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Local Marketing in a Global World and Political Correctness Gone Wild

I’ve written a lot on this blog about edgy vs. inappropriate advertising and where to draw the line. There’s a new controversy afoot over a KFC ad from Australia. When viewed through American eyes, it is nearly impossible to see this ad as anything but racist. However, apparently when viewed from an Australian context, it is anything but racist. You can read all about the controversy in Mashable. The sad part is that the outcry was enough to make KFC chicken out and pull the ad. Worse yet, pulling the ad caused a bit of an outcry with Australians — and rightly so. If the ad wasn’t intended for an American audience and wasn’t ever going to run in America, why should the campaign be changed just because some ignorant whiners in the US didn’t understand it? Yes, companies do need to realize that even local campaigns may be seen globally thanks to social media. And, yes, this is something global companies might want to consider. On the other hand, perhaps the people who are always on the lookout for things to become offended by just so they can feel “progressive” should be ignored from to time. Getting all worked up about an ad meant for another culture (even if that other culture happens to speak the same language) is lame. Part of being politically correct is accepting that you don’t know everything and minding your own business.

Want to Get REALLY Good at Corporate Blogging? Blog for Fun

to_blog_or_not_to_blogThere are all sorts of reasons to start a company blog. A company blog can help build your brand, establish corporate personality, provide a path for direct dialog with customers, help with search engine optimization (SEO) and a host of other cool things. Great content is, arguably, the most important component of a corporate blog — or any blog for that matter — but there’s a lot more to it than just content. Ensuring the blog has a professional look and feel is also key. If it is more inviting and easy to read, people are more likely to linger. And if the blog looks slick and professional, that says a lot about the company (even if readers only notice subconsciously). If it is messy, that says something too. Beyond that, there are a lot of other things that make a good blog great. These include:
  • Usability
  • Use of graphics, images and dynamic content
  • Intuitive archiving and navigation
  • Use of additional pages
  • Effective use of SEO
All this stuff requires extra time and effort, but the pay off is huge. My view is, if you are going to take the time to do it, taking the extra time and effort to do it well only makes sense. I’ve found that one of the best ways to REALLY get good at blogging is to blog about something about which you are passionate. If you are passionate about your corporate blog, consider yourself lucky. My guess is that, for most, even if they enjoy working on their company’s blog, it still feels like work on some level.
Blogging about something you love makes you a better all-around blogger

Blogging about something you love makes you a better all-around blogger

Earlier this year, I started a blog about cycling. My original intent was to use the blog to help keep my riding buddies informed about rides we had planned, share tidbits of info with some of the newer riders in the group and document our training. After only a few weeks, I noticed this blog was getting a LOT of traffic. So much so that I quickly decided to start writing it for a broader audience. Within a few months, my hobby blog had more posts — not to mention more traffic — than my corporate blog, which had been around three times as long. Then, one day, I compared the two side-by-side. I realized that my fun blog, which I did entirely on my own, looked every bit as professional as my corporate blog (which I paid a Web designer to create, customize and get running). Only then did it occur to me how much time and effort I had put in to my bike blog and how much I had learned. Unfortunately, I also realized how much I had neglected my corporate blog. Regardless, the extra experience I gained from my hobby blog has proven invaluable to me. Ultimately, it has had a positive impact on all the various blogs with which I’m involved. If you are building a team to work on your corporate blog, I highly recommend you encourage them to blog on their own as well. A strong case can even be made for allowing them to do a bit of personal blogging on company time every now and again. And if you’ve been given responsibility for spearheading your company’s blog and will be doing most of the heavy lifting yourself, I would, likewise, encourage you to start a blog on the side just for fun. Pick something you are passionate about and I promise you’ll have a great time with it. Even better, if you end up creating something great and you build a big enough following, you might even find ways to monetize it. Just don’t forget about your work blog.

High on Coke — Coca-Cola Embraces Fans’ Facebook Page, Effectively Sharing Ownership of its Brand With Loyal Customers

Was Coke right in sharing ownership of its brand? Yes.

Was Coke right in sharing ownership of its brand?

