Archive for the ‘Relationship Marketing’ 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.

I just saw “The Social Network” and I loved it. Aaron Sorkin proved once again that he is the best dialogue writer in Hollywood (followed closely by Quentin Tarantino and Diablo Cody, IMHO). His words, and director David Fincher’s skill, kept the movie flowing and riveting, never once sounding anything but utterly real and believable.

And Jesse Eisenberg made Mark Zuckerberg into an everyman for our generation.

In the first scene, Zuckerberg tells his girlfriend that there are more geniuses in China than there are people in the US. We begin to see Zuckerberg as an everyman: even though he’s a genius, and knows it, that doesn’t guarantee entry into the members-only clubs where the cool people hang out.

“The Social Network” is about us, all of us, trying to fit in, looking for a place to belong, and finding our voice: collectively and individually. It’s a messy process, and there will be sins of commission and omission along the way.

I heard a reviewer on whatever cable channel was on at the time saying that this movie isn’t just the movie of a decade, it’s the movie of the generation, and that got me thinking.

We live in a time that future generations will look back on as revolutionary. And it’s not revolutionary because men like Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg built products and companies that changed everything: it’s revolutionary because society was ready to embrace the new world their creations helped birth.

That new world is the world of virtually simultaneous, planet-wide shared awareness, perception and discussion.

Think about it. How do you get your information now? How do you experience the world? And most importantly, how do you share it, and what’s the lag time between discovery and dissemination?

I used to be a newspaper junkie. Then a Google News Junkie. Now, I have a News list on Twitter that gets the latest updates from the WSJ, The NY Times, Huffington Post, CNN, Mashable, Techcrunch and more. (The WSJ alone has dozens of Twitter feeds.) Now I can finally scan the news quickly and easily and know what’s going on everywhere instantly.

A few days ago, the shooting at the University of Texas was first reported on Twitter by students on campus. And as the situation developed, the local police were sending out their “official updates” to the news networks via Twitter.

The implications for Marketing and Advertising are sweeping. Because in the new era, ideas don’t spread because you throw money into spreading them. An idea spreads now because the wired-together world likes it and tells itself about it. The internet is littered with the corpses of bad ideas drenched in the blood of wasted marketing dollars.

Yes, getting heard among the rising background noise is hard. And at its most basic level, if you don’t know how to use the tools of social media, or don’t have the time, then marketers and advertisers can help.

But make no mistake: the ultimate success or failure of an idea, a product or a service is now dependent upon the quality of the idea, the product or the service. If people like it, they tell others. If they don’t, they don’t. And the way people find out about things these days is through a connected, always-on social network that exists online and off, via text and email and word of mouth across mobile phones and smart phones and laptops and computers, via Facebook and Twitter and Google.

It didn’t used to be that way, and that is sad for the good ideas that died stillborn and unheard, for lack of money or wherewithal. But I say, good riddance to the old world, and welcome to the new.

And yet, there are still those who resist the tide and cling to the ways they’ve always known, who look at multiple channels and only see fragmentation, who look at millions of people talking about what’s important to them and only perceive self-indulgent and distracting noise.

Can someone please explain to me how anyone can look at this time as anything less than a revolution, as the dawn of an era where a world of billions of individuals finally came together to know itself as a whole community greater than the sum of its parts?

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Lands’ End’s Big Warm Up: The best viral video I’ve ever missed

I saw a video the other day that was so good it brought tears to my eyes, which was, after all, its intention. It was so good that it powered Lands’ End customers to bring 33,267 “gently used coats” to Lands’ End shops at Sears to donate to the homeless. (If you haven’t seen it, you can see it here.)

It’s a good video. It’s powerful. It makes you feel all warm and fuzzy and makes you want to do something good for someone.

All of which is going to make me look even more curmudgeonly than normal, because I am not here to praise Lands’ End.

I think they screwed up.

I didn’t see the video until  Dec. 1, which was one day too late to actually join the Big Warm Up and donate a coat.

