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Building Relationships: Franco Uomo

14 Aug

Building Relationships: Franco Uomo

Those that know me understand my love of fashion. I’m obsessed with shoes, jackets, vintage rock tees, premium denim and bespoke dress shirts. Many of you also know that I spend a fair amount of time at the eBay Mothership in San Jose. When you combine the aforementioned two, it’s not hard to understand how I came to be a loyal Franco Uomo customer at his shop on Santana Row.

Franco has a personality that is larger than life. He’s animated, generous and has a spectacular eye for detail. When you buy something from him, it’ll be fairly expensive, but you know you’ve purchased the very best.

Franco and his staff have been very good to me over the last couple of years, but a week ago they went above and beyond what I could ever expect from any business relationship.

I realize that most businesses will never be in a position to do something like this for their customers. Beyond the fact that it’s the equivalent of finding a needle in a haystack, it just doesn’t scale. However, I think there is something here for the rest of us. How can we pick up signals from our customers and act on them in a way that shows how much we value them, not just for their business, but as people? I’ve been swishing that question around in my tiny brain for over a week and I don’t have an answer. I’d love to know what you come up with…

Franco has always told me that relationships are the most important thing to him. Relationships should be at the heart of every business strategy. Are they the centerpiece of yours?

Tell Me Your Story

8 Jun

Tell Me Your Story

A few weeks ago I was in Austin, Texas on a corporate retreat with one of my clients when the subject of clothing and fashion came up. I had just returned from a pilgrimage to my favorite boot shop in town when my colleague, Peter, pointed out that I seemed to be drawn to bespoke clothing and brands. In the past we had chatted over drinks about my love of certain types of brands and products and he understood that to mean “custom” products. As I thought it about it more, I wasn’t necessarily drawn to custom products or even expensive brands, it was more about those that had an interesting story to tell.

I’m a fan of supporting small businesses – even more so when they have a compelling story about what led them down the road they’re traveling on. For example, I know that Jerry Ryan, owner of Heritage Boot in Austin, is from Ireland and had wanted to be a bootmaker in the United States since he was a kid. I know that Jack Sepetjian, and his family at Anto Distinctive Shirtmakers in Beverly Hills, have been making hand-measured custom shirts for clients like Frank Sinatra, Mickey Rourke, Tom Cruise and Eric Stonestreet (Modern Family) for a more than half a century. I know that Mike and Brook Carhartt, of Carhartt Winery, crafts some of the finest Pinot Noir in the Santa Ynez Valley by lovingly tending to their family-owned 13 acre vineyard just north of Santa Barbara.

How do I know all this? They told me. They’ve made it a point to weave these stories into the fabric of their brand and that is a powerful thing.

Even today, I still speak to businesses that don’t see the value in sharing their stories with their customers. They feel like the conversation should ultimately be about low prices, volume and revenue. And while I agree that we’ve descended into a Walmart-centric culture where people want the absolute lowest prices for anything and everything, I believe that there are people like me that will seek out and pay more for quality items from a brand whose story we can identify with. I believe these people, like me, will not only pay more to support these brands, but they will also shout their loyalty from the rooftops. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve Tweeted about my favorite pair of Heritage Boots, or talked my friends’ ears off about a delicious bottle of Carhartt wine. When I find something I like, I want to share it with those around me and I don’t believe I’m the only one that feels this way.

Interestingly, I didn’t discover any of the brands I’ve mentioned above on Twitter or Facebook. Instead, a conversation with a concierge here, and a sommelier there and I was on my way. But, just because I didn’t initially find these hidden gems online, I did research them there and it was then that I fell in love with their mission and commitment to their craft. For the record, there are lots  of other brands I dig that are heavily engaged online including; Ugmonk, Franco Uomo, Robert Graham and The Biltmore. They all deserve your attention.

Now let’s be clear – I didn’t write this post to show you how to tell your story – I’ve written many posts on how to use the web to build your brand. You can start HERE, HERE and HERE if you’re so inclined. Instead, I wanted to try and convince you that your story is worth telling. Passion is contagious. People respect those that are committed to doing things differently and driving their brand forward. They want to support those that are unique and passionate about taking the road less traveled.

