Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Why would I pay for a newspaper online?

That's a bigger question than it looks, and one that The Chronicle-Herald in Halifax, Nova Scotia would pay to answer.

The Chronicle-Herald has been struggling just like most papers across the continent. In fact, the city had two subscription papers up until 2007 when the Daily News shut things down. I'm sure that they are trying to figure this mess out - how to increase readership, so they can increase ad revenues, while cutting back to a skeleton staff. I know of at least one solution - a newspaper sale. Last week I received a call offering me 45% off a subscription. I don't even know how much that is (the caller didn't say, they just said the percentage) but it's probably within my affordable range. But for news, it's not about spending the money, it's about utility. I read the paper at work - after I've read my blog roll, tweetdeck and handful of online news sources.

Of course the list of problems that plague this industry is longer and more complicated than a guy like me denying a 45% off subscription. There's media saturation, competition from alternative sources that are faster or more accessible, deflating ad budgets from national ad buyers in crisis, etc. As I do enjoy reading off of paper and see value around the idea of the printed newspaper, I'd like to hope that some of the players in the newspaper industry are at least trying to think sideways on how they can deliver the news and make money.

Last week the Chronicle-Herald tried an online poll that asked the question: Would you pay for an online version of the Chronicle-Herald? Was this a glimpse at the future? To pack it in like that paper on the west coast and move to an online model. The answers from the readership was a resounding no. 81% of respondents said they would not pay for an online version of the paper. Ironic considering they were answering the questions online. Maybe the poll question should have been directed at advertisers: Would you pay print ad rates for better visability online?

The problem is not that the Chronicle-Herald is looking to save itself. The problem is that it is looking to do so using the same model that is currently leaking money. The idea to just move the paper online is the same mistake often seen from any compnay looking to:

1) reach new markets of people, or
2) increase interest from existing customers

They use the same tactics offline to move a product online. When a business model is on life support in the 'real world' moving the business model online only prolonges its failure. For the newspaper industry, a move online would require a different set of priorities. It's a different market with different players. Readers are different. Although many online readers probably read the paper - online they tend to read differently, browsing, linking and scanning through information.

The key to the newspaper industry will be to find a way to do what it does best, while reaching the types of readers that attract advertising.
  • Maybe it's a mixture of staff taking a hyper-local approach to the community with opportunities for reader response and influence. Step up the editorial. Listen to the reactions and taylor the content. Respect your readership. If it's readers you need than attract readers, not advertisers. I hate arriving on a site to have an ad jump in the way of my reading. "Site domination" is attractive to companies, but it's just another version of spam.
  • Maybe it's an online advertising model that differentiates from the usual pay-per-click banner ads, like a monthly rate regardless of clicks. Or try what I mentioned earlier - offer online ad rates that mirror print ad rates. Find out what makes (or is that 'made) paying print rates tollerable and create a solution online. For example, don't have alternating banner or big box ads. Offer exclusive space or relevant space. Develop a bank of advertisers that is served to the reader or the article (like Facebook or Google does). If it's advertisers you need than attract advertisers, while maintaining readers.
  • Or maybe it's segmenting the distribution of information to those who want it. I don't read the obituaries, classifieds or comics. Don't send them to me. There are existing online tools that could distribute news in this foramt. I follow the Globe and Mail on Twitter and I get news a hundred times a day.
There are many different ideas that might help, but trying to continue business under the same business model is not one of them.

Monday, March 30, 2009

Does mass media still exist?

More and more companies are looking for alternative ways to advertise. Notice that I didn't say "talk to consumers" like the request usually sounds. This may be the official request, but what these companies eally mean is: get my message in front of as many people as possible but do it in a way that makes me feel good that we are using all the cool new tools that I keep hearing about.

And who can blame them?

For the last 60-70 years companies have come to rely on the ability of advertisers to get the message out to the masses. From the early days of radio where "never before in the history of the world have five or ten or fifty million people listened to the same sound at the same time" (VP of advertising at BBDO, 1935), through to television - companies could build a marketing plan around the fact that advertisers could connect them to the masses. Because of the given choices for the consumer (radio, print and television), it wasn't too hard to find out where/when most "people were looking in the same direction at the same time."* But...

