Friday, February 15, 2013

Tesla fails the test

There's an old saying that goes, "Never pick a fight with someone who buys ink by the barrel."

As Elon Musk is finding out, it's now "Never pick a fight with anyone on the internet"

If you're not aware, New York Times reporter, John Broder recently drove a Tesla S from Washington, D.C. to Milford, Connecticut. Unfortunately the drive did not go as planned. What followed was a less than glowing story about the journey, a data-filled diatribe by Mr. Musk accusing the reporter of sabotaging the test, and the reporter's response to Musk's allegations.

Defending yourself is one thing. Providing data that supports your claims is okay. But questioning the integrity of the author of the complaint, whether it's a reporter for the New York Times or a songwriter from Canada will only result in the story growing and bad publicity expanding.

I don't know why the Tesla did not perform as the company's published data would lead you to expect, but I doubt very seriously that John Broder set out with the intent of trashing the car. After all, this is the New York Times, the "left-wing media elite" that its critics claim has a pro-government, anti-big business slant. You'd think they'd be all for an underdog entrepreneur like Elon Musk who's fighting big oil.

What I do know is that Mr. Musk's response is costing him. If he really believes the test was conducted unfairly, then offer to repeat it. Do it with three cars not just one. Prove them wrong.

Or if there's a problem, fix it.

Accusing your accuser of lying won't make the story go away.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Brands with benefits

Apparently my message isn't getting through to some people who manage brands in this country. I realized this when I read this article about Panera Bread's new "Purpose Marketing" campaign.

Purpose marketing, conscious capitalism, cause marketing, or whatever you want to call it, is essentially building the social values and beliefs of your target into your business and focusing on them as a key component of your marketing. It's a great strategy and it works when your purpose is a feature of your product and relevant to your customer.

So what's my problem? This quotation from Mandy Levenberg, VP and Consumer Strategist for the otherwise very cool and useful research company, Iconoculture:

"Consumers are seeking authentic emotional connections with brands."

No, they're not.

People are looking to make choices they can feel good about. They are looking for brands that reflect their values. They are looking for emotional benefits. What they are not looking for is an "emotional connection" or relationship with the brands they buy.

It may be a fine distinction, but it's an important one. Because the minute you think they want a relationship, you start thinking about consumers as friends instead of customers. You start asking what they can do for you, instead of what you can do for them. You start taking them for granted, instead of serving them.

Your social responsibility platform – whether it's paying a living wage, feeding the hungry, using natural and organic products, supporting veteran's organizations, etc. – is a benefit, just like good fuel economy, great taste or low prices. In many cases it is a powerful emotional benefit that tips the scale in your favor and provides context for all the other benefits you offer, as is the case with Chipotle.

It is not the foundation for a relationship.

Your relationship with your customer – and I use that term purposefully as the only business relationship that matters is one in which people trade money for goods and services – is this: Give them a product that works with relevant functional, emotional and social benefits, at a price they're willing to pay and they will give you money. If you do it right they will do it over and over and over again.

Don't for a minute, however, starting thinking that the relationship is anything other than a transaction.

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

From the belly of the beast

And now for something completely different.

For some reason people seem to like this blog and it has received occasional bursts of popularity beyond my circle of friends and family. Because (or in spite of this) I've been asked, along with about 50 other bloggers, artists, business people and social media activists to participate in an online campaign for IBM called "The IBM Social Influencer Think Tank." Fancy, huh?

Now before you scream "SELLOUT!" let me explain.

I am not a spokesperson for IBM. I am not endorsing their services. (Not that I wouldn't, that's just not what I've been asked to do.) I have only been asked to blog about the roles that social media and technology play in my life and then incorporate the hashtag #MySmarterCommerce into my posts.

My compensation for this effort? The potential of a wider platform for my blog and other online communiques.

IBM will feature their favorite contributions from me and my fellow Think Tankers on their website exposing my thoughts and ideas to more potential consulting customers. I also have the opportunity to participate in a panel discussion at SXSW depending on the amount of "engagement" created by my posts.

I figure it's also a great opportunity to experience social media marketing from a whole different perspective. Either way, it's not going to change how I approach this blog or what I write.

So if you see an occasionally post on Facebook, Tweet or blog from me with the hashtag #MySmarterCommerce embedded in it over the next 30 days you'll know why. If something that I've posted strikes you as worthwhile, please share it with your friends and followers. I've always wanted to go to SXSW and doing it on IBM's nickel would be pretty sweet.

Tuesday, February 12, 2013

The birth of cool

I saw this headline in the New York Times yesterday and have spent a little time thinking about what it means and why it's true.

Samsung is cool not because they have cool ads. Not because their products look cool. Certainly not because of the blazer their EVP is wearing in the picture.

Samsung is cool for the same reason Apple is cool.

They're both great at what they do.

Cool is not about what you say, how you act, or how many black mock turtlenecks you have.

Cool is about excellence.

Miles Davis wouldn't have been cool if he weren't a supremely talented, incredibly innovative trumpet player.

Steve McQueen wouldn't have been cool if he weren't a gifted actor.

Apple wouldn't have been cool had their products not worked so damn well.

Companies need to stop focusing on being cool and start trying to be great. Once you've achieved greatness, cool will come.

Monday, February 11, 2013

Doesn't anybody at GM have a clue about advertising?

There were a lot of iffy performances last night on the Grammy Awards, but the one that really had me scratching my head was the new Chevrolet "Anthem" commercial launching their new theme line, Find New Roads.

An animated robot dog? Swiping from scene to scene? The Stingray being chased by an alien spacecraft that looks like – wait for it – a stingray? A digitally enhanced Sonic performing unbelievable stunts? A musical mash-up to ensure there's something for everyone? Copy that includes the phrase, "Introducing the new Chevrolet"?

Maybe the craft of advertising has passed me by. Maybe somewhere, someone in the universe thinks this is a good spot. But in my world stringing together random scenes using a played editorial technique then slapping your new tagline on the end is not effective advertising. I don't know how this is going to improve perceptions of the brand or drive showroom traffic.

What does Chevrolet stand for? What does "Find New Roads" mean? This spot should answer both of those questions. Instead it answers neither.

Let's hope the work that follows for the product lines – the work that's not trying to make a splash on the Grammys – is a little more focused and interesting, otherwise all those new products Chevrolet is launching over the next twelve months will have a lot of trouble getting off the ground.