Archive for the ‘Branding’ Category

It’s easy to imagine how a company moves to variable pricing. They follow the money. They test into it. They realize that the buying behavior of shoppers varies from day to day and hour to hour. Their analytics tells them that someone using Safari has higher average purchases than someone using Firefox. They know that visitors that come to their website after visiting certain websites are more or less price sensitive than if they come from other referring sites. And sometimes, they’ve even learned that it pays to increase prices based on repeat visits. In other words, on some sites, the best price you’ll ever get is the first one they show you. Shop around, come back, and you’ll pay more. (Sort of like a car salesman, who knows that if you come back, he’s got you, and he doesn’t have to lower his price to make the sale.)

Then a marketing manager or someone in the sales department makes the case that they can improve profits by harnessing all of this data into a variable pricing strategy. It’s hard to argue with the data.

So the company invests in a pricing engine or builds its own pricing algorithms and institutes variable pricing. And guess what? Profits go up. Sales go up because shoppers are getting deals created with their buying habits in mind. After all, it is an accepted rule of Internet marketing (and direct marketing before it) that the more relevant and personalized the offer, the better the response. And milking every extra dollar out of a sale (or, in some cases, many extra dollars) increases profits.

A slam dunk, right?

Anybody who remembers the relevance of that phrase knows where I’m going with this.

Pricing may seem like a commodity, but in fact, it is part of brand identity. As is the relationship a buyer has with a brand. And just to be clear, a retailer is a brand, too. Sure, Target sells brands, but it is also a brand. People shop at Target as opposed to Wal-Mart for many of the same reasons that they choose Land’s End over Old Navy.

If you found out that the person next to you in line paid less for the same sweater at Land’s End than you did, how satisfied with Land’s End would you be?

Some shoppers will be so upset they’ll never come back. And others will find out how to get the lower price, and then make sure they do that from now on.

Let’s call the first shopper a Brand Shopper. And the second a Price Shopper.

Price Shoppers are smart. They find coupon sites. They find discount codes. They follow blogs and Twitter feeds that promise to find and deliver the best prices. Some of them use bots or apps to notify them of the best prices on specific retailers and shopping aggregators.

And in many cases, price shoppers know that brand distinction isn’t as important as it used to be. As Seth Godin famously said, most products these days are “good enough.” In other words, the upcharge for a top brand isn’t always worth it, and price shoppers often know that.

If you are courting price shoppers, then you’re always in a pricing war where the shoppers are as well-armed as you are… sometimes better. And the competition can almost always undercut you… unless you’re the rock bottom price, in which case, you’re not varying your prices anyway. You’re Wal-Mart.

With variable pricing, price shoppers learn when to buy, and when not to buy. The profits you initially expected from this major segment wither away.

Now let’s look at Brand Shoppers, the core of your business. Your house list, so to speak. They love you. They swear by you. They only wear/drive/eat you. But it turns out, brand is about more than just quality, or value. Brand is emotional. Brand lets people willingly buy inferior products out of love, or a sense of belonging, or even habit. In other words, brand is like a relationship, the human kind.

And nobody likes to feel cheated on, or duped, or lied to, or made a fool of. When they do, they dump you like a bag of bread that’s gone moldy.

So what happens to your brand loyalists when they find out that you’re playing fast and loose with pricing and they get no benefit for being a loyal customer? Even worse, what happens when they find out that you’ll give a better discount to someone who’s never bought from you before, rather than they, who sing your praises, evangelize your brand to all who will listen, and buy whatever new product you throw at them?

So yeah, variable pricing looks great from inside the bubble. But can someone please explain to me the value of a brand in a world where we’re made to feel like chumps if we don’t outsource our shopping decisions to mindless shopping bots that always find us the best prices, regardless of source, regardless of emotion, regardless of loyalty?

Like I said. Slam dunk.

As Internet marketers, we learn all about reducing stress and anxiety in the user experience. We put “VeriSign Trusted” certificates on our websites. We us HTTPS and put tiny lock icons all over the place to assure our visitors that their information is safe.

This isn’t a new concept. Businesses have always known that reassuring their customers and earning their trust is a critical component of the sales process.

Trust is why we our parents felt reassured when they saw the “Good Housekeeping Seal of Approval” on products from spray starch and dishwasher detergent to cake mixes and cereal. And trust is why we all feel a little more comfortable when we see that a company has been accredited by the Better Business Bureau.