...things have changed. The task to reach the place where most people place their attention is not so simple. We keep hearing about how cool the world of new media is - but we struggle with how it fits within our current ideas of marketing and advertising. The fact that we call it media - social media, new media, etc - doesn't help.

In today's households, 40% of leisure time is spent online. When there are more websites than people on this planet, it is not a simple task of finding where these people spend 40% of their time. It's not that these people can't be reached - it's just that the way we can reach them, isn't black and white like buying a couple hundred GRP's on CBS. This makes companies worried. It makes marketing teams believe that the investment carries a greater amount of risk.

There is a perception that this move online is taking away from other media, after all we only have 24 hours in a day. In reality, of the 142 hours per month that we watch television, a large portion of that is spent splitting our attention between mediums. In a study last year from MarketingVox, 31% of those watching television were also online. Now we're dealing with a time-crunched consumer, who is also dividing their attention between mediums. Something the media ratings systems have not quite accounted for and something that is not reflected (or requested) in many media plans.

So reaching the masses is no longer black and white. The masses are fragmented. Even when we know where they are, we can be almost certain that there attention is only partly there. Facing this reality, marketers and advertisers have to change their dialogue with each other. The need to identify our audience beyond general demographics is essential. The more our audience fragments it's attention and time, the more our marketing/advertising efforts require fragmentation. The solution involves more creative ideas, more time listening to consumers and abandoning the thought that any idea outside of mass media holds greater risk.

*Paraphrased from "Buying In" by Rob Walker.

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Another motivation to consider new media.

How many meetings have you been to where the amount of people you reach with your ads is discussed versus the amount of revenue (not sales) the company wants to make?

That's a great example of the old model trying to harmonize with the new. Most ad agencies continue to support this way of thinking. Don't waste your time.

Remember, all companies stay in business when they make money - not push ads out to thousands of people. Making money comes from talking to people who want to buy your product. If you could change a salesperson's close ratio to 75% from 10% you'd do it. New media offers the ability to change the 'engaged audience' ratio from the old 1%-5% to 75%-100%. Let that be the motivation to explore new media and social media, rather than the urge to reach everyone. Take quantity out of the discussion.

There's a bit more to it, but I'll leave that for another post.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Even if your smile is fake, it will probably work.

I'm back to work after seven days off. I spent the last week in Cuba - far away from internet, cellular coverage and morning traffic. I didn't head to Cuba for that purpose, I went for the Vitamin D. For the last five months there has been four feet of snow and below freezing temperatures in the city I live and I was seriously needing a taste of summer.

What is interesting about Cuba, aside from the beautiful beaches, the crazy history, the sub-par food and the fanatic love of baseball - is the people. Literally stuck in a country that attempts to control everything in their life, the professionals that make it to a resort have a lot of personality (and they are professionals. At the resort I was staying you had to be a university student or from an educated profession to work). These people have backgrounds in medicine and industrial engineering and spend thirteen hours a day serving colorful drinks or deep fried vegetables at the buffet. They have every reason to leave their personality at home, resent their job and just plow through the monotonous workday. But they don't.

If you work for or own a company that employees people who deal with other people - than now's a good time to pay attention. There are a few lessons to be learned from Cuba.

Service with a smile
Every single member of the resort's staff had a smile for each visitor they interacted with. Why? I'm sure it's partly out of the hospitable culture and partly out of the 'smile = $ tips' formula. The employees discovered that being happy while they work not only helps their moral, but increases the money in their pocket. It doesn't mean they are always truly happy, but putting on a smile delivers a completely different outcome during the workday. A sun soaked tourist a little tipsy off rum punch has a hard time differentiating between 'real' and 'fake' smiles. The same could be said for any business - you can hear a smile in someones voice and happiness is contagious.

The staff didn't pitty you into giving them a tip - they serviced you into giving them a tip. Too often in any industry, employee's working for tips or bonuses try to communicate the sob story or vent their complaints and terrible day with customers. They may get a tip or that last sale, but they'll lose a customer. A seemingly authentic positive interaction served with a smile can immediately change the brand perception and increase a customers loyalty.

