Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Comfort in Consistency

I spent some time today working on a graphic standards manual for a new client. It's tedious work compared to the fun of creating new ads but establishing guidelines is critical at the launch of a new brand. Without base rules, the rush of creating all the collateral that a business needs can cause the designers to make lots of good looking products that just don't go together. The result is, at best, a subliminal message of low-budget itineracy. This business is here today but may be gone tomorrow.

Large chains (mostly) know the value of a consistent image. Loyal customers expect their dining experience in Houston to be the same as it was in Chicago. Loyal buyers of a clothing brand learn to expect a certain quality and look from any new purchase. Consistency in packaging and communications simply reinforces that expectation. A different logo or look throws up red flags that something's new and suddenly, even if the product hasn't changed, the perception is influenced by the expectation.

I ran across 2 brands that must have very different methods for maintaining their image. The first is Maggiano's Little Italy. The image below is a screen grab of a simple google image search. This search was actually the impetus for this post. Maybe there's more to this story than I realize but this brand is simply not helping their image with loose or missing graphic standards.

Contrast the same exercise done with the Pei Wei logo:

Pei Wei has different versions of logos for different uses but the overall look, the typeface and the mark are noticeably consistent. Even a search for just "Pei Wei" shows their attention to color as part of their brand. Look at the grouping below, pulled straight from Google image search. Red floors, red plates, red menus. What a great color cast to reenforce the spicy tastes and the hot woks used to prepare the food.

The takeaway is to take the time to put together a solid set of guidelines that can be distributed to your designers and creative vendors. Consistency goes a long way in reassuring loyal customers that your business is here to stay and your product will continue to please.

Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Exposing Your Human Side.

Every time someone dies or a tragedy strikes, some retailers get in hot water for their quick responses in social media. Jokes gone bad or disingenuous sentiments set next to a promoted product just result in bad PR and customer abandonment.

But, if you want to reveal a little personal feeling into an otherwise promotional stream of emails, it can be done with respect and show people that your company has a softer side. Take care, however, because the line between homage and opportunism is thin.

1. Avoid a sale. 
30% off everything in the store is NOT the way to remember the dead. Heck, it's barely a way to celebrate President's day, in my humble opinion.

2. Have a single message. 
Saks.com's well done remembrance of Oscar de la Renta is about as simple as it gets. Because they used their campaign template, there are links to the site but no promotions, tangental or otherwise.

3. Use the proper tone.
In the ODLR image above, the model is somber, the dress is without color, the background is dark. And yet, this is a designer who died an old, successful man, so the model has a hint of a smile, the background is blue instead of black and the quote is inspiring.  Extremely well done.

4. Be relevant.
Saks and Oscar de la Renta clearly have a close relationship. They simply couldn't have remembered Dale Earnhardt, for example, with the same sincerity.

5. Back the cause.
Houston designer Elaine Turner is very involved in the ongoing effort to cure breast cancer. Since October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, some of her emails relate to that cause. Instead of offering a sale, the CTA is an offer to allow people to support a good cause when they shop. Is this encouraging sales? Sure but with 50% going to the charity, it comes across as more of a fundraising challenge than a promotion. ET is not just exploiting the cause, she has "skin in the game."

6. Tell a story.
This is good advice for every communication but when a corporate entity supports a cause, it falls very flat if they create a theme and leave it at that. Again, in this email, Elaine opens up to why she is behind this cause in a link to a video with her and her mother.

The takeaway: 
By pausing the promotion-of-the-day cycle to highlight a cause or give tribute, you can show your readers that your company is interested in the world outside the store, as long as it's tactful and sincere. Email allows the ability to send a CTA-free message without worrying about an ROI, so why not use your reach to benefit someone else for a change? 

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

First Impressions

I think that if your business is public relations, you should take great care to review your messaging. If you want me to hire you, appear knowledgeable (be able to spell "business") and appear friendly. Everybody makes mistakes, including me, but when I saw this image used in an email I recently received, I just had to wonder how this thumbnail got approved.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

The Unsubscribe Experience

Kudos to Groupon for getting their unsubscribe page right even if their practices are too aggressive for my tastes.

