodbye.

The Earthlink dude subjected me to a battery of questions about why I wanted to drop the service and how come I wasn’t satisfied when his records showed I had had several conversations with its tech support team. He wanted to open up the service logs and discuss each issue I’d encountered and why those issues were not resolved.

I explained that the very fact those issues (some going back years) were not resolved was good enough reason for me to look elsewhere for service, and at this point it was just time for me to move on . . . so please, what was the next step to do that?

He transferred me to someone else in the billing department.

So the next Earthlink dude again subjected me to a battery of questions about why I wanted to drop the service – kind of like a rinse and repeat of my dialogue with the first Earthlink dude. Earthlink Dude #2 then warned me about all the emails to my dead account that would go unanswered forever (as if I always wanted to read those unsolicited offers to enhance my manhood).

And then he offered me a service that would allow me to check my emails even after I had dropped Earthlink (for a monthly fee, of course). So here’s what happened:

Me: “I have switched to another email provider, so let’s not worry about that. I know you have a job to do, but let’s just use this time to cancel my account.”

Him: “I would like to transfer you to tech support to discuss your issues at this point.”

Me: “Um, no. I’m really done.”

Him: “Then I must put you on hold for awhile to complete this transaction.”

Me: “How long?”

Him: “Just awhile.”

Me: “But we’re done.  Please. I’ve been on the line awhile. I just want to stop being a customer.”

Him: “I need to get information and confirm with Earthlink.”

On, and on . . . and on the conversation went. Eventually I was liberated (I think – I’ll really know when I stop getting billed for service.)

The Good: Netflix

I needed to do some budget cutting last year. Alas, I had to say goodbye to Netflix at least for awhile. Netflix made it easy – but also difficult, in a good way — to say goodbye.

The easy part: you just go online and drop your account by yourself. Just a few clicks and you are done. No muss, no fuss, no pushback, no guilt trip. The site uses clear but friendly language letting you know that you will be missed.

But Netflix makes you think before you drop your account. Via an online interface, Netflix offers you a few alternatives for saving money before you go away, like scaling back your subscription. The offer is not done in an annoying way, more like “Before you go, have you thought about these alternatives?”

And, if you truly do want to stop being a customer, Netflix offers to save your personal preferences for your account in case you want to return some day. Brilliant. In essence, Netflix is saying, “We’re sorry to see you go, but we won’t forget you if you want to come back.”

And after that, Netflix gently follows up with special offers just in case you might want to return – a great approach that only makes me wonder if customers might be tempted to drop Netflix in order to be courted again.

The lesson? Customers can be brand ambassadors or detractors long after they do business with you. Netflix understands. Earthlink does not.


Why Disney Epcot World Showcase is the gold standard

The Disney Epcot World Showcase is one of my favorite favorite destinations because Disney makes learning an engaging experience. The first time I visited the World Showcase, I was skeptical: how fun could it be to visit facsimiles of 11 countries wedged amid 300 acres in Orlando?

But I was quickly won over the by Disney’s famous attention to detail, unfailingly friendly service, and high standards of quality. My family lacks the means to travel around the world and experience other cultures first-hand. But inside Epcot, we can stroll through an Italian plaza, gaze at a minaret in the Morocco pavilion, or eat at a Parisian bistro. And through interactive experiences like the Kim Possible World Showcase Adventure (a creative scavenger hut), families can use mobile devices to explore the park together and learn about different cultures. If you can willingly suspend disbelief as you do with a well-produced movie, you can almost feel like you’re getting a taste of another culture.

My friend and Disney-phile John Hensler of Sunken Anchor Media shared with me an obscure little article from the Norway American Chamber of Commerce that sheds some light on what it’s like for a country to sponsor a pavilion in the World Showcase. Norway is one of the 11 countries represented. The article, which takes the government of Norway to task for not working hard enough to update its pavilion, also describes some of the keys to Epcot’s success:

* Authenticity. Disney visits Oslo to recruit Norwegian nationals to work in the Norway pavilion, which is consistent with my experiences at Epcot. Part of the fun of visiting the World Showcase is taking the time to talk with the people who work in the 11 country pavilions. Ask them where they come from and to describe their stories. They really do represent the countries they represent and will gladly share their lives with you if you ask.

* Impossibly high standards. The article intimates that Disney isn’t the easiest organization with which to work. Companies wanting to bid for projects to enhance Epcot must endure a lengthy approval process from Walt Disney Imagineering. And Disney strives to make available top-quality food and merchandise from the 11 countries represented. Those high standards are evident. With very few exceptions, the attractions are entertaining, the food is excellent, and the merchandise top drawer. (In particular, based on my visits, the apparel at the Mitsukoshi Department Store in Japan pavilion is outstanding, and Le Cellier Steakhouse in the Canada pavilion would be worth seeking regardless of location).

