Initially Speaking: A One On One With A Three Letter Brand

Ok no cheating, what do the initials QVC stand for? Time’s up. They stand for Quality, Value, and Convenience. These three words have been the brand’s guiding principles since its inception in 1986. A brand, thanks to various marketing initiatives along the way, is now seen in over 300 million homes around the world and last year sales alone generated $8.6B in annual revenues, $3.2B of which came from ecommerce.

It’s a brand that is available, as my fellow Forbes contributor Paula Rosenblum wrote last year in her piece QVC’s Successful Formula For Social Shopping — to view on pretty much any device a shopper has in her hands: from standard web sites to iPads, iPhones and Android devices.

It is also a brand that is very savvy when it comes to marketing — integrated marketing that is or cross-channel marketing of whatever term is hot these days. As Rosenblum put it  “(QVC) serves as an excellent example for retailers seeking to create a consistent customer experience across all engagement and selling platforms.”

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Lightning McQueen, Mater And The Rebranding Of An American Icon

The year was 2006. The marketing medium with the biggest budget was direct mail marketing. Playing in theaters was an animated movie from Pixar about a race car who finds himself on what was once a bustling byway of tourists from around the world that is now a desolate, shell of its once former great self.

The movie of course was CARS and the once bustling byway was and still is, the legendary Route 66. Also known as the Mother Road, it runs from Chicago to Santa Monica and is America’s most celebrated automobile highway and a famous symbol of twentieth-century American culture and history. However, the construction of the interstate highways in the middle of the twentieth century bypassed many communities along Route 66, and subsequently numerous towns and cities along the route have faced economic hardship. It was the inevitable blight which was served as the basis for the film. Continue reading

The most unusual & insightful marketing predictions EVER

I am what many may refer to as a pop culture savant. How else would you describe someone who co-wrote a trivia book entitled Off the Top Of Your Head? The book was essentially a release for myself and two friends (Tim Stanton and Rich Romig) who grew tired of firing one pop culture trivia question after another at each other and decided to put pen to paper.

Don’t bother Googling the book – it never went anywhere past the manuscript stage but it was cathartic to my co-scribes and yours truly for sure. I can tell you we did submit it to Games Magazine to gauge their interest and were told it was “too difficult.” We took a lot of pride in that response.

But that was then, as in a thousand or so years ago and this is today which leads me to the most unusual & insightful marketing predictions EVER. Continue reading

Is The Social Media Slumber Finally Over For Big Brands?

Perhaps it is because I am the father of a 13-year old daughter but whenever I hear the word “slumber” I immediately think of the phrase “slumber party” – which then conjures up fun, unless of course you are the host parent of said party.
However, if you’re a big brand, say on the level of a Fortune 500 brand, your “state of inactivity” – AKA your slumber – when it comes to social media, may finally be over. At least it may finally be over for some as that’s the indication one gets from reviewing data from a recent study from the University of Massachusetts Dartmouth Center for Marketing Research.
You can clearly see the uptake in social media usage across the board re: the big social media networks. Most notably is the increase in blogging among Fortune 500 companies – up 28% in just one year.
However, the study delved deeper into blogging and in fact showed that blogging among Fortune 500 companies is up over 112% since 2008.
And try this stat on for size re: blogging: Brands ranked in the top (Fortune) 200 were more likely to blog than those ranked 300-500.
Here’s some other findings/stats:
  • The 171 Fortune 500 corporations with blogs represented 58 of 75 industries in the Fortune 500.
  • 8 of the top 10 corporations actively post on Twitter.
  • 72 of the 75 industries represented in the Fortune 500 use Facebook &  Twitter
  • Only 1 of the top 10 companies (Ford Motors) is on Instagram.
  • Walmart is the only company among the top 10 to use Foursquare.
  • Half of the top 10 have a Pinterest board.

And speaking of Pinterest, in what should come as no surprise to anyone, it has seen a growth of 350% YOY, 2012 to 2013, going from 2% to 9% adoption among Fortune 500 brands. It is worth noting we’re talking very low numbers – 11 companies in 2012 to 45 in 2013 but, you can surely expect to see that number increase as more and more brands take full advantage of the visual-social networks.

Why Has It Taken So Long?
I am a very curious person by nature so when confronted with facts and figures like those above I am left wondering “why has it taken so long for so many large, multi-billion dollar brands to realize what we already know?”
Social media is not a fad. It is not going to go the way of other fads and one day be found on sale on eBay or discovered by the American Pickers sitting in someone’s farm with dust and cobwebs over it.
It is where your customers and future customers are spending more and more of their time so why would you not want to be there with them?
Not that should I have to do this but I will anyway.
Just some, some of the latest stats re: social media usage:
  • 27% of time spent online is on a social network
  • Facebook has 1.11 billion monthly active users
  • Twitter has over 550 million users
  • More than 1 billion unique users visit YouTube each month
  • There are more than 2.1 million LinkedIn groups
  • Pinterest has nearly 50 million users

So why Mr. & Mrs. Brand?