Yesterday, I unsubscribed from the Groupon Goods email. It seems like I did that a long time ago and now I get why: I probably unsubscribed from a sub-list. Apparently, Groupon has multiple "lists" that send periodic emails resulting in what I see as a way too frequent "Groupon" communication strategy and a need to unsubscribe multiple times. One email a day is too many for me and having multiple lists, results in multiple emails a day. They wore me out and I finally clicked the unsub. They really should have cut down on their sends by targeting me better and seeing that my lack of engagement needed a different strategy.

Now for the praise. Instead of just unsubscribing me, they have a "switch to weekly" option. Really good option that directly addresses the reason people are dissatisfied.

Their last ditch effort with keeping me is the icing on the cake. With tongue-in-cheek, they introduce me to sad Derrick, the guy who sends the emails and is now upset because I rejected his efforts. If I feel particularly sadistic, I can further punish him by clicking on the button. If you want the spoiler video without having to subscribe, you can see it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gHr8GBqngUQ  Well done, Groupon!

Friday, July 18, 2014

Just because you can, doesn't mean you should.

I just read an article by Jason Del Rey that reports Starbucks is planning starting an order-ahead-by-mobile feature in some selected markets. Starbucks has had great success with their app, tying convenience with loyalty rewards in a way that other retailers would love to copy. So if anyone can do it they're the ones. But should they?

Before even reading the article, I was scratching my head about how they would overcome issues that Jason talks about like keeping a coffee hot or not having the order ready in time for pickup. They say they are working on the technology but, to me, the human factor is where it falls down. My initial reaction is that the workers are already constantly busy during rush hour, so adding a 3rd queue to drive-thru and walk-up flow, just heightens expectations. Here's why I'm dubious:

1. As stated above, adding another line only reduces the labor at the cash register. If the goal is to cut that small amount of labor, just have a favorite-order button(s) on the app and allow customers to hold their app up to the register and immediately create the order for drinks and pastries and charge their account once the employee can verify that all the items are still available.

2. If the actual throughput isn't increased, each of the 3 lines will individually seem slower. If workers are added to handle the orders, great but that would improve the current system as well.

3. The timing that Jason mentioned will be hard to control given the human factor. I believe the vast majority of people will see the line and order with their app putting them in that queue instead of walk-up. So, the order's not "ready" as designed. Others will order from home but the elevator will be slow or they'll miss the train, etc. and by the time they arrive, the drink's cold.

4. How many coffee orders have you had messed up or lost? And that's ordering in person! I don't believe a 3rd order coming from someone's fat fingers with one eye on the road will be translated any better.

5. How long is the line at Starbucks anyway? If it's a 10 minute wait and some fast-pass smarty comes in and picks up their drink (and oh, by the way, could I have a water for the doggie?) without waiting in line, that makes the customer experience go down for all 20 of us in line. That doesn't seem like great odds to me. If the line is short, the point of ordering ahead is mute.

This is starting to feel like a rant and it isn't meant to be. I'm for innovation and I hope Starbucks does a favorite order button on their app because I might use it. The point of this post is really that sometimes we want to automate because it seems like it will save time and we lose sight of the human interactions that are harder to program for. The less human interaction in a process, the more the expectation for perfection and the less patient people are when things go wrong.

The research team at Starbucks would say I'm all wet and they're probably right. Either way, it will be very interesting to see how it all plays out.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

The Dark Side of Progress

I do my best in keeping this blog focused on the Direct Communications industry. Forgive me in advance if I digress in the course of making my point.

A recent re-broadcast of The Engines of Our Ingenuity brought up the tricky feat of defining "progress" and used the Post Office and email as a model. If you don't read any further, I suggest at least visiting the link above and listening to the 4 minute clip and checking out the illustrations.
As we "progress" from sending physical notes via the USPS to other digital options, we are gaining and losing in the process. Here are what I consider to be some of the obvious pros and some very serious (IMHO) cons.

