September 14, 2007

Labor Day Marketing Lessons As we grasp the last few days of the summer holidays, here are a few random observations about marketing and advertising ... Own Your Positioning. Along with the French, I love Jerry Lewis. The schmaltz, the cheesiness, the has-been performers singing long-forgotten big-band songs, the B rolls of guys in white coats holding test tubes, the drum rolls and the tote boards heralded by the wrinkling and shrinking Ed McMahon, the lame local anchors and the tear-wrenching appeals all signal Labor Day to me. I imagine a great national catharsis focuses on Jerry and his kids as I participate in the morbid health-watch to see which diseases and which side effects of treatments Jerry himself will display each year. Jerry and MDA have staked out a position and for 30+ years they have delivered on it and raised zillions to fight muscular diseases. There's nothing better and nothing more reliable and nothing more comforting than watching Jerry and his shtick on the Love Network at random moments during the Labor Day weekend. So don't just sit there -- dial the number on your screen and help Jerry! Familiarity/Personalization Counts. The coffee guy at the corner of Broadway and West 35th Street sees me coming and prepares my iced coffee exactly the way I like it. He gives fast, convenient service, swiftly delivers my preferred product and makes me feel part of something much bigger than myself. Its a lesson every local candy store owner, newspaper vendor and butcher knows instinctively and one which thousands of firms struggle to incorporate into their culture and deliver using technology. In a whizzing, whirring confusing world being recognized and remembered cuts through the clutter and builds brand loyalty and repeat business. Visuals Set Expectations. The ballet slipper shoe craze has been in full force for almost two years. The simple unstructured flats have gone from the barre to the barrio and everywhere in between. The form and design communicate simplicity, elegance and grace. I guess women have embraced them because they feel good and make your feet look smaller. That is until I saw a hot but clod-like woman bouncing down the subway steps feet splayed wearing these shoes. Watching Dumbo in ballet slippers was a great example of using visuals to set expectations and connotations yet when the experience cross-cut the expectation it made me laugh. The lesson -- if you set expectations with visuals the experience has to deliver on the expectation to build or maintain credibility. Recognize Rhythms. Our bodies are driven by circadian rhythms and our lives are shaped by calendars and practical and operational rhythms. Sometimes a great idea can cut across them but usually its much harder to swim against the tide. We're finishing up "Back to School" soon the stores will bring out the black and orange/gold Fall/Halloween decorations, our Fall semester of community, educational, cultural and performing events is gearing up. Much of the advertising and marketing we see are cliches tagged onto these cycles. But the underlying idea is that intersecting with the expected and aligning with the anticipated usually gets you faster more efficient access to markets, prospects and customers that trying to cross cut underlying patterns. This is not a prescription for sameness or for routine but a recognition that we need to order and structure our time and our resources and that marketing that aligns and resonates with this process generally works better. Happy Labor Day.
AMEX Platinum's Tin Performance Denouement is a bitch. So is realizing that even a skeptical marketing guy can be brought up short when a favorite brand disappoints. The American Express Platinum Card phone experience turns platinum expectations to tin. Back when I got the card, not every card and bank was pushing platinum. My card; its features, benefits and price was somewhat unique. One of the most compelling value propositions, to me, was the Concierge service. Having a dedicated team to help you find and get stuff seemed to me to be a level of attention and service that justified the significantly higher membership fee; a service much more valuable and ego-enhancing than some of the other less dramatic benefits bundled into the program. Over the years, they helped me get stuff and make good impressions on several occasions. So I was genuinely surprised and taken aback when I called yesterday and didn't reach a human. I was presented with a withering array of phone tree choices. As the recording whizzed along I wondered how many platinum people -- the really rich guys who rent villas, lease jets and demand personal planning for extended vacations at luxury resorts and spas -- are actually willing to press 1 then 3 then 4 and then endure 40 seconds of recorded blab. When I finally spoke to someone, he sounded dazed and confused. He spent a lot of time telling me how slow the computer was and fumbled the recognition details -- my name and card number. After 3 minutes of futzing around trying to pull up my records, I asked him if he was going to actually address me and my needs. I stumped the band. So after 5 minutes of being assaulted by the stark reality that somehow I lost whatever status I thought I once had, this bozo was more concerned with his system than with helping me the platinum customer. Bummer! I hung up on him in frustration. I tried again 12 hours later and got through to a woman CSR. I asked her to get me a hotel room in Atlantic City. She sounded as if she never heard of AC; curious for a concierge dedicated to high rollers. She had no familiarity with the properties, didn't seem to know they had casinos there and had no facility for either engaging me or even faking it. My platinum dreams were dashed. The lesson? If you set an expectation and charge a premium you must deliver against it. One guy, one tone of voice, and one so-so experience can un-do years of loyal, happy and profitable customer behavior and turn a platinum guy into a whiner..

Danny Flamberg

I am a veteran marketing consultant working with leading and emerging brands

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