And that really bothered me. Because I have a gently used coat I would have gladly donated. And because I was actually in a mall with a Sears the last weekend of the promotion. And because I love good cause related marketing. I love it so much I actually co-wrote a book about it.

I wondered, how could I have missed out on this? I’m a good Lands’ End customer. I have 3-4 pairs of their pants and half a dozen of their shirts. More than that, I’m a fan. I blogged about them back in July and how they helped build direct response retail with their “Guaranteed. Period.” (R) guaranty.

So I went to my inbox (luckily, I try and keep my inbox at a lean, mean 300-400 emails) and sure enough, there it was. And it had company. Lots of company. The Lands’ End email barrage had started on Nov. 9th, and by the time it let up on November 20th I’d gotten 16 emails in 12 days.

But only 3 of those 16 emails were about the Big Warm Up. The rest were about clothes… and canvas.

The first email in the campaign, on Nov. 11, was actually the second Lands’ End email I received that day. It had the subject line, “Save 25% on a new coat & warm a heart!” Being that I’m not currently in the market for a coat, I didn’t notice that this was actually the announcement of a cause related marketing campaign at www.BigWarmUp.com.

In fact, that grand announcement was considerably quieter than the “Introducing Land’s End Canvas” email I’d gotten earlier the same day with a link to a video titled “What Will You Make of It” about the exciting, Ken Burns-ish history of Lands’ End Canvas.

The Lands’ End email tsunami continued. 4 days (and 5 emails) later I got an email with the subject line “What will you make of it?”

This was intriguing, so I opened it. It lead to an interactive site where I could “explore a unique interactive experience — then make and share my own canvas.” Wow. Canvas again.

So when I got the 15th email in 12 days, this one with the subject line, “Join us in making a difference,” I just assumed it was another email about the glories of canvas and ignored it. After all, it had the word “make” in subject line. What else could it have been?

This is a classic case that highlights the dangers of mailing too frequently. Your customers get so overwhelmed they tune out.

30,000 coats donated to the needy is a good thing by any standard, right? So do you think Lands’ End was happy with the results?

I’m not sure I would have been. Here’s why:

Way back in 2002 when Sears bought them, the NY Times reported that Lands’ End had a customer file of 30 million households. Now, not all of those households has email, and that number could be considerably smaller — or larger — by now.

30,000 coats is certainly a lot of warmth, but in terms of results, 30,000 is only 1/10th of a percent of 30 million.

On a more granular level, the email campaign was ignored by at least one ideal target: me,  a repeat customer, who makes buying decisions based on cause-related marketing and corporate philanthropy, who had a coat to donate, and who is clearly on their email list. And if they missed an easy target like me, how many others did they miss, too?

Maybe if the subject line of the first email in the campaign had led with the cause rather than a discount, I might have noticed it.

Maybe if they’d used some of their fancy personalization in the subject line instead of just in their video I might have noticed.

Maybe if they hadn’t bored me to death with their celebration of canvas and trained me to ignore their messages, I might have noticed their worthy campaign to spread the warmth.

But one thing is definite: if they hadn’t sent me 16 emails in 12 days I would have actually read the really important one.  (I’ve asked around, and I’m not the only one who missed this needle in the haystack of Lands’ End emails… or who regretted missing the opportunity to join the Big Warm Up.)

Good cause related marketing is a win-win for everyone. In this case, more coats donated to help the homeless would most likely equate to more coats sold.

This was an important campaign. So can someone please explain to me why Lands’ End quietly buried it under a pile of canvas instead of shouting it from the highest mountaintops?

And while you’re at it, can you direct me to the nearest Goodwill Donation Center? I have a coat I want to donate.

We had to buy a microwave oven the other day, so I did what I always do before making a purchase: I went online to Consumer Reports.org to do some research. I’m not alone: according to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, of the 79% of adult Americans who use the Internet, 81% “look for information online about a service or product (they) are thinking of buying.”