But are we right to trust The Better Business Bureau? What exactly do their ratings mean, and how does a company get rated?

According to their own website…

BBB Accreditation

BBB has determined that COMPANY NAME meets BBB accreditation standards, which include a commitment to make a good faith effort to resolve any consumer complaints. BBB Accredited Businesses pay a fee for accreditation review/monitoring and for support of BBB services to the public.

BBB accreditation does not mean that the business’ products or services have been evaluated or endorsed by BBB, or that BBB has made a determination as to the business’ product quality or competency in performing services.

And from their explanation about grading:

BBB letter grades represent the BBB’s opinion of the business. The BBB grade is based on BBB file information about the business. In some cases, a business’ grade may be lowered if the BBB does not have sufficient information about the business despite BBB requests for that information from the business.

BBB assigns letter grades from A+ (highest) to F (lowest). In some cases, BBB will not grade the business (indicated by an NR, or “No Rating”) for reasons that include insufficient information about a business or ongoing review/update of the business’ file.

BBB Business Reviews generally explain the most significant factors that raised or lowered a business’ grade.

BBB grades are not a guarantee of a business’ reliability or performance, and BBB recommends that consumers consider a business’ grade in addition to all other available information about the business.

So, according to the Better Business Bureau itself, “BBB grades are not a guarantee of a business’ reliability or performance” and BBB accreditation “does not mean that the business’ products or services have been evaluated or endorsed by BBB.”

So why should we care about a BBB rating? What is the actual value of being accredited by the Better Business Bureau?

Back in November 2010, ABC news reported on a scandal at the Los Angeles BBB, where a group of business owners accused the BBB of “running a “pay for play” scheme in which A+ ratings are awarded to those who pay membership fees, and F ratings used to punish those who don’t.” To prove the point, they paid $425 to the LA BBB and obtained an A- rating for a fictitious company they created called Hamas, named after the Middle Eastern terror group. The ABC News investigators even went to the organization with 2 small business owners and were told their grades of C could be raised to A+ if they paid $395 membership fees.

Picture of the Better Business Bureau A- rating for Hamas, a known terrorist organization

Photo courtesy of http://www.bbbroundup.com

Of course, you can’t find the BBB rating of Hamas anymore. And the BBB investigated the LA BBB for violations and actions they claimed did not follow their policies. On Dec. 22, ABC News reported that William Mitchell, the CEO of the LA Chapter of the BBB resigned amid that ongoing investigation by the national headquarters.

But if you think that the questionable ratings ended there, you would be sorely mistaken. Here are some other companies and their ratings as of 2/18/12:

  • Monsanto A+ (2 complaints closed within the last 3 years)
  • BP America, Inc. A+ (16 complaints closed in last 3 years, BBB knows of no significant government actions involving BP America, Inc.)
  • Charter Communications Inc. A+ (5527 complaints closed in last 3 years, 1488 closed in last 12 months)
  • Citi A- (6383 complaints closed in last 3 years, 2,539 in last 12 months, multiple government actions)

In case you don’t know who Charter Communications is, they were Business Insider’s Worst Company in America 2010. Monsanto is widely considered to be one of the worst environmental criminals in the US, and was the company upon which George Clooney’s movie, Michael Clayton, was based. Citigroup is, well, Citigroup, and just agreed to pay the U.S. $158 Million to settle mortgage fraud claims, which is in addition to the $1.8 Billion Citigroup has to pay the Justice Dept. as part of the $25 Billion mortgage loan settlement from the nations top lenders.

But for me, the real kicker is BP America’s A+ rating, with only 16 complaints in the last 3 years. 16 complaints? No significant government actions? For those of us with short memories, the Deepwater Horizon exploded and sank on April 20, 2010, triggering the worst oil spill in history. Since then, the Justice Dept. has investigated the spill, as has the U.S. House Committee on Energy and Commerce, and President Obama issued an Executive Order establishing a bipartisan National Commission on the BP Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill and Offshore Drilling. No significant government action indeed.

Just to summarize: you can claim to be an organization that blows up buses full of innocent women and children and get an A+ rating from the BBB. You can engage in fraudulent business practices to the point that the U.S. government fines you nearly $2 Billion dollars and you can get an A- rating from the BBB. And you can poison the Gulf of Mexico, destroying the ecosystem and eviscerating the fishing and tourism industries of Louisiana, Mississippi, Alabama and Florida and get an A+ rating from the BBB.