I challenge you to craft your story: why do you do what you do? How did you get here? What does your brand mean to you? Start there and put it online. Then share it in person with your customers. Let me know how it goes.

 

Taking Better Care of Our Customers

8 May

Taking Better Care of Our Customers

Recently I’ve had some shopping experiences online that have left a bad taste in my mouth. I figured that I had stewed over them long enough and wanted to jot some thoughts down on the blog and get your take. First off, let me say that in my opinion the gold standard in online shopping, shipping and customer service is Zappos – hands down. No one else even comes close. And while I don’t hold other companies to quite that high of a standard, they have set the benchmark and I’ve come to expect something in the same ballpark.

Rock n’ Roll Woes

Recently I bought some merchandise from a musician’s online store. I’ve been a fan of this particular guitar player for a long time and wanted to order a couple of t-shirts and a hoodie. I placed my order on a Thursday morning and waited. By the following Tuesday I still hadn’t received any sort of confirmation or shipping notification so I emailed the web shop. The first thing I did was respond to their initial “payment received” email. That bounced. Hmmm, why did that happen? Oh yeah, I see it here – the address in the reply field of their confirmation email was “sales@example.com.” Ok, so they never changed the template – sloppy. Undeterred, I went to their site and found a different contact email. That also bounced back with a “mailbox full” message. Finally, I found a .me address and sent an email there hoping for a miracle. Nothing. After two days I emailed again telling them that if I didn’t receive some sort of response that I would file a dispute with PayPal. I heard back within 5 minutes and they said my order would be shipping that day and that I’d receive confirmation within the hour. But, another day went by with no email. After emailing them again with no response, I finally filed a dispute with PayPal to get my money back. However, 10 minutes after I opened that dispute I got an automated email telling me my order had shipped – this was now a full two weeks after the order was placed. I noticed the order was being shipped from Las Vegas via USPS Priority Mail. I live in Santa Barbara – less than 400 miles from Las Vegas – meaning the package should have been there in 2-3 days. Yet, 6 days later, I still didn’t have my order. Finally, PayPal stepped in and reached out to the seller. Miraculously, two days later I received my package. Interestingly, it’s post-marked only two days earlier meaning it left their facility 6 days after they said it did.

Did you follow all that?

Post Mortem

Obviously this was a colossal screw-up for this business. They did make a half-assed attempt after I’d received delivery to make sure I had, in their words, “received my order and make sure everything was taken care of,” but there was no apology for the delay, deception and aggravation that I had gone through as a customer. There was no special coupon or credit offered. Honestly, it felt like their main focus was to make sure I closed the dispute and they got to keep their money.

A week later I ordered a watch from an online retailer, and while I won’t bore you with the play-by-play of that transaction, let’s just say that the combined frustration of these two back-to-back experiences inspired me to write this post.

It Doesn’t Have to Be This Hard

If you’re selling products online you have to have a rigid set of standards for your entire sales process from order placement to customer delivery. That includes acknowledging a customer’s order, their payment and notification of shipment. If you want them to feel good about handing you their credit card information, you need to make sure to get the simple things right, and let them know you’re an organization that can be trusted. By not sending out even basic confirmations you can cause unnecessary panic and mistrust amongst your customers.

I understand that problems happen sometimes. There will occasionally be times when an item is out of stock, or shipping is delayed. Instead of staying silent, be upfront and accountable to your customer. A personalized email goes a long way to smooth over any initial frustration and most will find it refreshing that a business took the time to explain the issue.

When you make a mistake, offer compensation. Offer to upgrade shipping, or email them a coupon for 20% off their next order. Not only will you smooth over any ruffled feathers, but you’ll be building goodwill towards your brand for future purchases.

These all seem like no-brainers to me, but clearly that’s not the case with a lot of online businesses today. When people make a purchase from your website, many are first-time customers. If you want them to come back, it is paramount that you provide a stellar shopping experience by keeping them informed, acknowledging those rare mistakes and compensating them for any hassle.

Does This Resonate?

Do you run an online web store? What is your philosophy on customer service? How do you ensure that your customers receive a great experience? What hard lessons have you learned along the way?

As an online shopper what are your pet-peeves? What companies do you buy from that provide stellar online service?