Coca-Cola is one of the world’s biggest and most well-recognized brands.  It makes me wonder how many billions – or perhaps even trillions – of dollars the company has spent to get there. That’s why it was particularly refreshing to read a recent story in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution about the way the company reacted to the success of a Coca-Cola Facebook page that the company did not create. The page was actually created last year by a pair of 29-year-old Coke fiends in Los Angeles. Dusty Sorg and Michael Jedrzejewski created the page for no other reason than they were passionate about the beverage.  It turned out to be a very popular page. Within a few weeks of its inception, it had hit 75,000 fans.  After the first million fans, the Facebook administrators contacted Coca-Cola to see if it wanted to take over management of the page. Fortunately, Coke’s director of worldwide interactive marketing declined. His thinking was that if the company took the page over, it would be seen as an intrusion and it would lose some of its grass-roots appeal and credibility. Instead, the company rolled out the red carpet for the page’s creators and invited them to headquarters for a sit-down. Ultimately, the decision was made to take a collaborative approach to managing the page between Sorg, Jedrzejewski and a small group of Coca-Cola employees. Today the site has 3,365,220 fans and is the second most popular page on Facebook page right behind Barrack Obama’s.
Coca-Cola superfans given the red carpet treatment

Coca-Cola superfans given the red carpet treatment

In today’s world, a company cannot maintain complete control over its brand no matter how hard it tries or how much money it spends. Brands are being discussed, debated and mutated all across the Internet. And, while companies can’t control their brands, there is still a lot that can be done to influence the discussion. At the end of the day, the key is to for a company to become a legitimate part of the community having the discussion. Relinquishing complete control of your brand can do wonders for your company’s image. Some smart executives at Coca-Cola were well aware of this fact when they addressed this particular situation. This type of thinking may well help Coke become the choice of a new generation.

A Large Coffee, By Any Other Name, Is Still A Large Coffee — Does Starbucks' Crazy Nomenclature Help Its Brand?

One way to avoid the whole size discussion -- while reducing your impact on the planet -- is to take your own mug

One way to avoid the whole size discussion -- while reducing your impact on the planet -- is to take your own mug

I freely admit that I am no fan of Starbucks. It isn’t because I think Starbucks is a big, evil corporation. It isn’t because they have mediocre coffee or that I am opposed to paying $4 for a non-alcoholic beverage. It isn’t because they have automated espresso machines that eliminate the artistry of the Barista and it isn’t that I have a phobia of the stereotypical MacBook-toting customers that infest the place. The reason I dislike Starbucks is the lingo they want me to use. At Starbucks, they want me to call a small a “Tall,” a medium a “Grande” and a large a “Venti.” And I refuse to play along. This is harder than you might think. Every time I go in there (which isn’t very often) I ask for the same thing — a mocha with 4 shots in the smallest cup they offer, hold the whipped cream. Without fail, this brazen act of defiance ignites the same battle of semantics with the person who pushes the button that activates the automated espresso machine (a.k.a the artist formerly known as Barista). “You mean a Tall?” they say, while holding up a small – but not the smallest – cup for me and the rest of the store to inspect. “No, I mean a small,” I say pointing to the stack of the small cups I know damn well they refer to as “Short.” At this point, they grab the small cup and announce to anyone within earshot that I’ll be enjoying a short quad no whip mocha. Never — and I mean not once — have they just said OK and made my drink. It is as if their training demands that they correct me before they commence with the button pushing. I’d be content with this little game — and I’d probably even play along —  if Starbucks was cool and hip and counterculture enough to refuse to conform to a cup size nomenclature thrust upon them by “the man.” But Starbucks is the opposite of cool. In many ways, Starbucks is “the man.” Everything about Starbucks says safe, milktoast, corporate and vapid. That’s why mainstream America embraces it. I’m sure some see this as a branding coup for Starbucks. I see it as an annoyance. Update: It appears I’m not the only one who sees it as an annoyance. A reader sent me the link to this video …

