When ‘Surprise and Delight’ goes wrong: How Regal, Universal, and Comixology almost won me over only to fail on fulfillment and support

I’ve worked in Customer Relationship Management (CRM) for years and have run many email campaigns designed to engage and reward customers. Fulfillment is a crucial piece of this, and it’s often hard to do well despite the best intentions. Things like data lag can mean you either have to do extra work to reward customers in a timely manner or risk their rancor if you wait and do a fulfillment sweep at the end.

Recently I was on the receiving end of CRM emails from Regal Cinemas. At first they were highly successful and convinced me to become a more avid Regal customer. But then the bottom fell out on more than one front, making me reconsider my allegiance.

It started in February when I took my wife to see Happy Death Day 2U. We noticed in the pre-screen entertainment that there was a potential reward of digital copies. The next day, my email inbox contained a promo reinforcing the offer and providing notification that I had received bonus credits for seeing my first film in the trio.

Regal/Universal Movie Bonus offer

Regal/Universal Movie Bonus offer

Now, we knew we wanted to see Us when it came out. We were on the fence about Glass, which had been out for several weeks and would be exiting theaters soon. There wasn’t much time to decide so I went and saw it solo, ensuring we’d complete the set. The next day, I received an email letting me know that additional bonus points and a free popcorn had been loaded to my card.

In the meantime, other movies we wanted to see – such as Captain Marvel and Fighting with My Family – were coming out. We began favoring Regal over the other dominant local chain, AMC. It seemed like their coordinated campaigns were building good will and inclining us to choose Regal more often.

We saw Us, as planned, and the last piece of the puzzle unlocked:

Regal/Universal movies unlocked

Regal/Universal movies unlocked

I read the fine print and found that my first digital code would likely arrive in early April:

Digital movie rewards will be delivered within two weeks of each movie’s home entertainment release but no sooner than 4/5/19.

A hero rises only to crash and burn

Around this same time, I took my son to see Shazam! in 3D at Regal. I was unaware of the opening weekend promotion to receive digital comics from Comixology, a service where I’ve spent hundreds of dollars. I went to redeem the code the day it arrived, but something went wrong. The code said it had already been redeemed. I was unsure whether the code was redeemed when I clicked the link in the email and then signed into my account, or if someone had stolen it somehow (which seemed unlikely) or something had just gone horribly wrong with fulfillment. There had been some message on the Comixology site about notifying me when my comics were available, which didn’t really make sense either.

I immediately wrote both Comixology and Regal support, describing the glitch as best I could. In the Regal request, I also noted that Glass had been out digitally for a week and we had passed April 5 with no fulfillment of the digital movie code.

At this writing (some two weeks later), Comixology support has not responded at all. Regal responded several days later telling me they had run out of codes but had sent me a second code (they had not). I was traveling at the time but re-opened the original mail they sent on my phone only to find the message “SORRY ALL CODES HAVE BEEN CLAIMED” in the place where a code once had been:

Regal/Comixology Shazam comic codes claimed

Regal/Comixology Shazam comic codes claimed

Now codes are tricky in CRM, but when we send them out we use a system where a code is assigned in real-time from a pool of codes when the customer first opens the mail. That code is then permanently associated with their email so if they open it a week, a month, or a year later, they’ll still see that same code. We also monitor how many codes are left so we can request more if it appears we are burning through them and will run out.

As best I can tell, with Regal’s system a new code is assigned whenever a customer opens the mail, and when the code supply is exhausted, they see a message that basically says “You missed out.”

This is bad CRM on a number of fronts. First, I received a code but it didn’t work and my attempt to rectify this by contacting support failed. I even purchased some $40 in comics from Comixology at the time when I was trying to redeem their code. This should have ensured support treated me like a valued customer and not a grasping freeloader.

Apart from the fact that I acted in a timely manner and had a code in hand, both companies should have been motivated to provide valid codes to ANY eligible customer. Shazam! is a movie with crossover audiences. Non-comic fans who want to read the free comics and try Comixology are great acquisition targets – get them into the ecosystem and encourage them to the next level (free comics and then eventually paid). Annoy them with a system that fails them right off the Billy Batson, and they may never come back.

For comic fans who already have Comixology accounts, this is a way to bank some good will and ensure they stay fans and maybe buy more Shazam! comics down the road. It’s not like an endless number of people saw Shazam! opening weekend, attended Regal, and had Regal accounts. Fulfilling everyone who is eligible and wants the comics should have been a no brainer even if it meant stretching the campaign budget a little and working with support to make sure everyone who complained was fulfilled.