Can someone please explain to me why anybody should ever trust a BBB rating?

Let’s do a little roleplaying. Pretend you’re a kid. Say, 5 or 6. And you’ve been playing, and you’re thirsty, and mommy has just come back from shopping, so you ask mommy if you can have some grape juice, and she says yes.

So you go to the bag of groceries and find this bottle of Fabuloso. Looks like grape juice. Different brand than Welch’s, but mommy always buys different things depending on what’s on sale that week. You’re pretty sure you’ve heard the word on the label. You think it means really cool.

So you twist open the top… it’s hard, like some caps are, but you get it. And you pour some into your favorite sippy cup. And you only spill a little on the counter and a little more on the floor. And then you drink it… and it burns going down, and you cough, and your tummy feels like it’s going to explode… and then you pass out, vomit, and choke to death on your own vomit, all before mommy finishes unloading the car.

Well, that was fun. Luckily, it was just roleplaying. No 5 year old would ever drink cleaning fluid, right? Especially not when it looks like this…

Fabuloso multipurpose cleaner: brightly colored, fruity smelling, and packaged in bottles that look like soda or sports drinks

Pretty bottles all in a row. Delicioso? No, Fabuloso!

Oops. Yes, my friends, that is a picture I took today of a supermarket shelf full of Fabuloso in all its glory. What beautiful packaging! What clever branding! What a great idea! Let’s make our multi-purpose cleaner look like a sports drink or juice and smell like one too. Cleaning is yucky, but everybody likes Gatorade.

What the heck were they thinking? And by the way, if you don’t think anybody would actually mistake Fabuloso for a sports drink or juice, check out this article in The Roanoke Times from 2006 that cites research by a physicians group that documented 94 cases of accidental ingestion in the first 6 months of that year in Texas alone. According to the article, many of the cases were children under 6 years old.

Perhaps that’s the most amazing thing to me: Fabuloso, which is made in Mexico, has been on the market in the US looking pretty much just like this since 1997, and according to Colgate, meets the standards of the U.S Consumer Product Safety Commission. (To be fair, they added a child-safety cap in September of 2006. And everyone knows how foolproof those are.)

Somebody at Colgate Palmolive made the choice to color bottles of Fabuloso like sodas or juice drinks. Somebody made the choice to package them in plastic bottles that look just like a sports drink. Somebody made the choice to make them smell fruity. And somebody made the choice to name them Fabuloso, which sounds absolutely… delicious.

So can someone please explain to me why didn’t someone else with half a brain and an ounce of common sense try and stop them?

I’ve heard old timers talk about how when they were kids they didn’t have TV to deaden their imaginations. They had radio, and their minds needed to fill in the spaces between the words with a world of their own imagining.

I could never really understand their objections. After all, I had TV, but I also had books, shelves upon shelves of books, and I was used to filling in the spaces.

But I finally have my own “when I was knee high to a grasshopper, things were different” speech. Which is good, because I was worried I wasn’t going to turn out to be a grumpy old curmudgeon, but now I can rest easy.

When I was young, we had this toy called Lego. Now before you rush in to say, “We’ve got that now” I’m gonna stop you right there. The Lego you’ve got isn’t the same Lego we had. You’ve got prefabricated, pre-digested, specially formulated snap together reusable plastic model kits.

Now I’m not knocking plastic kits. I built more than my share. When I wanted to build a Boeing B-17G or a ’57 Chevy Bel Air, I bought a model of it. But when I wanted to let my imagination soar, I reached for my Legos and built whatever I could dream up. My “men” were the little single peg pieces, and we didn’t get that many of them. In terms of purpose-built pieces, my Lego had ‘em, too: wheels, with removable tires so the wheels could be pulleys. And none of that stopped me from building space ships and airplanes and bridges and buildings.

Please don’t get me wrong: I would have sold my sister or my dog to get one of the Death Star or Millennium Falcon Lego sets they make now, or the Lego people with arms that move and hands that can hold things. But I couldn’t possibly have realized then what I’ve long since come to understand: give a kid a set of instructions and he learns to assemble, but force a kid to imagine and he learns to create.

And the thing I am most passionately proud of about myself is my ability to create.

Can someone please explain to me what we are teaching our children when all their toys are branded, with back stories and personalities, when we’ve replaced their imaginary landscapes with realistic fantasies played out in pixels on ever-present screens, and when even their Lego comes with instructions and pieces that can only ever fit in one, rather limited, way?

