Monthly Archives: September 2011

Getting Socially Mobile at BDI

As Director of Interactive Branding at BRANDEMiX, I attended the Mobile Social Communications 2011 conference, presented by the Business Development Institute. This fascinating event featured both case studies and roundtable discussions about how brands are achieving their business goals by using mobile social strategies and new mobile platforms in their marketing campaigns.

For those who couldn’t make it, I’ll recap the highlights. There were some very cool insights, important lessons, and fun facts that I’d like to pass along.


Corcoran and Foursquare: Check Out A Neighborhood Before You Move In

Matthew Shadbolt from the Corcoran Group started things off.  His real estate company’s goal: going “beyond the four walls” in providing apartment information. Since the most important part of real estate is location, Corcoran partnered with Foursquare to provide New York City neighborhood tips, submitted by residents, to help homebuyers determine if a particular area was right for them. This would let homebuyers “shop like a local, find hidden dining gems for restaurants, [and] seek out local deals and coupons.” Shadbolt made clear that this information was aimed not at tourists but at residents and newcomers. Many real estate sites show you what it’s like to live in a particular house; Corcoran now shows you what it’s like when you step outside.

The lesson: Foursquare wasn’t designed with real estate in mind, but Corcoran saw the potential in combining local reviews and apartment shopping. I’m sure that a number of real estate companies, especially in New York, will follow Corcoran’s lead.

Fun fact: According to the National Association of Realtors, 90% of people start their home search online, “months before speaking to an agent.”


American Express OPEN: Promoting Small Business Over Thanksgiving Weekend

Laura Fink from American Express OPEN showed us how the company is reaching out to small businesses. AmEx created Small Business Saturday, a movement to make the Saturday after Thanksgiving a day of patronizing local, brick-and-mortar businesses. Fink pointed out that Black Friday is for the big box retailers, and Cyber Monday is for online stores, but no one is championing the mom-and-pop shops, which are especially vulnerable in this economy. SBS was promoted through a website and Facebook Page. The first Small Business Saturday, last year, brought a significant increase in sales to small businesses, and American Express is hoping to keep the momentum this year. It’s a great idea—and how many corporations have created a national holiday?

The lesson: Since any American Express cardmember who spends at least $25 on Small Business Saturday also earns a $25 statement credit, the card company is backing up its message with actual savings. American Express, consumers, and small business owners all win.

Fun fact: 41 elected officials, including New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg, declared November 27, 2010, Small Business Saturday.


Foursquare and RadioShack: Rewarding Users For Checking In Somewhere Else

Not surprisingly, Foursquare came up frequently at this conference on mobile social media. Here, Eric Freidman talked about RadioShack’s Holiday Hero campaign during Christmas 2010. A month before the big day, users could earn the badge by checking in at two “Holiday Hotspots”: gyms (where superheroes stay fit), coffee shops (where they recharge), and transit locations (“where they can zoom to unknown destinations”). Anyone who unlocked the Holiday Hero badge received 20% off their RadioShack purchase. This marked the first time a retailer had issued a badge that led to a store discount. RadioShack has embraced Foursquare for some time: mayors of individual RadioShack stores receive a 20% discount, while just checking in gets users a discount of 10%.

The lesson: I think this is a perfect example of “gamification,” using game-design techniques to engage consumers. Lots of businesses offer discounts for users who check in, but RadioShack rewarded users for checking in to places other than RadioShack. This shows just how compelling game mechanics can be.

Fun fact: During the Holiday Hero promotion, Foursquare users spent 350% more at RadioShack than the average customer, making the campaign was a heroic success.

I’ll have to save the other informative speakers for another post. Thanks to the Business Development Institute’s Special Events Coordinator Jennifer Brous, Director of Events Maria Feola-Magro, and CEO Steve Etzler for a great event.

Social Media PR Disaster: Too Fat to Fly

I’ve received great feedback on my series of Social Media PR Disasters. This week, let’s look at the lessons learned from last year’s “Too Fat to Fly” incident involving one of BRANDEMiX fav brands: Southwest Airlines.

