Branding and Marketing

Lego Ninjago Spinjitsu training camp: Marketing genius and total scam

A few days ago I got this Email from ToysRUs:

ToysRUs E-mail about Lego Ninjago Spinjitsu Training CampIt was insanely well timed. I got it just as I came home from the second evening in a row of being at work late; henceforth, the motherly guilt was peaking for the week. Lego Ninjago Spinjitsu Training Camp! Holy crap – the absolutely perfect way to divert G’s attention from the fact that he hasn’t seen me in days! Woot! (If you’re marketing to working Moms, evidently e-mailing them at 7PM on Wednesday/Thursday is pretty smart.)

So, after being mutually jacked up about this for the past three days, today we made the journey to the “epic” training camp experience. Which consisted of:

-Two folding tables with red vinyl tablecloths
-A few bowls full of Lego pieces
-One plastic Ninjago training ring
-One human “Ninja Master” with headband
-A stack of small Ninjago Training Camp posters

And…a huge pack of kids and parents waiting in line, with armloads of Ninjago crap to buy. Seriously – this two hour event cost them about $100 all in, with staff cost and printing, and they raked in cash in boatloads. GENIUS.

We loaded up, like the rest, with a couple of Ninjas (um, OK, those are for me and @bootyp), our FREE-with-purchase Ninjago Skeleton Chopper (which retails for $3.99 and is worth about $.12), and a $32.99 Lego Prince of Persia set, because they didn’t have the Ninjago set that G wanted. And we waited in line – thankfully only for a few minutes – at the folding table with the red vinyl tablecloth with the human Ninja master, eagerly awaiting the magical revelation of the “new spinning techniques.” (There’s more than one way to spin a ninja, you know…)

But wait. We watched the kids in front of us battle the “Master” and there were no new spinning techniques offered. Say what? So, of course, when our turn came, I demanded – I mean, asked – for the actual training part of the “Training Camp”. Lo and behold, we did learn, for about 90 seconds, about the “Higher Ground” technique (more pieces on the bottom of your Ninja so he or she – yes, there is a token female Ninja in the group – is taller than the competition) and the Headspin (impressive).


Now, mind you, in all honesty I had pretty much lowered my expectations before we went, knowing that it was a trumped up marketing scam. And I figured Griffin would rate the experience a “10″ given that he walked out with a couple of new spinning tips and, more importantly, a new Lego set. But even he says it was just “OK”.

Seems to me, if they are going to include that many exclamation points in one Email, they should at least be set up to provide some “training” without people having to demand – I mean, ask for it.

Lego is one of the smartest marketers out there. They have a kickass product. They have a kickass website with piles of killer video content and games. They know to Email guilt-ridden Moms on Wednesday evening. But, if you’re going to have an event, it’s still all about the experience. Work with your retailers to make it not suck. I know that’s easier said than done, when you have tons of retailers and little control. But there’s got to be a way to provide standards, and do some sort of QA.

Of course we still love Legos. But we would definitely never go out of our way to go to another so-called “Training Camp.”

What do you think? Marketing genius? Or total scam?


How to alienate a customer in just three easy steps

The really great thing about social media is this: it’s faster and easier than ever to ignore, alienate and piss off a customer!

Case in point. As quick background, I joined Weight Watchers 9 days ago (not that I’m counting). It’s not a brand I ever thought I would associate with, but, well, that Jennifer Hudson TV commercial sucked me in, to tell you the truth. I know how to lose weight (lots of experience), but counting calories has gotten tedious so I thought maybe there’s something to this whole “points” thing.


Step One: Present a compelling promise with fine print that basically negates it.

“JOIN FOR FREE!” Mouse type: we’re waiving a joining fee but it’s still going to cost you $60 to get started. If there actually is a one-week free trial, bury it in your site architecture so your customer doesn’t see it.

Step Two: Follow worst practices of Twitter use.

Follow less than 1% of your followers. Never reply to them when they tweet about you or directly ask you questions. Post on your profile, “Have questions? E-mail our customer service for the quickest response!”

Completely ignore the fact that one-fourth of respondents who complain via Facebook or Twitter expect a reply within 60 minutes — and 6% expect a response within 10 minutes, according to the study by Lightspeed Research and the Internet Advertising Bureau UK.

After all, why answer questions responsively on Twitter, when you can…

Step Three: Apologize on your email contact form for the fact that it might take you up to two days to respond, then wait six days. When you do respond, provide a robotic non-answer to the question.

Never mind that if consumers notify a company of a problem using its Web site, 50% are happy to wait up to a day for a reply and 27% are content to wait for up to three days, according to the same study referenced above.