Do you use artificial sweeteners? I don’t, but I’ve been around enough people who do to know that they don’t say, “Pass the Equal.” Right? People say, “Pass me a pink.” or “Are there any yellows in there? No, then I’ll take a blue.”

Until recently, if you asked for a pink, you got a Sweet’N Low. Request a blue and you got Equal. And tell someone to pass you a yellow and you got Splenda. But just the other day I was in a restaurant with my family and when my mom asked me for a blue, which I dutifully handed her. As I did so, though, I noticed that all three packets – blue, pink and yellow – said NutraSweet on them.

That seemed wrong to me. And to my mom. And so I did a little research. The yellow packets, normally Splenda, are expected to contain Sucralose (sucrose combined with chlorine – yummy!) and not aspartame or sugar. The pink packets, normally Sweet’N Low, are supposed to be made of saccharine. And the blue packets, normally Equal, are usually made of Aspartame (derived from aspartic acid and phenylalanine.)

But in that restaurant, the yellow was a blend of cane sugar, ace-k (acesulfame-K), aspartame and neotame. The pink was actually saccharine free and contained ace0k and neotame. And the blue was a blend of Aspartame and ace-k.

Many people who use artificial sweeteners do so for health reasons. They may be diabetic, and need to avoid sugar. Or they may be on a low-carb diet, and have read that aspartame can damage the brains of people on low-carb diets. And they may not be paying very much attention as they reach for that little yellow packet that is now full of things they are trying to avoid by choosing a “yellow.”

Now who would go ahead and play fast and loose with the colors on artificial sweetener packets, and why?

Turns out it’s a partnership between Domino Sugar and NutraSweet, who have developed a brand of sweeteners intended to steal market share from their competition. Who cares if some innocent old lady who forgot her reading glasses grabs a couple of yellows and ends up in a diabetic coma?

The packets began showing up in restaurants and other food service locations first, long before normal consumers could buy them, which meant that the average consumer was unaware the new products even existed. And if you don’t think Domino and NutraSweet were counting on that, think again. According to NutraSweet CEO Craig Petray (as quoted in “A Bitter Sweet Battle Stirs Up Confusion: The Sugar Caddy Wars” on allbusiness.com), “We decided to go into each category — each color — and develop a product that was unique and better…Our goal is to shake everything up a little bit and see what consumers prefer…There are just four colors out there. How many colors are there in a rainbow?”

So is this good business or bad branding? Brilliant packaging or deceptive misrepresentation? Can “Let the buyer beware” absolve a company of deliberately camouflaging a product to look like a different product when the consequences to consumer health can be serious? And more importantly, can someone please explain to me where the FDA or the Consumer Protection Agency are in all of this?

Did you see the bit on HLN about bedbugs infesting firehouses in Albuquerque, New Mexico the other day?

What caught my attention wasn’t the bugs, which are popping up all over the place like Tea Party candidates.

Nor was it the fact that the Firefighter Wives Auxillary Association went to a national high end mattress company and asked them donate 170 mattresses to the firestations, which they did. (You can read the whole story here.)

What hooked me was that the mattress company has requested to remain anonymous.

That’s right — anonymous!

As some of you might know, I co-authored a book with Dr. Richard Steckel about cause related marketing titled “Making Money While Making a Difference: How to Profit with a Nonprofit Partner.”

The entire book is about the positive bottom line benefits of cause-related marketing, an absolute win-win when done right, and while I wrote it over a decade ago, I’m pretty sure I didn’t put in anything about the benefits of anonymous donations.

BECAUSE THERE ARE NONE! At least not to marketing or sales. There are the tax benefits, of course, which must be monumental for 170 mattresses. And as my wife suggested, there may be a religious angle, which I guess would be good for your soul and future accommodations in whichever afterlife you may believe in.

But you have to agree that it’s an unusual move, in this day and age when organizations from NASA to Oakley were falling all over themselves to milk the publicity from helping out the Chilean miners. (Can you say $450 sunglasses, or $41 Million in media exposure?)

I’m still dumbfounded by it. Companies are constantly on the lookout for opportunities to, well, make money while making a difference. Opportunities like this one.

Which leads me to wonder, can someone please explain whether I’m right, or whether I’ve become so jaded that I can’t see an act of charity as anything other than a missed marketing opportunity?