Converse Embraces Their Rock N’ Roll Status

23 Jan

Converse Embraces Their Rock N’ Roll Status

Converse All-Stars have long been the footwear of choice for rockers of all genres, ages and styles. From the Ramones to Joan Jett to Billie Joe Armstrong to Slash, Converse have dominated the rock n’ roll uniform for decades. In fact, in full disclosure, I own about 10 different pairs of “Chucks” in various styles and colors and wear them just about every day. To me, the word “iconic” doesn’t begin to do this brand justice.

Today, I saw that Converse is giving back to the music community that’s been so good to them by opening a recording studio in Brooklyn, NY that caters to up-and-coming talent. The best part for bands? If you’re selected you get recording time free of charge. You also get Converse’s considerable promotional muscle working to help you find a larger audience for your work.

As Converse’s CMO, Geoff Cottrill, says “we are absolutely in the business of selling footwear and apparel. This is an opportunity for us to say thank you to lots of people who are already wearing our footwear and apparel.”

Obviously, Converse is spending a significant amount of money to fund this studio in the hopes that the investment keeps them relevant in the hearts and minds of rockers throughout the world. Is it a good plan? I think so. Rock n’ roll has arguably kept this brand hip and timeless in a way that few others have been able to pull off. This project allows Converse to talk about the support they offer to the music community, while hopefully capitalizing on the goodwill and hype of the social media community.

What do you think? Is this a quick ploy by Converse or a real chance for struggling musicians to get their music heard in a way not possible before? I’d love to get your comments below.

The Growing Impact of Online Video

14 Dec

Several weeks back I was interviewed by my old friend, Mark Yoshimoto Nemcoff, at BlogWorld Los Angeles about eBay’s increased adoption of video in their communications strategy. And while I can’t comment on the larger eBay philosophy, I can say that in my role at eBay Partner Network, we’ve worked really hard to make video content a priority in our comms plan for the last year and a half. While this video obviously speaks to my work with eBay, I think the fundamental principles discussed here are important for every company to think about.

Are you using video in your marketing strategy? Why not? Does the cost seems prohibitive? Do you think it’s too much work? If your business is using video, what made you take that leap? How has it changed your relationship with your customers? I’d love to get your thoughts in the comments below.

Reed Hastings is No Steve Jobs

10 Oct

Reed Hastings is No Steve Jobs

Only a few weeks after proudly announcing their new brand, Qwikster, Netflix, again, very publicly announced they had made a mistake. Apparently Reed Hastings has seen the foolishness of his decision and decided to go back to doing the thing they should have done all along – keep Netflix as a single entity:

“It is clear that for many of our members two websites would make things more difficult, so we are going to keep Netflix as one place to go for streaming and DVDs. This means no change: one website, one account, one password… in other words, no Qwikster.”

Hallelujah. Praise Jesus. Can I get an Amen?

While I think it’s great that Netflix came to their collective senses, I feel like this may have put the final nail in Hastings’ coffin. How much more will the board take before they tire of these Romper Room-like CEO brand adventures?

With Steve Jobs still fresh on my mind, this got me thinking about how you’d never see this kind of public meltdown from Apple. Even their most colossal missteps were handled with more grace and sure-footedness than this Qwikster debacle. So while we all continue to wax poetic about Steve’s achievements and what they’ve meant to our everyday lives, let’s not forget the way that he so perfectly guided and led Apple to avoid catastrophes like this latest from Netflix. Don’t get me wrong – it’s not  fair to compare Hastings to Jobs or hold him to the same standards. Not even a little bit. Steve was a once-in-a-lifetime genius. Hastings is, well, probably not long for the Netflix world I would think. My guess is ouster comes before the holidays.

What do you think of all this Qwikster, no Qwikster stuff? I’d love to get your comments below.

Netflix Stumbles Again with Qwikster Rebranding

19 Sep

Netflix Stumbles Again with Qwikster Rebranding

This morning I got an email and saw a blog post from Netflix CEO, Reed Hastings, that started with the words “I messed up. I owe you an explanation.” Well, Reed, strike two. After reading your blog post, I’d say you messed up again. Let me explain.