(Bonus Step: If you really want to get your customers going, throw in a dysfunctional web site with recipe search that if your user’s cursor goes outside the margins, they have to start over. And a dysfunctional mobile app that doesn’t allow them to favorite recipes.)

Isn’t the point of social media to communicate AT your customers? You wouldn’t want to communicate with them, maybe nudge them towards enthusiasm or advocacy. That would be too much work.

Calling B.S. on P&G

I sometimes recommend strategies that are about differentiating through brand integrity – how a brand treats its customers, employees, community and the environment. Lately it seems everyone is jumping on this bandwagon, even more than ever. Or maybe I am just noticing it more. But as friend, former colleague, fellow strategist John Karlson and I were discussing recently, there is a big difference between making a quick buck off of a cause marketing promotion and making an authentic long-term commitment to a social mission, corporate responsibility, brand integrity, whatever you want to call it.

For example, which one do you think this is, from Dawn dish soap (P&G)?

Smells like the former “quick buck” strategy to me, and the very healthy discussion of the spot on YouTube seems to mostly agree, though it’s definitely the “Skeptic” segment pitted against the “Pollyanna” segment who ran out and bought Dawn because the commercial is cute and the music is great. If you know me, read my blog regularly, or follow me on Twitter, you know which segment I fall into ;)

The commenters point out that P&G tests its products on animals, while the company states that such testing is a last resort. Which, in effect, is sort of a corporate escape hatch, IMHO. Further, the company has formed a “strategic partnership” with the American Humane Society “committed to the elimination of animal use for consumer product evaluation.” Was the objective of that strategy really “doing the right thing”? Or was it “form a defense against PETA”? Either way, if I can be super tactical for a moment, the fact that the spot is a Simulated Demonstration calls its authenticity into question.

Lo and behold, Dawn’s actual Good Guide rating is a whopping 5.7 out of 10. Not “Terrible” – though of couple of their products are rated “Terrible” in the health category – but certainly not good enough to call themselves the environmental good guys. So I’m officially calling BS on this Good Guy strategy, folks.

GoodGuide Rating for Dawn

What do you think? Do you think P&G is for real in this case? Or do you think its corporate whitewashing? If you know anyone from P&G, feel free to invite them to weigh in. I would love to be proven wrong.

For more on brand integrity, I highly recommend the brilliant Marketing Meritocracy blog by John F. Karlson. For more explanation of Good Guide ratings, go here.

Dear Subaru storytelling campaign

Dear Subaru

Saw this ad in Cooking Light yesterday and I dig that it is using customer stories to spread the love. I’m awaiting confirmation but I believe the campaign comes from Carmichael Lynch, an agency I was with for 5 years in the late 90s. Their philosophy was – and is – “Speak to the core and let others listen in.” Meaning they were enthusiast marketers before social enthusiast marketing was cool.

Whoever executed the campaign, I’ve got a few questions, though. Why is “Dear Subaru” buried in the corporate website, not promoted on the home page (say, in place of the Free Outback Detergent promo)? It’s great advertising IMHO, but why rely on that to get people there when you’ve probably got tons of prospects hitting your home page? Why isn’t the campaign integrated into your Facebook page? Your fans obviously love you, but what better place to capture more stories and/or refer them to “Dear Subaru”? Why, on the “Dear Subaru” page, can we only see the three stories that you have controlled for advertising purposes? Have there been other submissions? Are people participating? The page isn’t social/transparent for us users to really FEEL the love.

Awesome idea. And I think it’s pretty new, so maybe it will get there. But it feels like a digital campaign executed by an advertising agency.

Your customers expect the “make it happen” button

Marketers, hospitality brands, everyone: consider this a friendly reminder that creating a positively talkable customer experience should still be strategy numero uno in your playbook. Why? Because customers now  expect the “Make It Happen” button.

Put yourself in the shoes of your customer. (OK, it’s me. Today. But pretend that it is you. Seriously. Do it. Please.) Imagine this experience. It might help you deeply understand that what your customers go through — and what they expect from you — is much bigger than you think.

You’re leaving on a business trip. When you are dropped at the airport, your four-year-old is crying and screaming “Mommy Mommy Mommy” in the car, so your nerves are raw and you haven’t even entered the airport yet. First leg of the trip goes fine, you’re starting to relax. Your connecting flight leaves on time, you’re thinking “no sweat. I’m good.” Until you are told that there are 32 (yes, 32) planes ahead of you on the runway. You regroup, read your book, make pleasant conversation with your seat mate with some serious halitosis. Fine. Until you fly into a thunderstorm, think you’re falling out of the sky, and circle the airport for a while before you are allowed to land. All this before you even get to your hotel.