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I was at SMX East Tuesday and attended a session on Facebook advertising. The experts on the panel were talking about how, in order to actually get useful results out of advertising on the world’s largest social network, they had to change their Facebook creative as often as 4-5 times a day to combat blindness, fatigue and annoyance.

Swapping out ads every few hours? Optimizing banner campaigns and paid search and websites on the fly? Managing brand reputations that can change in hours thanks to a viral video or a negative blog post?

When did advertising get so hard?

It used to be, you ran a TV spot on Must See TV and the whole world knew about your product.

It used to be, you rented a great mailing list, sent out a juicy catalog half the size of a phonebook, and watched the orders come rolling in over the phone or in the mail.

It used to be, you did your keyword research, put up a bunch of paid search ads in Google AdWords, and watched people come to your site and buy things.

It’s not like it used to be.

Advertising has gotten really tough. And it’s gotten tough because our target audiences stopped being targets and started being participants.

Now, you have to listen to them – but if you do, you can learn what you need to succeed.

Now you have to engage them – and when you do, they’ll reward you with the real version of the brand loyalty you thought you had before.

Now, you have to treat your customers like a Facebook Friend, a Twitter Follower, an engaged stakeholder – and if you don’t, they’ll find a company who does, but only after they tell everyone how shabbily you treated them. (5 years ago, if you said this to a client, they would have called you crazy and shown you the door.)

The bad news is that there are more channels, more touchpoints, and more tools than ever before, and they’re labor intensive, difficult to quantify, and constantly changing. (Just keeping up with the changes to Google is a full time job!)

The good news is that there are more channels, more touchpoints, and more tools than ever before at our disposal to change the way we relate to our customers.

So can someone please explain to me why, rather than change their methods to get the most advantage out of these newly engaged and empowered customers, so many advertisers are just trying to find a way to make the new mediums work like the old ones?

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I can’t remember the last time I got a personal letter. Even my birthday and anniversary cards are likely to come via email these days. But my daughter got a postcard yesterday from her soon-to-be First Grade teacher telling her how excited she was to meet her when school starts in a few days. Not only was it totally unexpected, but the look on my daughter’s face has already sent the teacher’s Brand Perception through the roof in our family.

My daughter is not alone in responding favorably to Direct Mail. According to the August, 2010 Consumer Channel Preference Study by Epsilon Targeting, 18-34 year-olds overwhelmingly prefer to receive information via postal mail compared to any other medium across a wide variety of categories, with one exception (Travel). (You can download the full study here. And thanks to the TM Tipline newsletter for tipping me off to the new study.)

As you can see from the following sample of products and services, the preference for direct mail over email is staggering. In no case is it less than 2 to 1, and in one case, direct mail beats email by nearly 6 to 1.

Product/Service Mail Email
Sensitive Health 43% 9%
Prescription 41% 11%
General Health 37% 11%
Personal Care 37% 10%
Food Product 36% 11%
Cleaning Product 34% 9%
Financial Services 40% 7%
Insurance 38% 8%
Travel 28% 13%

There’s more in the survey. For instance, when it comes to household products, Newspaper Inserts are in second place, preferred 2 to 3 times more than email. For health related products, information from friends, family and doctors is more desirable than email, although still not as desirable as direct mail. (Maybe that’s because direct mail can be more private and less confrontational than asking your best friend, lover or doctor about a medical need?)

The survey also assessed trust, and found, as expected, that for health care, medical professionals are most trusted. For everything else, friends and family are at the top. The next most trusted source is newspapers, followed by company websites. Social Media like Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter are in the basement at 7-8%.

Source Trust
Doctor/Nurse 80%
Friends or Family 57%
Newspaper 26%
Company Websites 22%
Television 20%
Direct Mail Brochures or Flyers 18%
Radio 16%
Email 12%
Other Online Sites 11%
Cell Phone 9%
Blogs 8%
Facebook 8%
Online Forums 8%
YouTube 7%
Twitter 7%
Other Social Media 7%

So what are we to derive from this survey? Well, aside from the premise that more people prefer and trust dead tree communications (direct mail, newspapers) over electronic ones, I think the big lesson here is that you can’t put all of your communications in one basket. At its best, direct mail only reached a 43% preference. That means that 57% of potential customers want to be communicated with through a different medium.

As the Director of Integrated Marketing at Tanen Directed Advertising, a channel-neutral direct marketing agency, this is good news to me. It supports what I’ve always believed: combined arms tactics beat single tactic strategies every time.