Why has it taken you so long to come around and why so others among you continue to resist the open invitation to join the party – the social media slumber party?

Here’s a few of the reasons I believe it took so many brands to accept the invitation and/or continue to refuse it:
  • Fear. Pure, unadulterated fear. Fear, when it comes to social media, comes in many shapes and sizes and at or near the top of the list for brands is fear of saying something or doing something stupid – for all the world to see.
  • Lack of true ROI. This reason is perhaps trotted out by more brands as to why they don’t participate in social media. Plenty of articles written about this topic. Here’s a real good one from Natalie Burg, my fellow Forbes contributor: How To Measure Your Social Media Return On Investment
  • Lack of content. I think there are still a great number of brands – both big and small, who know they need to be at the party but simply do not know what to say; what to share, what to post and on and on and on. So they choose to watch from afar, hoping one day to take the leap – which of course they won’t and it won’t matter anyway for it will be too late.

The bottom line to all of this is very simple in my humble opinion.

Now, more than ever, it is vital to establish and maintain a relationship with consumers. And short of going door-to-door or inviting everyone over for a backyard BBQ, the next best alternative is to interact, engage and relate to them via social media.
Come join the social media slumber party.
Pajamas are optional.
Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred, Steve Olenski is a senior creative content strategist at Responsys, a leading global provider of on-demand email and cross-channel marketing solutions. He is a also a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing and co-author of the book StumbleUpon For Dummies. He can be reached via TwitterLinkedIn or Email

When A Brand Promise Backfires

Like every other marketing-related word or phrase, the term “brand promise” has its fair share of definitions. The one I like best is one that I think captures the essence perfectly for it speaks to the relationship marketing aspect.
It was written by Jean Wilcox, one of the authors of the book AbuLLard’s ABC’s of Branding: “A brand promise is the statement that you make to customers that identifies what they should expect for all interactions with your people, products, services and company. It is often associated with the company name and/or logo.”

Wilcox also believes a brand promise is also the tagline for a given brand – and she’s right.
Case in point:
  • Coors Light – “The World’s Most Refreshing Beer”
  • Geico – “15 Minutes Or Less Can Save You 15% Or More On Car Insurance”
  • Nationwide Insurance – “Nationwide Is On Your Side”
Three classic examples of a brand promise and tagline doing the same thing.
The Promised Land
With a not-so-indirect homage to The Boss, what happens when a brand promise backfires? Well, there may or may not be a “dark cloud rising from the desert floor” but, it can cause damage to the brand itself for sure.
Remember a few years ago when the whole News Corp. brand promise took a major blow? It’s promise was to legally investigate and report news and a phone-hacking scandal and questionable journalistic activities did not exactly deliver on that promise now did it?
The brand’s actions had a direct impact and effect on its brand promise.
Not long ago I became aware of a restaurant in New York city called Sushi Yasuda which made headlines when they announced they would no longer accept tips from its patrons.
To me this had red flags written all over it.
How great that you no longer have to worry about how much to leave your server.
Sure sounded like a good idea from a consumer’s perspective.
Or did it?
And then there was the marketing perspective.
Shouldn’t a restaurant’s brand promise have something to do with providing not only great foot but great service? And inherent in that great service are the people delivering that service; that experience.
How would their attitude change knowing they are not receiving a gratuity?

Julia Carcamo, a brand strategist with a number of years of experience in developing food and beverage brands ranging from fine dining to casino buffets says what while the prospect of making a dining experience easier on a guest is always exciting,  eliminating tipping seems to be a quick way to fail at delivering on a promise of great service.