Manage what you can control
On the other side of the equation are the resort owners. They've figured out the profits model. Sure they are the gateway to a beautiful beach and swim up bar, but so many of the reasons tourists travel to a place like Cuba are out of the resort owner's control. A couple of rainy days and you have a resort full of pissed of Canadians. The resort owners know there is a wild card that they can control. The biggest point of visitor/consumer interaction is the people. You can build a great product and service, but one bad consumer interaction can ruin your reputation (and profits. And yes, I'm not talking just about Cuban resorts.) So employees are motivated and rewarded for service and for ensuring that customers provide feedback on the service.

People like to feel special.
We buy products in order to associate with the emotion that a brand delivers. Even if you hate brands, you buy other stuff to reflect you big brand hatred. Everyone's a consumer. As a company, if you forget this and you ignore the fact that customer interaction is the biggest point for sales, retention, marketing, and brand building - you'll consistently be at a disadvantage. Cuba is chastised for its food, politics and has limited access to resources and market share. In the last twenty years it has exponentially increased its tourism industry based on the customer interaction. The employees are as big a part of the brand interaction as free form pools and blooming gardens. This focus has eliminated the disadvantage and has built a loyal growing base of customers.

Friday, March 13, 2009

You're wasting your money with that agency.

Too many companies feel that their marketing delivers random results and mediocre customer loyalty as the result of their marketing.

Why? Because they focus their job (or have been forced to focus their job) on advertising and not marketing. If you think of it, advertising hits consumers for only a fraction of the purchase decision process. Bang. Billboard when I'm in my car. Interesting pitch. I go to the store. No relevant support ads, no service- different offer than what I thought that billboard said.

Ad agencies are often criticized for not evolving with the attention spans of consumers. New media, social media, no media - have all cut into the traditional ad space and have left many people pointing the finger at their ad agency for any missed opportunity in these spaces and the increasing voice that says "advertising is dead".

I'll agree that there are a ton of agencies who continuously do pretty good work (as in TV, Print, Online) but miss the mark on this new media stuff. But that's not the point. The point is that pretty good work (in any communication category) doesn't mean increased revenue for clients.

The problem is the conversation between clients and ad agencies. If your job is to market the company you work for and you seek an ad agency for help, chances are that you base your requests to them off of previous work that you have done or the agency has done. The problem is that you probably do your job pretty good, the agency spits out creative that's pretty good, and everyone is left satisfied...barely.

The mindset has to change. When you are looking to an agency for help you should focus on the marketing of your company not the advertising. There's a big difference. Real change and remarkable work only comes when this is the focus. Just like you, the agency should be thinking about marketing. If you nodding your head in agreement, but deal with your agency as the 'producer of your ads' your short changing yourself.

To focus on the marketing, the first conversation with any agency should sound like - we have zero advertising budget, but need to market this company, how can we make that happen? You probably wouldn't say that though. How could you market your company without the media? Well you would get what you pay for from your agency - killer creative ideas. BUT these ideas would be "why don't your sales people say this...","what if the store did this..." and "do you think selling the service that way is still effective?" It will force a shift from being an ad focused marketer to a revenue generating marketer. You'll step on all sorts of department' toes. Some people will probably even be pretty pissed off - until revenues jump, that struggling product becomes a leader and you and your agency create that necessary shift to energize the companies image.

This doesn't mean that you will not use advertising media, it just means you'll approach the problem different. You'll train your mind to forget the knee jerk reaction ("quick, do a print ad, our sales are down.") You'll hit customers in more places - not just while driving down the road to work. Every interaction with your company will change and that brand you keep trying to build will solidify itself as a tangible emotion in the mind of your customer. In the end you'll be accountable, you'll have tested the guts of your ad agency, and done your job remarkably.

Wednesday, March 11, 2009

Where is that internet at?

The number of people who actually understand the impact of social media on their lives and business is not nearly as many as the buzz we generate suggests.

Yes, there is growth in the use of social media/new media but many of the companies adopting it are doing it for the wrong reasons. Here are a few common statements that definitely provide opportunity to assist with the social media learning curve, before it follows the same fate of the misused, hated and ignored online banner ad.