Reed was emailing the Netflix subscriber base (it initially appeared) to apologize for the price increase fiasco that happened a short time ago:

“It is clear from the feedback over the past two months that many members felt we lacked respect and humility in the way we announced the separation of DVD and streaming and the price changes. That was certainly not our intent, and I offer my sincere apology.”

Instead, Reed was really writing to announce that Netflix would be spinning off its DVD-by-mail service into a new company called “Qwikster” (Horrible name by the way). Reed says they chose the name because “it refers to quick delivery.” Um, more likely because there are slim pickins’ out there for  dot com domains and you took the best of worst available. Anyway, this is where I think Netflix made a huge PR and marketing faux pax.

Why would anyone choose to birth a new brand under the dark cloud of an apology? It’s bad enough that the apology was flat and showed no remorse for their recent actions:

“I should have personally given you a full explanation of why we are splitting the services and thereby increasing prices. It wouldn’t have changed the price increase, but it would have been the right thing to do.”

In fact, it wasn’t an apology at all, but instead a bait and switch. Netflix didn’t understand then, and still doesn’t seem to get it now, that people aren’t upset over the way the price increase announcement was made. Customers are pissed because Netflix doubled the cost of their service overnight without providing any extra value. In fact, when you take into account the Starz debacle, Netflix has actually starting charging much more, for much less. Notice how that massive decimation of their streaming catalog wasn’t even mentioned in this morning’s apology/rebranding announcement. My guess is that this is going to inflame the situation even more. Not only did they tear the Band-Aid off an already raw wound, they did it under the celebratory shish-boom-bah of launching Qwikster.

So, if I could, I’d like to boil this down to a few key takeaways that are applicable to all brands:

1. Don’t apologize if you’re not willing to fix the problem. Doing so just refocuses the spotlight on your screw-up.

2. Understand why your customers are upset before you make a ham-handed attempt at fixing it. The Netflix team thinks that this announcement is going to appease their irked customers – it won’t. Today’s parade was all about Netflix – not about their users. That tells me that Netflix doesn’t understand the core issue.

3. Never announce an unrelated new initiative under the cloud of a mistake. Netflix would have us believe that Qwikster is their answer, their “make good” on the mistake they made a couple of months back. Not only does this not address customers’ frustrations, but it taints the launch of a new brand  birthed in the wake of controversy.

4. Communicate things to your customers that are of valuable to them, not just because they’re valuable to you. While Netflix basks in the glory of their new DVD-by-mail brand, their customers are still choking down that massive price increase. To make matters worse, they’ll now have to decipher two separate charges on their credit card statement from two different companies. That sounds like a value-add, right?

In closing I want to say I’ve long been a fan of Netflix. In fact, I’ve praised their customer service on this blog before. But, their actions as of late puzzle me and make me wonder what’s really going on over at HQ. It seems to me that the time for a competitor to step up and eat their lunch is upon us. Any takers?

How Do You Keep a Struggling Medium Alive? Ask Brian Williams

3 Aug

How Do You Keep a Struggling Medium Alive? Ask Brian Williams

The evening news on television is something that I enjoy watching. In fact, I make every effort to try be in front of my TV each night at 5:30 when Brian Williams goes on air here in California. I realize that I’m not part of the mainstream – viewership of the evening news has been steadily declining for years. These days, it’s mostly people in their 60’s and 70’s that typically don’t get their news online as it breaks from outlets like CNN.com, MSNBC.com or channels like Twitter. So, the television news business has something of a marketing dilemma that they need to overcome:

How do you keep a 30-minute new broadcast relevant for a more connected, tech-savvy generation?

I would love to pose that question to Brian Williams. He seems to be doing his part to stay relevant and implanted in the psyche of a younger group of viewers. Consider that he’s hosted SNL to positive reviews and regularly appears on shows like 30 Rock. This past week he was part of a very funny skit on Late Night with Jimmy Fallon:

I think this gets at the heart of why people like me watch the news. I don’t have to watch Brian Williams every night. I get my fill of the major headlines throughout the day online. By the time network anchors are in make-up, I’m up to speed. I watch NBC’s Nightly News because I like Brian Williams. I think he comes across as authoritative without being robotic. I also appreciate the fact that he writes most of his own broadcast each night so he’s vested in the news he’s reporting. He’s not afraid to throw his personality into the mix and show people that he’s an actual person. Sure, people like my grandparents may watch television news because they have a limited number of choices to stay informed, but if this decades-old platform is going stay relevant for my generation (or my daughter, Emma’s generation), then these personalities have to make you care about them. We have to be interested in who they are, while still respecting their ability to report the news. Brian Williams has done a masterful job of walking that line.