Communications on the Edge

Nothing cracks me up like suicide

Nothing cracks me up like suicide

I’m all about edgy. I like dark twisted humor and laugh at jokes that make many people cringe. I nearly always root for the companies that have the balls to do something different and take risks with communications campaigns that push the limits. But I also have learned — occasionally the hard way — there are times when edgy is simply not the right tool for the job. A recent ad campaign by BBDO Dusseldorf and Pepsi provides an awesome example of where edgy is definitely uncalled for. The ads portray a personification of a lonely calorie offing itself in a variety of gruesome ways. The point they are trying to highlight is the joyous fact that Pepsi Max has but one calorie. The violent and graphic images they use overshadow and muddy that point. Not surprisingly, the ads caused quite a stir. Advertising Age wrote all about the ordeal in an online article that circulated very quickly. If you look at the reader comments about the article, you’ll see that most people agree Pepsi made a big mistake – one that Pepsi’s PR team is currently working to correct. Wholesome Pepsi adBut a surprising number of reader comments defended the campaign. Their comments discuss the importance of being edgy, how political correctness has ruined the advertising business (along with everything else) and how those who are offended should simply “get over it.” The overwhelming majority of these comments came from the folks in the creative or graphics segments of the ad biz. Perhaps the apparent lack of judgment and filters is why ad agencies rarely take these guys to client meetings (a shame, really, because those meetings would probably be a lot more fun if they did). What I find most interesting is that the people who stick up for this particular campaign genuinely don’t appear to understand WHY it is such a colossal screw up. But the reason is simple; it strays way too far from the rather whitewashed and benign brand image that Pepsi has spent more than a century working to create.

Goes great with Thai

Pepsi may call itself the “Choice of a New Generation” but, in reality, they have a customer base that extends across hundreds of cultures and virtually every imaginable demographic. And the bigger and more diverse your audience, the greater the chance an edgy campaign will miss its mark and be seen as offensive or even hurtful. With a customer base as big as Pepsi’s, even if an ad like this only drives off one percent of its customer base, you are still talking about a huge number of people. Where Edgy Works It might seem ironic that the very same ads that worked so miserably for Pepsi could actually work fine for a company that is going after a more specific and targeted audience. I even think the title of the Advertising Age story on the issue works fine. It reads “Pepsi Opens a Vein of Controversy With New Suicide Themed Ads.” Even though it is a little tasteless, most of the magazine’s readership probably recognizes it as clever and are able to take it in stride. Edgy for the sake of being edgy doesn’t make sense. But when it works, it works well. There is a great Wired Magazine article about Ian Woolward, who did a bunch of print ads in the early 1990’s that pushed the envelope and arguably crossed the boundaries of good taste. But they worked (at least I thought so). One of his most infamous works appeared in PC Magazine in the early 1990’s. It was part of a series of ads for Logitech. They were a new company that had just come out with a line of ergonomically- correct mice. The purpose of the ad was to underscore how good the mice felt to use. All of the ads were offbeat, but the one that caused the biggest stir was the “peeing baby” concept. On one half of the page was a diapered baby boy laying on his back with a caption that read “feels good.” On the other half of the page was the same baby – this time without the diaper peeing straight up in the air with a caption that read “feels better.”According to Woolward, “the ad really says that the product is fun to buy, fun to use and is fairly sophisticated because the ad itself is sophisticated.” Did the add “piss off” any potential customers? Yes. But Logitech knew this and accepted it from the outset. But it made me curious enough about the product to run out an buy one and I still use Logitech mice to this day. The VW ad below isn’t real. Though clearly designed by professionals, it was (supposedly) a spoof that just happened to get leaked and go viral big time. While the political correctness police would never allow a company like Volkswagen to air such an ad, if they had, I’d probably be joining the creative types and say “just get over it.”