Statement #1: When do consumers have time for this social media stuff?
I heard this in a presentation I gave to an MBA class about two weeks ago. Since then, I've noticed the comment on blog posts, client conversations and podcasts. My response here would be - when did we find time to read the paper or increase our time watching television from a 30 minute show to an hour show? When did people decide they could afford the time to setup a Facebook profile, Flickr account, or learn to text message? We are often a terrible reflection of the mass opinion. It is amazing how much time people will actually create when they have the desire to do something. The same could be said for money. It is amazing how much money people will actually create when they have the desire to consume.

Statement #2: Where is Twitter?
I'm not a Twitter power user. I tend to try and keep who I listen to and talk to in manageable. I use Tweetdeck to keep tabs on the conversations of some of my clients and some prospective clients. This question, or some of its variants like "How do I Twitter"and "Let's make this one viral" always come up. This presents a great opportunity to preach about the virtues of social media. But don't. Instead show one simple example of the benefit/power of these tools. This will focus the attention on the strategy rather than the technology. You'll avoid the "why did we Tweet" or "remind me why we're on Facebook again" conversation down the road when the technology changes. For example, I was tracking online mentions of a client the other day. I found a comment where a guy was asking if he should upgrade his current product (made by my client) or change to the competitors. There was no response at the time. I took a screen shot and sent it to my client to connect the dots between the buzz behind social media and the opportunity in its most basic form. This is also a great way to find new clients...but that's another post.

Statement #3: I want some of that social media interactive viral community stuff.
This is a request that comes in 99% of the time to all agencies. I have talked to clients, to friends and other agencies and this is usually the first client to agency initiation of a new media discussion.

Let me set up the situation. This company is x years old and knows how to market its product, after all they've been doing it for years. They come to you with the request to send our latest ad out through [insert social network] to join the conversation.

The intent here is right. This person is interested to see what can be done to reach consumers where they spend their time. The red flag here is that the expectation is probably off from what is possible. They are used to the way things have always been done. There job has been to get eyeballs to see their product ads. When someone sees a great viral video they want to do the same. They want to have 2 million eyeballs watch their stuff because they see a cost benefit over the cost to do the same in TV. They also think it would be cool - which it is. However, there are two ways things tend to go viral:
  1. When a company has been in that space for so long that they have permission from their audience to authentically go viral
  2. When a consumer attributes meaning to something a company does and sends it out (whether that company supports the meaning or not)
We need to manage the expectation by making this clear. It's all about engaging the people who will buy your stuff. It's way less about cool and even less about forcing something out there.

Think Public Relations. Getting a PR team to send out a press release has far less use and impact than getting a PR team to manage your brand/company/employee story. We waste our resources getting people to do little projects for us, no matter what the marketing purpose. Think holistic story telling.

Statement #4 I agree. We should reach out to consumers. Could you give me a price on how much it would cost for you to do this on our behalf?
This is usually a follow up to Statement #3. If this is mentioned to you it means you've failed to help this person in anyway. But all is not lost. It might also mean that you have one more opportunity.

This question usually comes from a company that:
  • Still considers it's customer base a cost. Hence their eagerness to unload the customer relationship onto an agency - they have too many other things to do.
  • Is thinking 'campaign' versus 'sustainable revenue'.
  • Does not understand what your talking about.
In all cases they are a company that has not made a real commitment to engage in the strategy. The only steps one can take here are to drip, drip, drip the strategy into different levels of that company. Hammering the idea into their head at this point is useless. Actually moving forward with the campaign is probably not a great idea either. It would make the company happy and put some cash in the bank, but in the long run it makes both client and agency look bad.

I'm sure there are more statements worth sharing, but I'd like to hear yours...

Sunday, March 8, 2009

The cola wars continue

When in doubt go back to basics.

This might be a line out of the marketing plans for both Coke and Pepsi as their 'natural' campaigns start to see some daylight. The proverbial stake in the ground this time seems to be kicking it old school.

Coke's decided to bring out the original personality. It's dropped the "Coca-Cola Classic" moniker, going back to the "The Real Thing" we've seen on and off for centuries. Boasting no artificial flavours or colours, talking about glass bottles and the mystery of their 1886 secret formula, we're seeing a less exciting/over-the-top side of Coke but something more genuine and relevant.