- Immediacy. When I want to send someone a message, I can do so in a manner that politely puts my note in a digital queue that the recipient can read as soon as they are free. Faster than a letter but less intrusive than a phone call.

- Low cost. Not counting the massive effort in designing and building the infrastructure. Actually sending a message has become practically free. Of course we pay monthly for the privilege but even a high estimate of $.05 each is a massive cut compared to the cost of a stamp.

- Convenience. Instead of all the effort that is involved in buying stationary and stamps, hand-writing a letter and looking up certain words in a dictionary, I can simply send an email or text from wherever I am and let the computer automatically correct all those words that I find tricky to spell.

- Broadcasting. The advantage in being able to CC people in an email or "tweet" to a list of followers saves enumerable time and effort.

- Immediacy. I'm sure that letters have been sent in haste but I have no doubt that today's generation is far more at risk of saying the wrong thing or tweeting the wrong body part :o (see "broadcasting" below). Recently, "real-time marketing" has gotten brands like KLM in trouble for tweeting inappropriate comments without thinking through the consequences.

- Low Cost. Part of the reason for the savings is the automation. Automation typically means less people employed to deliver the message. For hundreds of years, people have feared the looming threat of being replaced by "robots" and "computers." In my lifetime, I've seen many jobs out-moded by technology and the USPS is currently in a death-spiral that they would certainly NOT consider progress. Low cost to deliver is the number 1 facilitator for the glut of "spam" which annoys recipients and hurts legitimate communicators.

- Convenience. How could this be a negative consequence? This blog is admittedly one example of the plethora of documents that are being published today. Eric Schmidt, Executive Chairman at Google, has been credited in saying that "more content (information) is created now every 48 hours than was created since the beginning of time to 2003". Personally, I see that as a "con" because that massive pile of data consists primarily of regurgitated and uninformed drivel that simply makes the truly innovative and informative gems that much harder to find. I, for example, don't need to go to a lot of trouble to distribute my blog, I just click a button and it's there but, because of the sheer volume of content, fewer people will find this article simply by googling for the content.

- Broadcasting. Nowadays, instead of me making the mistake of being offensive to someone's face, I have the opportunity to offend the entire internet with almost no real means of taking it back. In fact, as in the KLM case mentioned above, even "deleting" a tweet doesn't remove all the screenshots that offended people took and reposted.

I suppose the call to action of this post would be to simply be aware of the consequences of your actions. Take a second to think before sending that tweet. Take your agency's promise to acquire new business through content with a grain of salt. Do favor delivering valuable content to interested customers periodically, over an every day "blast" or you'll wear them out. Look beyond your cost per send/impression to your return on investment or at least your cost per action.

In the coming years, communicators like myself will have the opportunity to reshape what has become somewhat of a wild west situation. The internet is a vast, seemingly unlimited resource that is a paradigm shift affecting almost every aspect of our lives. Someone, either the government (shudder!) or the providers (good luck with getting consensus) will need to get together to police the landscape. Luckily, there are organizations like m3aawg.org  and cauce.org along with several blacklisting directories that are working to make messaging better for the masses.

Thursday, August 8, 2013

Color matters

When we set up our mapping standards, we spent a LOT of time evaluating the colors we would use to best convey the way the numbers ramped up or down in scale. We usually color segments from cool to hot, giving neighboring numbers close colors but not too close so as to be indistinguishable. It may seem like overkill to some people but, as with any graphic standard, it's worth spending lots of effort at the outset so you have a quality image every time down the road.

Look at the USPS delivery "standards" map. I saw this and couldn't resist posting this very short lesson with the case in point of what NOT to do.

Since these times are not guaranteed and based on ranges, a graded color scheme would be much better. Below is an edited sample of what I'd do differently. Incidentally, as I was recoloring the map, I found the greens to be particularly confusing. I think Houston to Washington is 9 days compared to 13 - 14 to Alaska but it's truly hard to tell.