(Hotel marketers — Hampton Inn & Suites, specifically: are you paying attention now? You should be.) You – the customer – are incredibly relieved to get to your hotel. Until you realize that the gate agent at the airport kept your American Express card.  You regroup again and head to your room. Nice amenities, you’re thinking ahhhhh at last. I can order some room service and chill out. The menu looks great. So you push the room service button and…no one answers. You see that there is a “Make It Happen” button. “Let us spoil you. Direct any request to our make it happen line.” SWEET, you’re thinking. Surely someone at the make it happen button will bring me some food. Except, um, no one answers the “make it happen” button either. (Seriously. I am not making this up.)

So, you call the front desk and are informed that, oops, the restaurant is closed for renovations – we “forgot” to mention that when you made your reservation. But hey, we can shuttle you to another part of town, you can order a pizza, or you can walk five blocks to a diner after traveling for nine hours. We can “make that happen” for you!

Guess what your customer says? Can you guess? “Make this happen: I am checking out. Now. Buh-bye. And when I get to my new hotel, I am going to write a blog post about your God-awful service, that I hope through some small miracle many people see. Let’s make that happen.”

Then, you get to your new hotel, and, um, find your American Express card, which you’ve already cancelled, and they won’t reinstate, and won’t send you a new one for four days (remember those commercials they used to run with the couple traveling and AmEx is there to save their butts? Yeah, so do I). So they pass you around from person to person, put you on hold a few times until you are standing at the hotel desk in tears, and eventually tell your hotel “She’s good. She can stay.” You breathe a sigh of relief. And go to your room and immediately tell the world about that, too.

The moral of this story? Like it or not, those marketers that haven’t figured this out yet need to deal with the fact that customers have come to expect the “Make It Happen” button. We’re less tolerant of mediocrity – or worse – than we used to be. Because we have channels for sharing and amplifying our discontent. And because we have every right to expect more.

Sponge, idiot savant, creative, geek

A few people have asked what a brand strategist is and what resources I recommend for aspiring brand strategists. In super simple terms, a brand strategist is someone who learns everything there is to learn about a brand and everything surrounding that brand – including its users, fans, prospects, detractors – and can distill it down into only what matters to create the most relevant value proposition. And then recommends marketing and/or communication strategies for bringing that brand to life.

A great brand strategist is:

1) A sponge. You don’t have to be a full-blown Account Planner, necessarily, to be a great brand strategist. But if you don’t have a heaping helping of passionate intellectual curiosity, do choose a different path. My top three books on brand strategy are:
Building Strong Brands, by David Aaker. Very academic but it’s The Bible. This is what Harley-Davidson used to craft their brand identity system when I worked on their business. If you still have questions about what a brand strategist is, read this book and there will be no further possible questions.
Disruption. Beyond Disruption. How Disruption Brought Order. all by Jean-Marie Dru and all absolute must reads.
Truth, Lies and Advertising by Jon Steel.
Those are just the books, obviously there are other publications (I love Communication Arts), numerous blogs (see blog roll for just a few of many), piles of research, etc.
2) An idiot savant. I suck at abstract math, science, and history, and really anything truly useful in the world. But I can cut through a brand strategy like a knife through butter. Which does not exactly put me up for the Nobel Prize, but hey, it’s fun. To be a brand strategist, you need a bizarre God-given ability to take an enormous pile of information and cut to just what matters. To craft it into a tight proposition that is confident, relevant and captures the heart of the brand experience. Frankly, I’m not convinced that being a really great brand strategist can be taught. You are either strategic, or you aren’t. If you aren’t, don’t beat your head against the wall.
3) A creative. Right now, I have on my desk essentially a laminated placemat of a brand value proposition architecture that a new client feels captures their brand to a tee. But it is complete and utter garbage if I can’t translate it to a far more brilliant creative team in a language that they can relate to. (There’s some killer stuff in Truth, Lies and Advertising on how to do this. The hair on the balls of a bee; if that doesn’t pique your curiosity, I don’t know what will. Read it.) So it helps if you have at least some creative urges, sensibilities or at least appreciation.
4) A geek. While tactical planning is (thankfully) not a huge part of the job as a brand strategist, it definitely helps to throw yourself learning about all kinds of media, interactive, social and otherwise, so you can therefore bring forward ideas for how to express your strategies in a variety of ways, which inspires others. And it’s important to be an inspiring geek, not a boring geek. If I am a boring geek, God forbid, I hope you will tell me so I stop blogging.
It’s pretty simple stuff. I hope that helps? What other resources do you recommend?

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