The Brand: Southwest Airlines

  • Over 12 million monthly visits to its website
  • Over 1.1 million Twitter followers
  • 1.6 million Facebook likes

The Backstory: In February 2010, the irreverent filmmaker Kevin Smith was removed from an Oakland-to-Burbank Southwest flight because, the airline claimed, he violated the company’s size policy and would have to buy a second seat, which wasn’t available on that flight. Smith replied that he could put both arm rests down, proving that he hadn’t violated the policy. One flight attendant told him that the captain himself had deemed Smith a “safety risk.” After removing Smith, Southwest offered him a $100 voucher, which he said was little compensation for being humiliated in front of the entire plane.

The Backlash: Smith immediately took to Twitter, where he has 1.8 million followers—about 700,00 more than Southwest Airlines itself. In more than 200 posts, Smith was merciless to Southwest, calling them “the Greyhound of the Air” in one of his less crude tweets. He said the airline tagged him as “Too Fat to Fly,” likening his case to discrimination. He also spent hours recounting the story on his podcast, exposing thousands more of his fans to Southwest’s controversial actions.

Kevin Smith tweeted this humorous photo on his next Southwest flight

The Response: Just as Smith’s fans took up the cause, Southwest fans made sure to alert the company  via Twitter. Southwest responded with tweets like “Hey folks – trust me, I saw the tweets from @ThatKevinSmith I’ll get all the details and handle accordingly! Thanks for your concerns!”

The airline then misstepped by issuing a statement on its blog, which included the line, “Mr. Smith originally purchased two Southwest seats on a flight from Oakland to Burbank – as he’s been known to do when traveling on Southwest.” This is the filmmaker’s private travel information, which the airline released without his approval.

The Result: Linda Rutherford, Southwest’s Vice President of Communications, spoke to Smith on the phone and personally apologized. She posted an entry on the airline’s blog stating “I for one have learned a lot today. The communication among our employees was not as sharp as it should have been and it’s apparent that Southwest could have handled this situation differently. Thanks, Kevin, for your passion around this topic.” However, Rutherford also contradicted the earlier claim that the captain had singled out Smith as a safety risk, illustrating that communication among Southwest did indeed need improving. Between Smith’s rabid fan base and Southwest’s continued stumbling, CNET called the incident “about the worst scenario imaginable” for the airline.

Southwest Airlines’ official blog

The Takeaway: So what lessons can be learned form the incident that Kevin Smith called “Too Fat to Fly”?

– Be Prepared
 Smith’s flight was on a Saturday, and he began tweeting about the problem as he waited for the next flight (on Southwest, in fact) and while he was in the air. Imagine almost 48 hours of uncontested bad press if no one at Southwest had been monitoring the company’s Twitter feed or Google Alerts until Monday. Luckily, a marketing rep was on social media duty and mounted an initial response very quickly.

– Train the PR Department in Customer Service – and Vice-Versa
Where does customer service end and public relations begin? Customer service, previously a private interaction between a company and an individual, now takes place in public, via Twitter and Facebook, and in real time. Southwest’s PR team needed to coordinate with the customer service department in order to evaluate the problem. If the two divisions are destined to become one, your company would benefit from cross-training.

– Admit When You’re Wrong
It soon became clear how much Southwest mishandled the situation. The airline claimed that the pilot made the decision to remove Smith, when in reality the pilot never saw him; it said that Smith’s seatmates complained, when they actually never spoke up; and it claimed that Smith violated its size policy, when he didn’t. Southwest thus had little choice but to apologize. “I told him we made a mistake in trying to board him as a standby passenger and then remove him. And I told him we were sorry,” Communications VP Rutherford wrote in her blog. For his part, Smith described Rutherford as “very sweet, warmly compassionate, and apologetic.” Sometimes the high road is the only road to take.

 Read my recent article about what happened when Chevrolet gave a little too much power to its critics and faced a similar Social Media PR Disaster.

Campus Recruiting? Remember, It’s One Big Brand.

In honor of back to school time, let’s check out what’s new on campus. I’ve long-advised clients who desire to keep ahead of the technology curve to follow the trends in campus student enrollment. Now there’s another reason to head back to school.