With Pepsi, they're launching Pepsi Natural (and it's coming to North America). This is a version of the world's second favorite cola with real sugar, rather than the High Fructose Corn Syrup that makes up a big portion of the liquid found in both cola brands. Besides the fact that HFCS is a blacklisted product for most health conscious consumers, not to mention a diabetics arch nemesis, it's also what helps keep these colas priced low (compared to what I don't know). A plus for consumers - this stuff actually tastes better and leaves the palette with a "smooth" feeling. Pepsi tends to bottle up branches of its brands for short sprints in the market, but you can't help but wonder if Coke or Pepsi have moved in their own directions as a result of each other.

If you look back over the history of these two brands fighting in market, their advertising is a great reflection of pop culture and consumer mindset. So you can't help but wonder if these two moves are another reflection of that environment. There has been a push towards natural, organic and healthy alternatives in many consumer minds (especially mid to high end consumers) and niche market sodas have capitalized - cutting into the market with a unique personality and the stamp of natural flavors to tie into this growing consumer mindset. Both Coke and Pepsi have left this type of messaging on the back burner, instead pursuing lifestyle advertising, sports endorsements, and high-buzz stunts. In the midst of delivering the ad some of their brand basics have been lost to the consumer.

Another point might be that in a time where consumers are eyeing corporations through a larger lens, the new campaigns may reflect the effort to be more financially, environmentally and/or health conscious. This might be a bit far fetched but stranger things have happened.

So the cola wars continue - another chapter in history defined by the mass advertising of the world's cola behemoths. I'll be in line to buy a real sugar Pepsi and I always prefer my coke in a glass bottle (it does actually taste better).

Saturday, March 7, 2009

The sky doesn't fall - we just stop holding it up.

I was spoke to an MBA class last week on alternative media. I followed a colleague from CBS Outdoor - one of two major billboard companies in Canada. He mentioned how his industry, after years of profits and promising growth, had a major crisis after legislation was passed that banned the advertisement of tobacco. It turns out the tobacco industry loved outdoor advertising. They booked all the space they could get. It must have been great to sell this stuff back then - inflated demand due to a client not bound by price or consiense. But this all came crashing down. It hit the billboard companies hard. The industry was so busy focusing on its current success that it didn't foresee the possibility of change. They should have learned a hard lesson from the tobacco crisis: they're not in the billboard business, they're in the ad delivery business. I wonder if they have considered the trend arising from Sao Paulo, Brazil - where in 2007 the city banned outdoor advertising.

The tobacco crisis caused a change in the industry. It could be argued that this change should have occurred prior to the crisis. Didn't anyone notice all the advertising eggs were in one basket? You can't blame them - this is the way most industries think. Case in point: the newspaper industry.

The newspaper industry is in crisis as more readers go online and more advertising dollars go with them. Papers across the continent are disappearing. It started with the top heavy publications and has trickled to the local level. Newspaper journalists and lobbyists are scraping for solutions. Most are way off the mark. They continue to look at ways to bring the newspaper industry back to where it was. This can't happen. The world is not what it was. Time to think different. Take a step back from the tangible product you deliver and look at what value you provide. The value this industry has provided is not built in the actual newpaper. The value is in trusted local news delivery. The problem is that a decade ago would have been the time to recognize this, now millions of bloggers and online communities make it their daily mission to deliver trusted local news.

These two examples of industries blinded by success bring me back to a story I heard years ago. If we go back a couple of decades the rail industry is the legacy example of industries failing to understand their business. The rail industry was booming when it began. It moved people, food, products, and mobilized industries across the continent. Then the Wright brothers had to screw it all up. The introduction of commercial and consumer flight cannibalized the stronghold that the rail industry had on market share. Rail companies scrambled. Doom and gloom filled board rooms and rail yards. They have survived, but have not recovered to the silver lining of those early days. Maybe disaster could have been diverted. Just like CBS is in the ad delivery business and newspapers are in the trusted local news delivery business, the railroad was never in the rail business -it was in the transportation industry.

In hind sight it is easy to see the lost opportunity. But what opportunity are you missing because you're too focused on what you’ve always done (who cares that you are successful). What problems will your industry face because it continues to define it's value based on what last years profit told it.

You don't need to be in business for 30 years to understand that there is a great chance that tomorrow won't be like today - so why do we act/market/advertise/plan that way?