Glass, broken

I’m also still waiting for my Glass code, and I really hope this system works significantly better than the Shazam! debacle. Regal support informed me that the release of codes could happen up to two weeks after the disc release of the title, which is two weeks after the digital release. This is another fail for avid digital movie collectors like me. I noticed the first day that Glass was added to Vudu, which I use pretty much every day. To be fair, Regal’s hands are tied if Universal won’t release the codes in a timely manner. But there’s really no reason to wait a full month unless Universal is hoping that some customers eligible for digital codes will forget or become impatient and purchase the movie anyway.

Most of us won’t – we’ll just become more and more annoyed while we wait for fulfillment and hope something doesn’t go wrong (e.g., email box is full, code doesn’t work, support neglects or ignores us). Campaigns like this are inherently fragile, with the risk that you’ll do more harm than good. The only way to ensure they don’t break is to put the customer front and center in your planning and execution.

Customer-centric CRM for the win

I recently worked on a huge CRM campaign for a major gaming company. The first thing we did was fulfill millions of customers who pre-qualified for a reward so they would become our ambassadors and harbor no ill will for accomplishing something before we had even dreamed up our campaign. We didn’t have to do this – our Terms and Conditions could have excluded them, which is fairly typical for these sorts of offers. But we realized this would alienate our base, which is never a good idea.

Once the program launched, customers who did not already meet the criteria had a month to do so. We engaged them on multiple channels including email. We could have waited until the campaign had ended and fulfilled everyone who participated at once but we chose to send out codes weekly. Each week after the initial launch send, we fulfilled the customers who were newly eligible for the reward. Due to a data lag of 2-3 days, some customers were always being omitted but would be picked up in the next week’s data pull.

After two weeks, we noticed that my wife had not received her reward (which she earned with me just before the start of the promotion – too close to be included in the first group). By the second week, I received my reward but she still had not. We used her edge case to identify a significant segment of customers who had been missed due to a flaw in the targeting query, and we fulfilled them the following week and in subsequent sends. A week after the promotion ended, we sent the final batch of codes. To my knowledge, we received zero complaints from an active community that would have rightfully sounded the alarm had we messed up in any way.

First, do no harm – or else, do no CRM

Good CRM should consider the customer’s reaction to it and strive to err on the side of delivering what was promised. Had our campaign failed to reach everyone, we had extra codes we could have provided our support team to give to any customers who might have felt slighted.

All I can say for Regal, Universal, and Comixology is that my opinion of you has dropped measurably. I will probably never intentionally participate in a theater chain offer to receive digital copies of movies again. I see that Lionsgate has a “see four movies, get digital copies” campaign running at Regal now but I’m not even tempted to pursue it. I hope Lionsgate thinks better of their customers than Universal does, and sends them codes as early as possible rather than waiting until they are well past digital and physical release and likely already marking down the titles for sales.

Because how you treat customers in these situations shows just how much you value them. And you’re essentially spending money on a program that may ultimately generate more ill will than good. In that situation it may well be better to have no campaign at all than one that turns “Surprise and Delight” into “Sorry, Charlie!”

UPDATE

On April 30, exactly two weeks after the physical release of Glass and pushing it on the terms and conditions of the offer, Regal delivered. Not only did the they send the code for Glass, they included Happy Death Day 2U on the day of its digital release (no more waiting a month, it seems!) and provided a timeline for delivery of the Us code (June).

Regal provides codes for two movies at once

Regal delivers two movies at once, and provides timeline for the third

This is a vastly better customer experience and goes a long way toward repairing some of the damage caused by sloppy fulfilment (at least for the Universal offer; I never did hear back from Comixology). I’m still reticent to participate in this type of offer again but I am much more likely to retain Regal as my preferred cinema brand.

The customer is always at least a little bit right

As a marketing consultant who manages campaigns and works with support teams when there are problems, I encounter customer “touch points” nearly every day. I try to think about how the customer will feel in a given situation and provide the flexibility to meet their needs and desires while staying within business and technical constraints.

In a world that’s largely dominated by social media, I realize that you can’t always give the customer what he wants. If you do, the customer may post about it publicly to Facebook, Twitter, and public forums, and you’ll be quickly deluged with people demanding the same.