It also means you can never stop testing. What works today may not work tomorrow. Just a few years ago, email was outperforming direct mail. Adults 18-34 may prefer direct mail now, but what will that cohort prefer when it’s made up of today’s tweens and teens? Will people who’ve never even read a newspaper trust one?

Media channels may rise and fall in popularity and effectiveness, but I think it’s safe to say that in the rapidly changing world of advertising, there are no silver bullets, no perfect answers. A multi-channel strategy gives you the best chance of success. More importantly, communications across each channel often reinforce each other, creating synergies you can’t get with a single communication.

Even some of the most successful “social media” campaigns in recent memory have been multi-channel. As Scott Monty, Ford’s head of social media has said,  “If your customers are there, you need to be there too… You need to listen… see how they behave and act similarly.” He was talking about social media, but I say his insight applies to all forms of marketing and advertising.

People live multi-channel lives. They want some information one way, and other information a different way, sometimes at the same time. So can someone please explain to me why there are still some advertisers who operate with a one-channel-fits-all mindset?

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Have you seen the recent Hyundai commercials? The friendly announcer says that recently, Hyundai put cameras into vehicles at dealerships and, according to the company’s press release, “captured the unscripted, unedited remarks of drivers as they tested various Hyundai models.”

Do you believe them?

I don’t.

Over time, anyone who’s ever shopped online and read the customer testimonials has learned how to tell fake reviews from real ones. The fake ones are usually really good or excusably bad (or really bad if they’re fakes created by competitors). Some sites don’t even bother sprinkling in a few negative reviews with the positives, but all positives are a sure sign the reviews are faked, or at least, selectively edited.

Enter Hyundai, with their “Uncensored” commercials. Not a negative comment to be heard. Well, except about Honda, Toyota and other cars. And of course, from people posting comments on their YouTube channel, such as:

laughingcrows (1 week ago)
Give us a break, your “hidden” camera commercials are really insulting.
Don’t lie to us. The American public isn’t that stupid. Or are we?

Censorship isn’t merely a sin of commission. It can be a sin of omission, too. So even if you equate uncensored to unedited, which would be a mistake because the commercials are clearly edited, the choice of only showing positive experiences and comments is in itself an act of censorship, where the negative ads are merely not shown at all.

Uncensored? Hardly.

I can’t help comparing this to the Ford Fiesta Movement, where Ford gave 100 social media storytellers Fiestas to talk about, however they wanted, on their own blogs, YouTube, Twitter, etc. Their campaign was also met with skepticism on blogs, but to his credit, Scott Monty, head of Social Media for Ford, engaged with the negative comments and addressed them head on. So did some of the Fiesta “agents” who defended their abilities to give honest reviews, good or bad, and the freedom Ford gave them to do it.

The recent Ford Fiesta movement is considered a watershed in automobile marketing. With $0 in traditional advertising, the Fiesta, a car available only in Europe, with no history in the US, and Ford’s first subcompact car in over a decade, achieved a stellar a 58% awareness pre-release (exceeding the Ford Fusion after 2 years and hundreds of millions in traditional marketing). It garnered:

  • 11 million social networking impressions
  • 11,000 videos on YouTube
  • 6,000 reservations 4 months before the car was even available
  • 10,000 units sold in the first 6 days of sales.

All for a fraction of what a typical national TV campaign would have cost. I wonder what Hyundai spent on theirs?

Taking another play from the Ford Fiesta Movement playbook, for what they’re calling the “experiential” component of their campaign Hyundai is giving 100 cars out to people who will then discuss their experiences via social media, again ostensibly “uncensored.”

Social Media marketing is about engaging in the conversation, not editing it. It’s about being honest and earning trust. And above all, it’s about disclosing your relationships, so even if you have a bias or financial relationship, you’re not hiding it and people can judge for themselves. (Full Disclosure: I have never owned either a Hyundai or a Ford, although my parents love their Hyundai and in college I made out with a girl in a Ford Mustang.)

The Social Media marketing landscape is littered with the corpses of  unsuccessful campaigns. In the end, many of them failed because they were disingenuous, misleading or downright dishonest.

I found this interesting post on the Dennis Hyundai blog for a Hyundai dealer in Ohio.  It says:

Have you seen the new Hyundais? Come to http://www.dennisimports.com and click on our Hyundai Uncensored Logo, tell us what you think about the new hyundais! If we choose your comments to use in our advertising, we will pay you $1,000!