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Restaurants, Rock, and Hair Cuts

Montreal's Taverne Crescent just swiped a page from London's Little Bay restaurants on how to market during a recession. Actually, I think it could be just 'how to market to the people you want as customers'. If you haven't heard the back story it goes like this:

Last week Taverne Crescent decided to introduce a pay-what-you-want menu. The idea was to increase traffic, take the pressure off the dining experience and serve customers who'll have a better chance at arriving and leaving happy. Plus, they'll get a little buzz on the side (like this, this and this).

London's Little Bay is a case study with some some success - 10,000 patrons and featured news stories for weeks. The trend in pay-what-you-want menu's has spread to dozens of restaurants around the world.

You can't help but read these stories and think of two thing: Radiohead and Nine Inch Nails. Both bands have generated their own amount of buzz for the pay-what-you-want model. Radiohead offered their album for a pay-what-you-want (more than $2), and Trent Reznor from NIN promoted Saul Williams' album as free or $5 (depending on quality). In a time when a $16 CD trickles about $1.60 to the artist, Saul Williams managed to sell about 30,000 copies to pocket $141,610 (over twice the revenue). Radiohead had massive success with Rainbows. They sold more records, merchandise and concert tickets then they did in the previous three albums.

When you have a band, restaurant or business that is comfortable enough to open up the price you've found the sweet spot in marketing.

Think about it.

How much would you pay for your telephone? For your car? For those brand name shoes? For a haircut? You might think your $30 haircut is worth $10 (but you still paid $30). You may spend $2500 on a huge TV, and feel that the buying experience was only worth $900. Would a consumer ever really choose to pay $2.99? Or would they just round it up to $3 (or down to $2).

This isn't about being cheap - it's about assigning true value to what we buy and more importantly what we sell. As marketers we love to assign "value" to the things we advertise. I use quotes, because "value" is one of those words that is plastered in every marketers vocabulary- without "value" your boss will probably be pissed. Everyone you market to only has a finite amount of money to spend. In most cases, no matter what you charge, they won't go beyond what they have to spend. Instead of pricing out what you need to make from a product, determine what it would actually be worth. Don't look through the corporate beer goggles of your brand - look at it as a regular consumer. What would someone pay you for your product if they could pay whatever they want?

This would change the game a bit wouldn't it? You'd probably change who you market to and how you talk to them?

I think this would help answer a lot of questions about why last quarters sales were down, why that last product was a bust, or what is wrong with our current strategy (for most of us it has nothing to do with the economy). Is what I'm marketing useful and is it worth it?

Monday, March 2, 2009

What did I just pay for?

My wife and I booked a vacation a few months ago. We're set to travel in about a month. We decided to support a local business and booked a trip for eight people with Maritime Travel. As everyone in the group that was traveling with us had strict travel time needs, we wanted to deal with someone face to face to ensure that we could trust the travel itinerary and rely on a local human being for assistance if something was to come up. I don't ordinarily care if the person I'm dealing with is local, but I wanted everyone else who was traveling with me to feel comfortable too.

We'll be flying on Canada's other charter airline - Air Transat. We usually fly with Air Canada when going to an all-inclusive resort, as they tend to actually organize these things pretty good (in comparison to the debauchery they call domestic travel). We arranged the flights so that everyone could arrive home at a convenient time and feel rested prior to getting back to work. Nothing sucks more than needing a vacation after a vacation. So, we'll be flying out on a direct flight on a Friday night and flying directly home on a Sunday night. Direct being the #1 influence on our decision to book an Air Transat Vacation through Maritime Travel.

Then a few days ago my wife received an email from Maritime Travel. Nothing big. They just wanted to inform us that our direct flight down south would now be a little less direct, stopping in Jamaica. The flight that we paid a premium for to go direct was now stopping at a country further south than our destination. As a result, our arrival time shifted by 3 hours so that we arrive well after midnight. Our departure time pushed out about the same so that we'll be arriving home Monday morning at about 7:00am. I'll be sleep deprived and pissed off rolling into work after my vacation.

The best part about this interaction with Maritime Travel is that they don't actually care. They didn't apologize or provide any alternative. There was no gesture of "sorry this screws things up for you, could we provide you with x for your inconvenience?". Instead the response was
"We have no control over the change in flight. Air Transat is responsible for the change and you will need to talk to them. Air Transat reserves the right to change the itenerary - it says so in the Terms and Conditions of your vacation package".