Not all of those pre-purchase researchers go to Consumer Reports, but my wife and I do, just like my parents have always done. This time, though, I was shocked by the results. (I apologize that I can’t link to the results, or that I won’t be mentioning them in this article, but CR is a subscription service, and I don’t wish to violate the terms of use.)

In their Microwave section, Consumer Reports rated various countertop microwaves from multiple manufacturers as Best Buys, and I read the rankings on all of them. Then I noticed Customer Reviews for each model — and that the Average Ratings for the top models were glaringly bad. In fact, the average reviews for all the models rated were bad. As I read the reviews, one common thread emerged:  the customers, all of whom are Consumer Reports subscribers, not only disagreed with the CR ratings and reported reliability, but were genuinely upset that CR had given them information that led to an unsatisfying, and in many cases disastrous or even explosive results. I lost track of the number of “Shame on you, Consumer Reports” type comments I read.

I read all of the reviews, desperately searching for a Microwave that had a positive result. One review mentioned that they eventually found a good microwave by reading the customer reviews on Best Buy, even though the units rated well on BestBuy were not rated well on CR.

So I went to BestBuy.com, read the reviews and found three microwaves that didn’t sound like they’d blow up or die inexplicably whether within or outside of the warranty period. Then I did what Pew says most Americans who research products online do: I went to an actual brick and mortar store to make my purchase. (One side note: while in the store, I heard a Best Buy employee interacting with a shopper. When asked about the GE models, he said something like, “I’d recommend anything we sell except for the GE’s. They’ve been having quality problems for the past few years.” Now I’m not saying that CR rated GE products highly, or even at all, or that there were customer reviews on the CR website that singled out GE for quality problems; I’m simply saying what I heard in Best Buy.)

I left the store, happy and secure in the knowledge that my choice was backed up by the real experiences of real people — a feeling that I used to get from basing my choices on reviews in Consumer Reports.

Before you dismiss online customer reviews as the exclusive domain of malcontents, consider this survey by Bazaarvoice and Keller Fay, user review and WOM experts, reported here on Search Engine Watch:  “…79 percent of reviewers write reviews to reward a company for the quality of the product or service they bought, with 87 percent of the reviews being positive in tone… 97 percent of review readers find the reviews they read to be accurate.”

Customer Reviews are one of the most utilized forms of consumer generated content. When it comes to buying cars, JD Power’s 2008 New Autoshopper.com Study reports that 70% of autmotive Internet users utilize consumer generated content when shopping for a car, with 63% using customer ratings and reviews. (You can download the study here.) Search Engine Watch blogs here that customer reviews are one of the most important sources of product information, second only to word of mouth from a friend.

And before you dismiss the value of Consumer Reports, please consider that they were honest enough to print customer reviews that not only disagreed with them, but openly questioned the validity of their ratings. Those reviews sent me in a direction that led to my satisfied product purchase.

Will I ever use Consumer Reports to research a product before purchase again? You betcha! CR is still a great resource for product and category information, and their testing facilities still provide data that can’t be gotten anywhere else.

Will I ever skip the customer reviews and just read the ratings? What do you think?

But this whole experience leaves me with one unanswered question: Can someone please explain to me why there is such a consistent, category-wide disagreement between the ratings of the professional researchers at Consumer Reports and of the consumers reporting their own experiences with the same products?

News outlets make news. But to make money, they wrap that news in advertising.

Anybody else see a disconnect?

As we all know, advertising revenues are down as advertisers shift their dollars to more attractive media channels. And not every newspaper, least of all the NY Times, will be saved by the influx in erotic advertising that is resulting from Craig’s List’s ban described in this article on Adotas.

So I have a suggestion. Newspapers should climb out onto the leading edge of the micro-payments industry in this country and charge us for the news we so desperately need the same way they used to pay their reporters:  by the word.

I wonder what would happen if the NY Times wrote an open letter to all its readers in all formats (print, online, Facebook, Twitter, etc.) explaining that the old advertising model no longer supports the costs of news gathering, and asking us to opt-in to a micro-payments structure that has users pay for content by the word or article.