And it all comes down to the people delivering on that promise.
“Like most brands, the rubber hits the road at the point of guest contact,” she said. “You have to hire the people that will deliver on the promise, knowing that promise is even bigger now that you’ve taken the guests’ ability to determine whether their experience was worth a tip and how much it was worth.”
Jan Talamo, who is partner in the award-winning restaurant Catelli Duo (and as CCO of the ad agency Star Group knows a thing or two about marketing/advertising), agrees with Carcamo in that this idea is novel and would generate buzz.
However he doesn’t believe it’s practical for the everyday establishment.
“I believe it would border on entitlement and service would suffer,” said Talamo. “There’s something about tipping that keeps it honest and everybody striving to deliver the best guest experience.”
He adds that tipping plays a role in performance appraisals of employees.
“At the end of the day the amount written in the gratuity line of the check doesn’t lie. From an operators standpoint, we have technology that rates each server by the amount of gratuity they register, hence, another metric to gauge guest satisfaction and server performance.”
Laying Down The Law
Carolyn Richmond is a partner in the law firm Fox Rothschild LLP. She is co-chair of their Hospitality Practice Group which represents and counsels employers in the hospitality industry, specifically restaurants.
She too agrees that an official ‘no tipping’ policy isn’t necessarily a bad idea. She thinks the answer lies in our state legislatures and Congress revising the wage and hour laws and addressing the epidemic of abusive litigation.
“Eliminating tipping is not a final solution, and what lies at the root of this issue are archaic laws that are on the books,” she says. “We have different needs than in 1938. The wage and hourly laws need to be changed with A-to-Z reform.”
Image Source: Google Images 

Opportunity’s Knocking And Marketers Are Not Answering

“Someone’s knocking at the door, somebody’s ringing the bell, someone’s knocking at the door, somebody’s ringing the bell, do me a favor, open the door and let ’em in.”

Being the pop culture savant that I am, the first thing I thought of when I read the headline “Global Study Shows Marketers Missing Digital Opportunity” was the opening lines to the Wings’ song “Let ‘Em In.” See in addition to being a marketing, advertising and branding fanatic, I am also one prone to invoke and evoke otherwise trivial tidbits into my everyday lexicon.
I readily admit I am far from normal, whatever normal is these days. But hey, that’s just me.
The aforementioned headline is from a press release I read on and was in reference to the results of a global study, The State of Online Advertising, conducted by Adobe. As I began to read the release I saw a quote which was highlighted that reaffirmed my inner channeling of Mr. McCartney.
It was from Adobe CMO Ann Lewnes and it went something like this:
“Digital marketing has created a remarkable opportunity, but it comes with higher expectations from consumers. They expect a story tailored specially for them, a level of trust and transparency with the brands they do business with and, most importantly, a great experience. Brands delivering anything less will ultimately be ignored.”
Consumers are the ones knocking at the door and Mr. & Mrs. Online Digital Marketer are not answering the door.
Well in the first place, part of the answer lies in Ms. Lewnes quote. “They expect a story tailored specially for them…”
The word “expect” alone is powerful insomuch as no longer do consumers hope for a personalized experience, they expect it – they demand it. And Ms. Lewnes went on to say “We now have the technology and know-how to target relevant and personalized marketing messaging and media to our customers. Shame on us, if we don’t deliver on that.”
Shame, indeed.
Looking at Ms. Lewnes quote in its entirety tells me that, more than anything else, consumers want a relationship with brands. And with that relationship is an expectation that said brand will maintain “a level of trust and transparency” at all times. Else, as she puts, risk being ignored.
The Effect Or Lack Thereof Of Online Advertising

From the Adobe study:
As you can see from the chart, there is quite the prevailing thought among consumers as to the effectiveness of online advertising and in particular web banner ads. The gap is very wide in the US and Europe when it comes to how effective consumers view online and banner advertising compared to what the marketers entrusted to create them believe.
David C. Edelman, global co-leader, Digital Marketing and Sales Practice, McKinsey & Company didn’t pull any punches in talking about banner advertising and it’s impact on consumers saying:
“Banners have brought much of the worst characteristics of advertising – being intrusive and manipulative, catching one’s eye with hyperbole, and using surreptitiously-captured information – into the digital space. Consumers realize they are now in control and won’t accept it.”

You tell em’ David. Consumers are driving the bus Mr. Kramden (another trivial reference) and marketers need to realize they’re along for the ride.  Oh marketers can and should reference points of interest along the route, AKA content, but make no mistake about it – the driver will decide when to stop and smell the proverbial roses.

Ok, enough metaphors.
A Matter Of Trust
No, I won’t reference the Billy Joel song of the same name, but I will reference this, also from the Adobe study:
Notice a trend?
Consumers are skewed toward the left side of the chart which is home to the non-digital/traditional world whereas marketers place more value than consumers do on the digital side of the ledger.
Could the reason consumers do not trust digital – websites, blogs, social media – be because of the content they are reading and ingesting? Could this content simply be not very good? Not relevant? Too salesy?
No brand would ever do that, right? #sarcasm
You Are So Annoying
Ah to annoy. Something my wife tells me I do to her all the time.
But I digress.
In the world of marketing and advertising, annoy is most definitely a four-letter word for we surely do not want to annoy consumers.
As per the study, here’s the most annoying marketing and advertising methods according to consumers: (in descending order):
  • Phone calls from marketers
  • Pop-up ads
  • Ads before online videos
  • Text message ads
  • Ads in applications/games
The least annoying types (starting with the least):
  • Advertorials in newspapers and magazines
  • TV commercials
  • Product placements in movies/TV shows
  • Google search ads
  • Traditional mail advertising
I don’t know about you but to me the most annoying by far are ads that appear before online videos, especially those you cannot skip. Nothing will turn me off faster to a brand than making me sit through your commercial or video before getting to what I really came to see.
Sources:, Google Images
Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred, Steve Olenski is a senior creative content strategist at Responsys, a leading global provider of on-demand email and cross-channel marketing solutions, and a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing. He can be reached via TwitterLinkedIn or Email