First of all -
the Terms and Conditions are in the catalog you buy these packages from. Not on a receipt. Not noticeably on any material from Maritime Travel. They were also never mentioned during the purchase. But that's understandable. I'm in advertising. Without fine print, there would be a lot of stressed out executives and under employed lawyers.

Second of all - Who gives a sh@*$ about the Terms and Condition AND the fact that Maritime Travel doesn't control the flights. If I sell spinach and the spinach sucks, I don't tell my customers that there's nothing I can do because I'm just the grocery store. I get better spinach. I stand behind the products I sell. I look for an alternative way to keep these customers coming back to my grocery store. Getting the sale is only the first step in the keeping a customer. Don't forget the rest.

Two things that need to be said:
  1. Martime Travel: You need to empower your employees to help people. Your local. Your not Expedia (who does help people - funny). If you're going to take someones money, you better be able to back up your commitment. I paid you for a specific vacation experience. You have provided a sub-par experience to-date with no will to assist me further and no suggestions for alternative solutions (let me help: room upgrade, apology, discount, call Air Transat) And I haven't even started my vacation. Make me feel that I bought a vacation through a local business and a human being for a reason.
  2. Air Transat: That's a low blow. I know you probably changed the flight because my direct flight wasn't full. But that's not my fault. I shouldn't be penalized. The only difference between you and Air Canada in my purchase decision was a direct flight. You've eliminated the only advantage you offered. It only reinforced the fact that the resorts that I'm traveling to are not yet full. What can you give me that will make me happy? I'm not sure. Your bureaucracy will probably eliminate the possibility of a discount and room change.
All eight of us traveling will be hard pressed to ever book another vacation through Air Transat. Unfortunately for Maritime Travel, the same impression is left on them. I'll stick to booking online where companies try harder, offer better value, and a more positive experience.

Sunday, March 1, 2009

How not to sell a house

A few months ago I was selling my house. I listed it just before the market took a nose dive. I didn't end up selling it and just let the real estate listing expire. Four months on the market and only a half dozen interested people - only one real estate agent (other than my own) showed my house.

A week after my house was off the market I got a call. It was a real estate agent. He wanted to know if I was still interested in selling my house. He had a list of potential buyers who were really excited about seeing it. Wondering why he never brought anyone through over the previous four months, I asked when would they like to see it. He responded he could probably get some of them through my house in the about 30-45 days. Yes, you heard right. His "extremely motivated" buyers were about 45 days from even being interested enough to look at my house. That was my first hint that this call was far from credible. My next hint was a little more obvious. The agent said "So if I sell this house I'll get full commission right?" Done. This agents credibility dissapeared. He was a bottom feeder. He looks through the real estate listing for expiring contracts, then hops on them looking for the easy sell. He probably makes good money doing that.

But it's this type of marketing and sales that hurts the real estate industry. The same thing happened to the lawyers that chase ambulances, to that used car salesmen that sold you a 'newly upholstered' car that just happened have been submerged in a river, or the insurance agent who convinced your grandmother that she needed that extra premium just in case. (industries mentioned were easy targets - sorry)

Advertisers make the same mistake. That keyword ad on Google that sent me to a irrelevant site (just type "Buy" followed by a product of your choice and look at the ads). The Facebook ads that fish for your cell number are breaking trust in an environment that is struggling to establish. The seven lines of legal type on the bottom of that car ad in the newspaper, regardless of what it says, just shows you that $295 a month is just too good to be true. Then there's that "Starting at $9.99" advertisement followed by "when you spend $150 dollars on our premium service". You've seen it a million times - it probably doesn't even effect you now. But that's the problem. We can't ask consumers for time when we continuosly waste it.

The first step is to be authentic and honest.

The real estate agent that called me would have been better to just ask if I was unhappy with my last agent and willing to talk about the benefits he could bring.

The car company with the legal type might be better using messages that provide clarity and break the standard - especially now. Why use a cool photo of the European fully-loaded vehicle, and just show the one that I'll get when I pay the advertised price (the answer is they want to upsell from the advertised price - but you get the point).

These examples are everywhere. Common sense solutions are often the least common used.