After all, we pay for our music by the song or album at iTunes and Amazon. Users pay for their apps, too, at the iPhone store.

Maybe our news will cost us 100th of a penny per word — I don’t pretend to know — but there’s a number that would be worth paying to get accurate, valuable journalism, fed into our brains by whatever method we choose.

Faced with the alternative — disappearing like The Rocky Mountain News, turning into an online blog like The Tucson Citizen, or going Chapter 11 like the Chicago Tribune — would the stakeholders of the Times keep the “Old Gray Lady” afloat?

Advertisers could play along too. They could buy prepaid content credits that they would give to their target consumers  — as premiums, promotions, free-downloads, usage credits, rewards points, membership discounts or rewards. When a reader used credits, if they were sponsored, they would see their sponsor’s message.

From a reader’s perspective, it would look like this: Whenever I logged onto the Times website (or followed a Twitter link (A Twink?) etc.) I’d get a screen with that day’s advertisers’ offers. I’d pick a sponsor, they’d pay, I’d get my news, and they’d get my eyeballs. Maybe by the article, maybe by the day, maybe by bandwidth, whatever. (Hey, if Bank of America brought me my NY Times content for free, I’d gladly sit through their pre-rolls.)

These prepaid blocks would represent reliable chunks of income that could be sold through a digital auction model or on an upfront basis, or a combination of both (digital auction for the any inventory left over after the up front sales). A major advertiser could work out a promotion with Amazon that every large format Kindle would come with a sponsored year-long subscription to the Times.

Forwards to a friend could represent extra eyeballs for the advertiser, or extra charges, depending on the media buy.

It is frequently said that people don’t value what they get for free. While that may not always be true, it is true that the Internet has changed people’s cost/value perceptions as it pertains to news.

I am a news junkie. I stopped reading printed newspapers long ago, mostly because they’re outdated the minute they’re printed. And I’m ingesting more of my news online or on my phone rather than be continuously disappointed by cable and network news (which I am watching less frequently). Online, I can get better news faster. And much of that news comes from the NY Times. But I usually only notice the publisher after I’ve read the article, if at all. I frequently don’t even notice whose article it is I’m reading on Google News. Or Digg. Or a tweet.

So, in my desperate search for news, would I be willing to pay for that NY Times article? I would if, like E-ZPass, it was effortless to do. Would I sometimes choose an article from the competition if it were cheaper? Depends on the organization. (After all, I have always had the option to buy a Post or Daily News rather than a Times, and yet rarely did so.) More importantly, would I sit through ads for the sponsored version if it were free? I would.

Format-wise, news gathering and dissemination is wonderfully adaptable to large-format Kindles, Twitter, Facebook, SMS, and more.

But what will happen to the dead trees, and all the personnel associated with their destruction, rebirth, and delivery as newsprint?

Since we’re attempting to reinsert value into the equation, let’s look at it in those terms. Would people find enough value in the printed version to pay more for it? Might the printed version of the Times became such a status symbol that some people would happily pay more to make a conspicuously consumptive statement?

Where is the tipping point? Could the Times sustain a print edition at $10 per copy? Remember, under this model they’re already paying for news-gathering and editing with micro-payments. The printed version just needs to carry its own weight. And if it can’t, then I’m sorry for all those workers along the non-value chain, but it’s time for retraining.

So what do you think? Am I crazy, or could this work? And if so, can someone please explain to me why the NY Times isn’t already doing it?

The other morning on my way to work I was listening to CBS-AM, and Joe Connolly of the Wall Street Journal told the story of someone who had gotten a collections letter from their bank that sounded more like it had come from a repo man. (Or maybe it was the Sopranos… sorry if I’m misquoting, Joe.)

I’ve been seeing a lot of collections letters recently, and not because I’m up to my eyeballs in debt.

It turns out my agency, Tanen Directed Advertising, is pretty good at writing collections letters. And not the kind Joe was talking about.

For the most part, collections letters tend to fit into a few basic molds.