* A strong partnership. Disney relies on its 11 partner countries to carry their share of the burden for keeping Epcot fresh and fun. The country of Canada recently refurbished the Canada pavilion to feature a movie that gives visitors a panoramic, 360-degree tour of Canada hosted by comedian (and Canadian) Martin Short. Disney relies on input from Norwegian national businesses to ensure that merchandise in the Norway pavilion does not become too predictable and boring. During the vaunted Epcot International Food & Wine Festival, Disney works with 25 countries to treat visitors to tapas-sized samplings of cousine ranging from New Zealand lamb sliders to Belgian waffles.

There is no substitute for experiencing international cultures by traveling. But Epcot can provide a first step. As the article says, “Many Americans and visitors from North and South America have their first ‘hands-on’ encounter with Norway while visiting Epcot.'” And if you cannot travel around the world, at least you can get the next best thing and find out why Disney is the gold standard for customer experience.

For more reading check out the Disney blog.

Why marketers love bad boys

Why do bad boys and girls fascinate us? Why do people who thumb their noses at society and sometimes self-destruct capture the attention of marketing and business executives?

I’ve been pondering these questions ever since I saw Dana Anderson of Kraft Foods discuss “The Bad Boys’ Guide to Digital Bliss” April 5 at the Forrester Research Marketing Forum.

Dana riveted the audience by discussing how bad boys like Robert Downey, Jr., and Jack Nicholson can teach marketing executives valuable lessons about living with swagger and embracing the art of being sly. It was fascinating to see an executive from a staid brand like Kraft hold up bad boys as examples for business leaders to follow — and equally fascinating to witness an audience of staid marketing executives eating out of the palm of her hand.

Dana was an excellent presenter, to be sure. But I believe the topic of itself was irresistible to those of us who live in the weeds and wrestle with such weighty topics like how to build our brands with social media. In truth, we love bad boys because they are sexy, they break rules, and they are, well, cool.

Bad boys are sexy

Bonnie and Clyde. King David and Bathsheba. These couples behaved very badly. And their stories are undeniably sexy. According to the Bible (a great journal of bad boy behavior) Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah the Hittite, attracted the attention of King David by bathing in public view of his palace (akin to Monica Lewinsky flashing her thong at President Clinton).

David, a man whose life was defined by bloodshed and passion, promptly seduced her, got her pregnant — and then conspired to have Uriah killed so that he could have Bathsheba all to himself.

Poor Uriah: loyal to his wife, loyal to King David, and apparently far too boring for his Bathsheba and not compelling enough to make David think twice about bumping him off. Uriah is nothing more than a footnote to history. But David and Bathsheba? We remember David as one of the great kings of Israel, and Bathsheba the mother of wise Solomon. They were dangerous, destructive, and sexy.

Bad boys make their own rules

Even the most daring and creative marketers and business leaders live by rules. We have processes for developing ideas. We create our own structures for getting work done every day.

Bad boys fascinate us because they create their own rules for succeeding. They thumb their noses at us, and we reward them with our fascination and interest.

It’s hard to believe now, but in the 1950s, Elvis Presley was viewed as a bad boy. And there would be no modern day rock and roll had Elvis Presley not broken all the rules for how a white entertainer (circa 1954) was supposed to sing and behave. He dressed differently, he sang differently, and he behaved differently.

White male singers were not supposed to dress in gold lame suits and shake their hips on stage. They were supposed to sound like Bing Crosby and Frank Sinatra: safe, romantic, and white. But Elvis broke all those rules (the most important being that he was a white person who sounded black).

Alas, Elvis stopped being a bad boy when his manager Colonel Tom Parker steered his career in the direction of safe, boring movies like Clambake and Harum Scarum. And then for a brief moment in the late 1960s, Elvis recaptured the public’s interest. How? By appearing in a dangerous, skin-tight black leather suit in a memorable Christmas special in 1968 and taunting his fans with a sneer and a swagger. He was a bad boy again – for a while.

Bad boys are cool

Is it the way they embody rebellion? Or is it their ability to laugh at their own bad boy behavior while wallowing in it? I don’t know exactly. But bad boys are cool.

Defining cool is like defining pornography: you just know it when you see it. Jack Nicholson in the 1960s and 1970s was cool. He winked at his fans as he sneered at authority. Robert Downey, Jr., is cool for a different reason: he takes his own bad boy behavior in stride.

On the other hand, Axl Rose and Mel Gibson are uncool because they spew rage (especially Gibson) and try too hard to be “dangerous” (Rose). True bad boys capture our interest because they seem so effortless, natural, and even self- effacing. There is something in us that wants to be cool.

Do bad boys fascinate you? Why? Check out some highlights of Dana’s presentation here and let me know how you feel about bad boys.