For this post I’m talking about TV news, but there are loads of other professions and platforms that are dying a slow death. What other parallels can we draw here? How do you stop the decline of an outdated product or delivery system? Is it even possible?

Pushing the Limits of Your Brand

12 Jul

Pushing the Limits of Your Brand

Business sense 101 tells us that brands are sacred and that we should do everything possible to protect them. That obviously means different things to different companies, but one thing that most would probably agree on is that they’d be a little apprehensive in going down the same road as shoe company, K-Swiss. You may have seen their previous  campaign with Danny McBride in his Eastbound and Down persona, Kenny Powers. This month, they’re going another round  with another short film and even more celebrity star power including NFL quarterback Matt Cassel, Biggest Loser alum Jillian Michaels, Transformers Director Michael Bay and MMA champ Jon Bones.

GETTING COMFORTABLE

I’m a huge fan of HBO’s Eastbound and Down. Kenny Powers has become a cult favorite and the show has catapulted McBride’s career. What surprises me is the K-Swiss side of this equation. There are two-dozen things in this commercial that people could find offensive. How did K-Swiss get to the place internally that they felt good about green-lighting this concept? Would you see another lifestyle shoe company go this route – Nike? Converse? Adidas? Highly unlikely. In fact, let’s take it out of the clothing world – can you imagine Google’s agency pitching this concept to them?

PULLING THE TRIGGER

Clearly K-Swiss felt they were in a position to take a controlled risk. Their sales are not what they used to be and they’re hardly a marquee player in the lifestyle brand arena. Clearly somebody felt that stirring things up and causing some controversy couldn’t hurt their position. It should also be mentioned that this was their second campaign with Kenny Powers. If the first one had blown up in their face we wouldn’t be having this conversation right now. It’s always easier to push the limits once you’ve tested the waters.

ASSESSING THE PROPER FIT

There’s no doubt that this has been a stroke of creative genius in reviving a flailing brand, but how do you gauge the right fit for your clients? What makes K-Swiss a good fit, but Nike not? What stops me from writing a blog post for my clients with curse words, penis humor and pictures of half-naked women in it? Well, besides the obvious answer of “common sense,” I think it’s more nuanced than that.  You have to really know your client and understand their identity. What lifestyle are they trying to project? What are the values of the brand? Where is their comfort level around using humor, profanity and sexuality?  Where do they currently sit in their particular vertical’s food chain? A brand that is stagnant or on the way down may be more likely to take a risk than one that is perched at the top.

WOULD YOU?

Most of us wouldn’t feel comfortable playing this video at work for fear of someone hearing it and taking offense, let alone would we pitch this idea to our boss. What would you have done if you were on the K-Swiss ad team? Would you have been bold enough to take this risk or would you have played it safe? I’d love to get your feedback in the comments.

Do the Unexpected

21 Jun

Do the Unexpected

Playing it safe in the world of marketing is the norm. It’s easy to create parameters and then build your initiatives within them. It’s also lazy. Sure, I get that parameters exist for a reason, but sometimes we have to challenge ourselves and those around us to break free from those constraints. Take Woolite for example. You know, Woolite, the mild-mannered household laundry brand geared towards Moms concerned about their most delicate fabrics. Well, they took a sledgehammer to their marketing parameters recently when they teamed up with Rob Zombie to create this spot:

“Don’t let detergents torture your clothes.” Absolute genius.

The fact that Woolite went all-in on this is what makes it so compelling for me. They could have done a “spooky” ad with any number of qualified commercial directors, yet they chose to go for the jugular and get Rob Zombie. Not only is he renowned as a director of horror films, he’s a musician with hoards of fans and a ton of street cred. Clearly someone at Woolite understood the impact of juxtaposing two polar opposites of the brand spectrum.

What other campaigns can you think of in this realm? Who else has taken these types of risks in hopes of a great payoff? Could your brand make a leap like this?