There’s the impersonal, computer-generated type that remove all humanity from the equation… and from the recipient. (You’d be surprised how many of them aren’t written by computers.)

There’s the escalating, threatening letter that’s meant to scare the recipient into compliance but frequently just pummels them into paralyzed inaction.

And there’s the sickeningly sweet, fake “we know what it’s like and we want to help” letters that allow the sender to hide behind feigned consideration without presenting any real options and just serve to drive the recipient further away.

We don’t write those kind of letters. You see, we look at collections letters as CRM (Customer Relationship Management) tools.

After all, the recipients are your customers. They bought a car from you. They took out a mortgage with you — or with a bank thrice removed, but they’re your customers now. They get their electricity from your utility. They’re your patients and you’re their doctor.

Every time you communicate with your customer, you have the chance to deepen or damage your relationship with them. Which outcome would you prefer?

Sure, you can beat them into the ground to get your money, and you’ll get it. Maybe all of it, maybe just some of it. Maybe you’ll be the last straw that breaks them, but you’ll get your money.  And unless you’re a monopoly, it’s probably the last money you’ll ever get from them.

What if it turned out that by simply communicating with your customers, by treating them like valuable human beings who have feelings and brains and are integral components of your company, and by going the extra mile to give them some options, you can actually get more of the money they owe you?

We’ve written collections letters that have gotten 400% more of our client’s customers to call in to discuss repayments than did their previous best performing letters (known as controls in direct marketing). We’ve increased the amounts collected by our clients time and time again.

If you know anything about collections, you know that you usually have to hunt down your customers to talk to them. Our letters get your customers to pick up the phone and call you. Willingly. Because we explain their options to them, we empower them to take control of what felt like an out of control situation.

If you keep a customer, their lifetime value to you continues to increase, rather than bottoming out. If you show faith in your customer, and work with them to come up with a solution, they tend to respond with something every business desires:  loyalty.

Last night our President reminded us that we’re not a nation of quitters. That given a chance, Americans will do what it takes to rise from the depths of despair and work their way back to the top.

I’ve heard our current economic situation described in part as a crisis of faith, and that not until we all have faith in the future and start spending and lending again will we come out of it.

I’d like to add that as businesses, if we have faith in our customers and help them through these tough times, the rewards can be far greater than can be gotten through threats and intimidation.

I’m not arguing for charity — I’m making a case for a more successful business strategy. I’ve seen it work for our clients.

So can someone please explain to me why there are so many short-sighted businesses out there who would rather turn their customers into quitters today than do what it takes to earn their loyalty for years to come?

The other day, we got an interesting pre-recorded message on our phone. It was from Clif Bar, notifying us of their voluntary recall of certain Luna Bars that potentially have peanut butter in them that came from the same processor responsible for the current salmonella outbreak.

The message said they called us because we were Costco members, and that we’d bought the affected products. A friend of ours got a similar call, also because his family are Costco members, too.

Here’s what I find most interesting. Just the week before, I’d bought a case of Clif Bars that fell into the recalled batch… from BJ’s.

Did I get a call from BJ’s? No.

Did I get a call from any other manufacturer about their possibly contaminated products? No.

Recalls are touchy things. They can make or break a company. Marketing professors use the 1982 Tylenol recall as a case study of how to manage a crisis and turn a potential customer service nightmare into a brand building triumph. It cost them over $100 million dollars to recall 31 million bottles of Tylenol, but in the long run it saved the brand, and possibly the company, Johnson & Johnson, for whom it represented 17% of net income.  The International Herald Tribune has a good article about it here.

I’ve had other things recalled — most recently, my daughter’s toys being recalled for lead contamination comes to mind. But I never received a call from the company — I had to find out about it myself online after hearing the news stories.

What Costco did is good customer service. And Costco and Clif Bar have raised the bar (no pun intended.)

In the rivalry between Costco and BJ’s to win my business, who do you think just gained the lead? Given similarities in pricing and selection, what else is there to help set these two big box wholesalers apart except service?