The post was dated July 9, 2010, about a week after the corporate commercials began running. I’m not implying the original Hyundai Uncensored commercials were “incentivized,” but I’m willing to bet that for $1,000, Dennis Hyundai isn’t going to be using very many negative comments in their ads.

If you’re going to pursue a social media strategy, you have to be authentic.  In discussing social media, business and authenticity in this Wisdom 2.o interview, Tony Hsieh, founder of Zappos.com, said:

“I think that is the only way you are going to succeed. Transparency is going to happen whether you embrace it or not, so you might as well embrace it. I think that is one way to develop a personal and emotional connection.”

So can someone please explain to me what kind of connection Hyundai thinks they’re making with consumers with their Uncensored campaign? Feel free to respond honestly… I promise I won’t censor your comments.

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Have you ever seen a monkey riding a dog herding sheep?

I have.

I was at the Angola Prison Rodeo in Angola, Louisiana, helping my friend Marrus celebrate her 40th Birthday.

What’s the Angola Prison Rodeo, you may ask? (Unless you’ve seen Stir Crazy, of course.)

Well, it’s a rodeo, only the cowboys are prisoners and Angola is a maximum-security penitentiary and so they go at it like they’ve got nothing left to lose. And maybe they don’t, given that Angola’s nickname used to be “The Bloodiest Prison in the World.” Actually, they’re competing for Commissary money, which I was told translates to better food and maybe cigarettes, so, well, you get the picture.

The Angola Prison Rodeo is the longest running Prison Rodeo in the country. One of the crowd’s favorite events is called Convict Poker. 4 prisoners sit around a table, they let loose a bull, and the last one sitting wins. First time they did that, the bull came in directly behind one of the prisoners, and hit so hard all 4 prisoners and the table went airborne.

And yet, Convict Poker was not the most amazing event I witnessed that day. Nor was Wild Cow Milking, Buddy Pick-Up or Guts & Glory.

Because, you see, I saw 3 Capuchin monkeys riding on 3 Border Collies herding a bunch of sheep. And pretty much simultaneously each and every one of The Marrus Pranksters turned to each other and said, “Now I’ve seen everything.”

From our nosebleed seats it was hard to tell if the monkeys were strapped on, drugged or the best darned Border Collie-ridin’ monkeys this side of the Pecos. But I developed a strong opinion when one of them kind of slipped and was sideways to the dog. His little hands were flailing trying to fend off the ground against which the Border Collie seemed determined to bounce him. The trainer came out and righted the monkey, so I’m betting definitely strapped and quite possibly drugged.

We left Angola prison, safely aboard The Hoosegow Express, and took the hours long ride back to New Orleans. The ride was made more enjoyable by mixed drinks and incredible conversation. And every once in a while, someone would blurt out “Holy shit! I just saw monkeys riding dogs herding sheep.” or something to that effect, and then go back to their conversation.

I pulled out my souvenir program to read about it and found, much to my surprise, not a single mention of monkeys riding dogs herding sheep. No pictures. Not even listed on the program. And it’s not the first time they’ve had monkeys riding dogs herding sheep at the Angola Prison Rodeo, according to one of The Marrus Pranksters who’d been there before and accidentally “forgot” to tell us about the spectacle in advance.

In fact, the website doesn’t mention it either. Or the posters. Or the videos. Or the press release. Or the Advertising Opportunity page on the website.  Of course they sell advertising. The rodeo attracts over 70,000 people annually, who spend their money on inmate-created crafts and feast on delicacies like Fried Coca Cola and Alligator Po’ Boys.

And yet, what do you think the first thing everyone who went to that rodeo tells their friends about? What do they tweet and blog and Facebook about?

Monkeys riding dogs herding sheep.

What if it were your business? What if you had something utterly remarkable, a true Seth Godin-worthy Purple Cow? Would you never mention it in any of your marketing materials? Never once discuss it in a press release?

I hear some of you whispering about the practice of not advertising certain off-menu secret items at places like In ‘n Out Burger, and maybe you’ve got a point. Sometimes not talking about something is cooler than talking about it. But I don’t think that’s the case here. And besides, as compelling as Gummy Bear Smoothies at Jamba Juice or Mochi topping at Pinkberry may be, they’re not as remarkable as what we all saw at Angola Prison that day.

So can someone please explain to me why in blazes the Angola Prison Rodeo doesn’t tell people that if they just come on by they’ll get to see monkeys riding dogs herding sheep?

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