Relationship Marketing And Millennials

Ah Millennials, the much desired demographic of many marketers and advertisers the world over, for they are the future, as well as being the here and now. 
They are the digitized demographic, as some refer to them. At least I just did, anyway. While traditional marketing and advertising techniques have a place at the millennial table, it is the more digital-enhanced methods – i.e. mobile, that seems to play a larger role in capturing the attention of this group.

However one thing that marketers and advertisers need to be reminded of when it comes to Millennials is that they are people, too. I know, I know, shocking right?
Ok, sarcasm aside, the fact is that marketers and advertisers, while trying to outdo one another via the latest digital, multi-media platform, must never lose sight of the fact that Millennials want everyone else wants today: a relationship. With brands that is.
Surely they want other kinds of relationships but that’s for folks like Dr. Phil and those much more qualified than I.

Generation Stress
In fact, I will go you one deeper and tell you that Millennials want, crave and need a relationship perhaps more than any other generation.
One word: stress.
In an article for the Huffington Post back in February, Arianna Huffington referenced a study commissioned by the American Psychological Association which revealed that Millennials are the most stressed demographic. The reasons for their stress are many but the fact is this demographic scored the highest, or is it the lowest? on the stress meter.
Now surely I am not about to tell you that having a relationship with their favorite brand will be a magic stress-relieving elixir for the Millennial generation and in turn create lifelong loyalty with said brand. No, that would be foolish beyond all human comprehension.
But, what I will say is that any brand, advertiser, marketer, whatever that can create a relationship – and I mean a true honest-to-goodness relationship where Mr. and Mrs. Brand really understand a Millennial – well that can only be a good thing. It will surely resonate with this over-stressed crowd and maybe, just maybe, help sway them toward the brass ring: loyalty.
Experience The Relationship
Not too long ago I had the chance to speak with Nancy Smith, the CEO of Analytic Partners, a leading independently-held global marketing analytics firm.
She shared with me the results of a survey her company conducted. It was a national survey which revealed that 48% of people between the ages of 18-44 feel that any loyalty they feel toward brands in the future will be determined by the types of experiences brands create for them.
Now, I realize you may be thinking a few things after looking at the above chart:
“This is supposed to be about Millennials, yet it references those ages 18-44.”

I realize the age breakout is somewhat higher on the back end then what is traditionally considered a Millennial but to be honest I didn’t care all that much about that as the data still includes the Millennials, at least what many think of when they hear the term. And yes I understand that if we looked at ONLY Millennials the numbers may change but I don’t think all that much.
“This uses the word ‘experience’ not ‘relationship.’ Is it the same thing?”

Of course it is. In this context it absolutely is. Do you not experience different things in a given relationship? Of course you do. And it is those experiences that ultimately dictate what kind of relationship it is.
The One Constant
Back in May I attended Interact 2013, the conference hosted by my employer, Responsys. Held in San Francisco, it was a week-long event whose main theme can be summed up in one word: Relationships. Speaker after speaker – from the President of Marketing and Platform at  Responsys Scott Olrich, to Bert Jacobs  founder of The Life Is Good Company, to American hero  Chelsey “Sully” Sullenberger to musician Michael Franti – who performed at a private concert.
Each and every one spoke about relationships in one way, shape or form.
That’s the one constant marketers and advertisers need to remember and never lose sight of: ALL consumers, (and yes perhaps the Millennials more than others) need, want and quite frankly deserve a relationship with you. A two-way relationship with open lines of communication.
Where you address their needs.
Sources: Huffington PostAnalytic PartnersGoogle Images
Named one of the Top 100 Influencers In Social Media (#41) by Social Technology Review and a Top 50 Social Media Blogger by Kred, Steve Olenski is a senior creative content strategist at Responsys, a leading global provider of on-demand email and cross-channel marketing solutions, and a member of the Editorial Board for the Journal of Digital & Social Media Marketing. He can be reached via TwitterLinkedIn or Email