I can’t imagine there’s much of a difference in the way they track customer data. They both swipe my membership card before they ring up my orders. BJ’s must have known that I bought the contaminated bars.

So can someone please explain to me, not why Costco called, but why BJ’s didn’t?

PS. Shameless promotion follows…

I just finished another dark and twisted collaboration with my friend, the extremely talented illustrator, Viktor Koen. As some of you may know, we worked together on Lexicon: Words and Images of Strange (AtticChild Press, 1996).

Our new collaboration is Toyphabet. You can read more about it here. But for those of you going to New York Comicon next week, I wanted to let you know that TOYPHABET is a limited edition book made specially for the 2OO9 New York Comic Con and is carried exclusively by Baby Tattoo Books at booth#1622.

Fan Jeff:  I’m really mad at Pete Townsend for whoring out “My Generation” to Pepsi.

Marketer Jeff:  It’s a good commercial, and I think it works.

Creator Jeff:  A creator needs to be true to his inner voice. He doesn’t create for the fan, but if it’s good, people will respond to it.

Fan Jeff:  Yes, but this is The Who, the ultimate “stick it to the man, cause he’s gonna stick it to you” band. These are they guys who devoted a whole album to making fun of commercials and commercialism called “The Who Sell Out” way back in the 60’s.

Creator Jeff:  A creator owns his creativity, and he can do anything he wants with it. Pete needs to eat. Fan Jeff, you need to get over it and grow up. This is business.

Fan Jeff:  Rock and Roll isn’t about business. Not to a fan. It’s about meaning, and belonging, and understanding. And in The Who’s case, their songs are about seeing through the games society plays with the individual. You know, “Meet the new boss…Same as the old boss”  and “You tried to walk on the trail we were carving, now you know that we framed you.”

Marketing Jeff:  Well, clearly a fan’s relationship to a brand and its products doesn’t always work out the way a brand wants. Brands can influence the relationship, but they don’t control it.

Creator Jeff:  This isn’t the first time the Who has used a song to sell soda. And what about concert tour sponsorships?

Fan Jeff:  Yes, but this is “My Generation.” It’s not Michael Jackson. This was a battle cry. This mattered to people. How many of us do you think are going to run out and buy a Pepsi now because it’s cooler since they used this song? Did they think of that when they made the commercial? By using “My Generation” they proved they weren’t part of my generation.

Marketing Jeff:  So, Fan Jeff, you’re saying that if they were trying to appeal to fans, they’re actually disenfranchising them?

Creator Jeff:  This is rubbish. I’m not going to let a bunch of sycophantic, whiny babies who think they’re even part of the process dictate what I do.

Fan Jeff:  Fans aren’t part of the process? Look, when I was growing up, I had a few friends who were older and had been in Vietnam. When they found that out I thought Quadrophenia was the best album ever written, one of them, Terry, said to me, “To you it’s just music. To us, it was our life. It was our anthem.” Are those the whiny babies you’re talking about who aren’t part of the process, Creator Jeff?

Creator Jeff:  Creators sometimes make things that don’t resonate with fans. Dylan went electric, and fans hated it. Springsteen went acoustic, and fans hated it. Following your muse is dangerous, but it’s what you do.

Marketing Jeff:  Brands make mistakes too. They do line extensions that don’t fly. Remember McDonald’s Arch Deluxe? They change their product and sales plummet. Remember New Coke?

Fan Jeff:  Look, you’re both missing the point. I am pissed at Pete Townsend. I can’t hear “My Generation” again and have it mean what it used to mean because of what Pete has done. Just like when they licensed “Love Reign O’er Me” for a 7Up commercial back in the ’80s. It took something away from me.

Marketing Jeff:  Wait a second. You still love “Revolution,” even though Nike used it.

Fan Jeff:  Yeah, but John Lennon was dead already. And I think the label owned it, and I think the Beatles sued. But I was mad at Nike and didn’t wear their sneakers for a long, long time.