1+1+1 = Seven — Building a Relationship Between Customers and Your Brand

Custom Seven

A functional work of art

I finally did it. I, a confirmed “hobby slut” decided to make a lifetime commitment to a single activity – cycling. That’s like asking Hugh Hefner to agree to make a lifetime commitment to one woman (as in it is hard to do and probably won’t actually happen). Regardless, I decided to mark the occasion by springing for a bicycle frame made just for me. Living in Portland, Oregon, the bicycle capitol of the United States, I knew it wouldn’t be too tough to find someone who could help provide an introduction to my two-wheeled soul mate. Like a flash, I was off to River City Bicycles. Even in a town littered with bike shops, River City stands out. The staff doesn’t just sell bikes – they share their lifestyle with their customers. For example, Brian, the salesman whom I just happened to ask about custom bikes turns out to be a well-regarded local frame builder himself. And, while River city actually represents three custom bike brands, once Brian had an idea of what I wanted, he only recommended one – Seven. Not only that, he explained why the a carbon frame – which I was what I thought I wanted – wouldn’t be as good as titanium for my specific needs. Phase II of the project was research. The first thing I did was call Seven directly to get an understanding of the process and to get their opinion on frame design, materials, etc. Not surprisingly, they matched Brian’s recommendations. I then scoured the Internet for press coverage and any customer feedback. There was plenty of both and the overwhelming majority of it was really good. Seven and a few of its competitors had even been written up in the New York Times. I quickly learned a few important things. First, that Seven has a somewhat unique business model – the founder of the company has developed a system that enabled them to calculate the perfect frame geometry based on a specific set of measurements and an understanding of how the bike was to be used. He has been able to convert something that is considered an art to more of a science that can be applied repeatedly with great precision. This allows them to automate the process to some degree and gives them the ability to produce a large number of 100% custom products quickly and efficiently. I also learned that this fit system had been tested by one bike expert who purposely sent a few bogus measurements to try and throw them off and found that he was unable to fool them. Finally, I learned how far the company is willing to go to make sure the customer is happy in the event that they didn’t get something exactly right. I was sold.

One of the greatest bike shops in Portland

A week later, I reported to River City, where Danni from the fit department got the process started. The perfect fit on a bicycle meant to be ridden for several hours and, perhaps, more than 100 miles in a day is really important. It is one of the primary reasons to get a custom bike in the first place. She took a bunch of measurements of me and my bike and asked me a series of questions and sent all the information off to Seven. She also arranged a time when someone from Seven could call me for a follow up interview to ask more questions. Technically, I’m not sure this step is necessary to get the bike built correctly. The questions were pretty much the same as the ones Danni had asked. However, it gave me a sense that the company is obsessively detail-oriented and they wanted to make sure everything was right. It also showed that the company values a direct relationship with the customer. While branding might not have been the primary objective of that conversation, it certainly was an awesome by-product. It made me feel as if I was a vital part of a whole team whose sole purpose was to design me the perfect bike. And in some way, I actually was. Afterwards, I was given a Web address and password that let me track my frame through every state of the building process – very cool.
This is my Seven. There is none other like it and this one is mine!

This is my Seven. There is none other like it and this one is mine!

Ten days after we signed off on the design for the bike, the frame arrived at the shop. Not surprisingly, the bike was perfect and I was one happy customer. Thinking back, every step of the process did something to help to enhance my perception of the company. To start, Seven chose to partner with a top-notch bike shop. This is vital. Because I already had an established and personal relationship with the shop, I was much more willing to listen to the advice of the staff – many of whom ride Sevens of their own. In addition, bikes need regular maintenance, so the shop will really be an ambassador of the brand for years after the sale is complete – and River City’s service department has an unparalleled reputation. Next, without ever cutting the bike shop out of the process, they established a direct and personal connection with the customer, and provided a mechanism for staying connected until the frame was ready. Many bicycle manufacturers actively avoid customer contact and rely on the bike shop to be the interface. The contrast in approach couldn’t be clearer. The end result? My affinity toward the Seven brand is probably close to Sonny Barger’s affinity with Harley. The fact that Seven custom builds frames one-off for a specific customer means the chances are high that every customer will be highly satisfied with the product. This gives them a huge advantage over most typical consumer products. It is also not practical for many companies to have a telephone conversation with each and every customer. However, social media, online forums, blogs provide a whole array of tools that can be used to establish a meaningful and personal relationship with a large number of customers while continuously monitoring opinion. Businesses that take advantage of these technologies will have a significant leg up on their competitors.