If your responsible for your company’s campus recruiting efforts, Natasha Singer’s recent article for the New York Times is a must-read. The story highlights ways companies are using student Brand Ambassadors to promote products and services, and generate loyalty via social media, in-store events, and on-campus buzz.

Traditional marketing efforts like print advertising and TV spots are yielding fewer and fewer tangible results, but did you know that this fall, an estimated 10,000 American college students will be working on hundreds of campuses as Brand Ambassadors?

By illustration, Singer’s article cites efforts from three American Eagle student marketers who solicited 50 volunteers to take part in a move-in event at the University of North Carolina. Wearing A.E. Move-In Crew T-shirts, they helped with lifting boxes, handing out swag, and creating a welcoming branded experience for new arrivals, as just one of AE’s 50-campus events.

Target opened up its wallets for a freshman welcome dinner, and its doors for a private late-night shopping experience, complete with DJs and dancing through the aisles.

Mr. Youth, a youth marketing agency, published its list of brands who were best at communicating with freshmen. They included Nike (design your own shoes), Xbox (engage, connect and compete with your friends), and of course Apple (‘nuf said.)

So advice to the campus recruiting teams: Plan together and plan ahead.

Check in with your marketing department and find out if they are launching any guerilla marketing events on the college campuses. If yes, get in on it. If no, this is where you can shine. Help them plan something and then work together (isn’t that a great concept) to promote a seamless brand experience from consumer through employee. Give them the list of your target schools (you have that right?) and start there.
Work to infuse an employer value proposition that is aligned with the consumer value proposition into all your messages, and don’t sound like anyone else.
Make sure you’re careers site has been recently refreshed, is up-to-date and mobile friendly (QR tags are optional), and your social media sites are integrated with your career/jobs information.

Remember: the brands that swim together, win together.

The Latest in Social Media for Retailers

With the big Labor Day shopping weekend behind us and retailers already planning for the holiday season, I thought I’d spend this week’s blog looking at the recent developments in social media for retail.

Not Such a Great Deal?
The biggest news came from Facebook, which eliminated its Deals feature after only four months. Just a few days later, Yelp announced that it was scaling back its Daily Deals service, cutting that department’s sales force in half. These unexpected moves signaled that the trend of retailers using daily deals and online coupons may have peaked, probably due to market saturation. MSNBC’s Technolog says consumers are suffering from “daily deals fatigue,” citing a 7% decline in industry revenue between June and July.

Image courtesy of Yipit

Social Media Isn’t Going Anywhere
But retailers aren’t giving up on social media. A recent survey conducted by audience research company Bizo revealed that 65% of retail marketing executives think social media is “most important” for the upcoming shopping seasons. And 96% thought that social media marketing is more important, or as important, to their marketing in 2011 versus 2010.

Does that mean social media marketing leads to sales? In the Bizo survey, 41% of respondents said the most important aspect of social media was simply “creating general awareness.” In fact, only 14% had actually tracked the business results of their social media efforts. So many companies are finding it either difficult (likely) or undesirable (unlikely) to measure social marketing’s effect on their sales.

QR is OK
Meanwhile, mobile marketing is growing. ComScore, a digital analytics company, just released the results of a study on mobile QR code scanning. Almost 40% of the 14 million Americans who scanned codes on their phones in June did so from a retail store. 25% scanned a code from a grocery store and 8% scanned from a restaurant. That’s more than ten million people using mobile technology to enhance their shopping experience in just 30 days.

When Customers Play, Retailers Win
Retailers are also using mobile games to drive sales. The iMedia Connection blog recently listed 15 ways brands are using gamification, such as points and rewards, to increase business. Several retailers made the list, including Target, which uses the ShopKick mobile app to incentivize shopping. Customers receive points when they enter a participating store and when they scan select product barcodes. Customers can then redeem the points for Target gift cards. A number of other retailers, including Home Depot and Sephora, are using a similar app called CheckPoints.

So deal-of-the-day websites are declining while QR codes and mobile discount games are on the rise. Looking ahead, retailers should beware “daily deals fatigue” and concentrate on loyalty programs, scannable in-store codes, and ways to “gamify” their shopping experiences. The next step in this mobile retail evolution is the exciting world of augmented reality – but that’s a topic for another day.