Creator Jeff:  Yeah, and later Yoko let them use “Instant Karma.” Once you die, man, everyone gets in line to pick at your corpse.

Marketing Jeff:  Well, I think it’s pretty obvious that this is highly-charged territory. I think one thing we all can agree with is that the relationship between brands and fans is influenced by lots of factors, and neither party controls it. So now it’s time for my question.

Fan Jeff:  What question?

Marketing Jeff:  You know, I always end every blog post with the question, “Can someone please explain…?”

Fan Jeff:  No man, not this time. Just leave it like The Who wrote it, “…Can’t explain, I think it’s love…”

Back on July 10th, in my post “Is Obama Going To The Dogs?” I wrote about the Presidential Pup website where the AKC was holding an election to decide which dog the Obama girls should get. I wrote in glowing terms about what I thought was an excellent and timely marketing partnership.

And a successful one… at least for the AKC. Since they started, there have been 42,000 votes and a clear spike in traffic. According to Quantcast, site visits to AKC.org, which were hovering around 2.5 million before the start of the promotion at the beginning of July rose sharply over that month to a high of about 2.8 million in early August, only to drop again to their pre-promotion level by late August.

By the way, the Poodle won the election.

So when President-elect Obama mentioned his canine promise to his girls in his acceptance speech, I fully expected there to be some connection to the AKC partnership, at least in the days ahead.

Empathetically, I thought, if I were the AKC marketing director, and Obama didn’t mention our partnership at this global-attention focal point, I’d feel a bit ripped off. Talk about a missed opportunity. The whole reason to do a marketing partnership like that with a highly public cause is for the attention it brings. Even more problematic, he mentioned shelter dogs, not exactly the territory the AKC tends to pee in.

I went to the Obama site. Nothing about the AKC and the Presidential Pup site.

I just spent the last week at Ad:Tech listening to all the ways in which the Obama campaign has rewritten the rules of online marketing. According to Shelly Lazarus, Chairman and CEO of Ogilvy Mather Worldwide, the Obama campaign is the “best CRM campaign that has ever been run.”  For the Obama campaign to be involved in a marketing partnership and not to mention it on their site isn’t a mistake, it’s an impossibility.

So then I went to the Presidential Pup site at the AKC.  The site landing pages were updated on November 5th to reflect Obama’s victory and discuss his public reiteration of his promise to his girls. The site discusses the voting, and goes on to say “We hope the Obamas consider the survey results,” said AKC Spokesperson Lisa Peterson.

“We hope”?  “Considers”?  That didn’t exactly sound like a partnership to me, and it certainly didn’t sound like the tone of the original site.

Somebody at the AKC is definitely on the ball, though. In addition to the speed with which they updated their landing page, the page has a picture of two adorable poodle pups with the headline “A Pair of Poodles for Pennsylvania Avenue” and the caption which partially reads “A pair of six-week-old Toy Poodle puppies rescued by Flora’s Pet Project/Poodle Rescue Connecticut visited the American Kennel Club offices in Manhattan today to be photographed in hopes of catching the attention of the Obama family. The pups will be available for new homes in early January. They can be adopted by contacting…”

That’s great marketing. Obama specifically mentioned shelter dogs, so the AKC adds the “rescue dog” element to make their efforts more relevant. (As I recall, there was no mention of rescue dogs the first time around.)

They’re also spreading a wide net to attract attention. They made sure to mention that it was reported that Veep-Elect Biden has said his wife told him that if he got the vice presidency and got elected, he could get a dog. This too is good internet marketing, adding additional key words and relevance;  last time, they made sure they got the McCains in the story as well.

The site goes on to say “No matter what breed the Obamas or Bidens choose, the AKC hopes they can assist both families. “I would be happy to personally assist Obama and Biden in identifying a responsible breeder if they are looking for a puppy,” said AKC President & CEO Dennis Sprung”

The first site really made it seem like the Obama’s were along for the ride.  But now, it’s clear that wasn’t the case.

Nearly a decade ago, in our book, Making Money While Making a Difference, Dr. Richard Steckel and I wrote about the dangers of misleading the public when it comes to cause related marketing.  It’s only gotten worse since.  When you pretend to be helping a cause or when you aid and abet consumers in reaching the conclusion that you are aligned with a cause or group when you are really just trying to cash in on their publicity, you are in danger of a serious, negative backlash.

If the AKC were aligned with Obama, wouldn’t he have mentioned it in one of his long and involved post-acceptance speech statements about the promised pooch?

If this were the marketing partnership it seemed to be, then wouldn’t Obama have mentioned it at least once during the many times he’s had to address this overwhelmingly important issue since winning the nomination?

It’s not his fault if the issue keeps coming up: I mean, our economy is in the tank, the mid-East is loping towards a meltdown, attack dog Rahm Emanuel is the chief of staff of the face of change, and the press keeps wasting our time on shaggy dog stories.

Oh wait, so am I.

No, I’m not.

According to Wikipedia, “Shaggy dog stories play upon the audience’s preconceptions of the art of joke telling. The audience listens to the story with certain expectations, which are either simply not met or met in some entirely unexpected manner.” While I don’t claim that the AKC intended to amuse us, I do think their whole presidential pup story is a bad joke with utterly unmet expectations and an unexpected conclusion.

I’m writing about a marketing disconnect. A missed opportunity. Or, more likely, a misleading one. Just another example of misleadership, this one on the part of the AKC.

What do you think?  Can someone please explain to me whether the AKC is practicing good marketing or misleadership?

Seth Godin has a new book called Tribes. Before it was published, back in July, he built a social community around it called Triiibes that I was fortunate enough to be able to join.  (By fortunate, I mean that as a regular reader of his blog I read the single notice he posted about the new book and a limited, exclusive offer he made: buy an advanced copy of the book and you can join this unique community.) After a very limited time, membership to the community closed, and won’t be reopened again until some time this month.

In all honesty, I’m not really a social media guy. I rarely visit my facebook or myspace pages. I under-utilize LinkedIn. But I’ve been a more regular visitor and poster to Triiibes. I’ve gotten great value and given a little back, too. It’s been a great experience for me, because I finally understand the passion and connection that social media members can feel about their community.

The most interesting aspect of Triiibes, for me, was the casebook that we Triiibes members created, a companion e-book to Seth’s own book, Tribes. That casebook is now online. You can get yourself a pdf copy of The Tribes Casebook here.

The case study I wrote was called “The Tribe of Marrus.” It appears on page 79 of the ebook. It’s about my friend, Marrus, an artist, who I also blogged about in a post here called “Portrait of the artist as an integrated marketer.

There are plenty of great case studies about tribes of all kinds. It’s excellent reading, and I highly recommend it.

I’ve been reading Seth Godin for about 8 years now. I’ve seen him speak more than once. I’ve watched with glee each time he rewrites the rules of publishing when he comes up with a new way to market his latest book.

He’s been a leading pioneer of “the new marketing” and an honest, inspirational voice. He’s one of the most published business book writers ever, a voice respected by the people running the most successful companies in the world.

Every once in a while, I see one of his books on the shelf of a client or a prospect, and we instantly get into a vibrant discussion about Seth and new marketing. Invariably, we end up reaching a point in the discussion where one of us or the other says, “How come everybody isn’t getting into this stuff?”

I’ve discussed Seth’s thinking with other marketing professionals I know, usually ones with decades of experience and perspective. They frequently net out at the answer that there’s always new thinking that argues that the old thinking is wrong or outdated, and only time will tell. Until then, they’re not ready to throw out the old ways.  They’re too invested in them, and they’ve worked for all these years, they say.

Not me. As a marketer, my only real rule is do what works best (as long as it’s ethical and honest.) Anything less isn’t worth doing, is it?

Not only am I a member of triiibes, but now that I think about it, it turns out I’m a member of The Tribe of Seth Godin, too.

Can someone please explain to me why everyone who works in advertising and marketing isn’t one too?