On the other hand, if you treat the customer like she doesn’t matter, she will become bitter or angry, and you may lose her.

Here are three personal experiences that I had this past week that illustrate the point that sometimes the customer is generally at least partly right.

Comcast
On impulse, I decided to purchase a new cable modem that was on sale at Costco and was being marketed as compatible my Comcast Internet service. If you don’t know, Comcast charges you $7 a month to rent a cable modem from them. That modem retails for, at most, around $200. So after a year and half, you’ve likely paid it off – but Comcast keeps charging you ad infinitum. Even with predatory rent-to-own stores, you’ll someday get to own the item you agree to pay high interest on. But not so with Comcast modems.

I called Comcast to activate the new modem and the uncharacteristically friendly tech support rep told me that the model I had bought would not work with my telephone service (part of their “Triple Play” package that supposedly saves you money by bundling cable TV, Internet, and phone service). She steered me toward two modems she promised would work with our phone and Internet services, and I went to Amazon and ordered one from a third-party seller who also stated the modem would work with Comcast. As expected, Costco accepted the return of the first modem without question (they are a company that really understands the value of good customer service), so it was only a matter of waiting a few more days for the “right” modem.

The day the modem arrived, I tried to reclaim access to my Linksys router – but that’s another story (see below). Once I had the router squared away, I called Comcast tech support back.

You’ve probably heard the horror stories about Comcast support, or perhaps you’ve lived them. We’ve never had any real issues with their service apart from the high cost and what seemed to be the occasional throttling of streaming video (back before Netflix paid them off for preferred traffic priority).

The Amazon seller warned me in an email that arrived the day before the modem that Comcast might try to tell me that the modem wasn’t supported and, if that happened, I should keep calling back until I reached a tech who could activate it. “Many customers have been told that the modem is not compatible in their system, or that it has already been activated under somebody else account. Neither are true,” stated the mail. “If they tell you can’t use the modem for any reason, just hang up and call back. They of course just want you to continue leasing their modems. Each Comcast system is a little different, and some techs of course are better than others.”

My first tech support rep told me to go ahead and plug in the new modem and connect all of the cables, and it’s a good thing she did. Over the next 30 minutes I went through two techs and two escalations, and both times they told me that the modem just wasn’t supported and could not be activated in the system. The first rep told me that it was a first-party modem that only Comcast was permitted to provide, and she all but implied that I had purchase stolen goods. The second tech said it had once been a supported model but was recently dropped from the list of modems they could activate.

Either way, it seemed, I was screwed.

Back when the Costco modem failed to work, I briefly considered cancelling our phone service so that it would work and we’d get an instant Internet speed boost - but the solution suggested by Comcast seemed better, for now at least. While sitting on the phone with these tech support people, feeling blocked on my second modem in a week, the urge to cancel the phone service returned stronger than ever.

I could return the modem to the Amazon seller and buy the Costco one again. I’d move our home phone service to a local provider who might even be cheaper or at least easier to work with. I wasn’t ready to cancel Comcast altogether but I did consider that briefly as well. Where we would we go to get both expansive TV offerings and high-speed Internet? Back to DirecTV? Unlikely but it might be worth a look.

When I hung up with the second tech, it was feeling futile. I disconnected the new modem and then… looked over at my computer. On the screen was a Comcast page saying they had detected new hardware and would I like to activate it? I quickly plugged the new modem back in, waited a few minutes for all of the lights to stop blinking wildly, and then clicked the button to provision the new modem. 15 minutes later it was done and I was connected to the Internet with substantially faster service.

I laughed out loud about the fact that while a tech was insisting that what I expected from them was impossible, their own network went ahead and authorized it. Clearly the modem is supported, but the tools the techs use to provision modems appear to be constrained to a very small list of specific models.

Here’s where Comcast could do better:

  • Offer to replace your modem every 2-3 years. Comcast begins turning a profit on the modem rental about midway through the second year. Sending you a faster, better model every few years provides value for renting vs. owning. It would be similar to leasing a car and trading it in every few years for a shiny new one.
  • Offer rent to own. After two years (once you’ve covered the cost of the modem and a reasonable amount of financing), the modem would be yours to keep and the monthly charge falls off your bill. Just the sight of seeing a cable bill go down instead of up could earn some customer loyalty points! I’d even go as far as to build a marketing campaign around this – “Why did my bill just go down?” – that explains what happened and offers the customer the opportunity to trade up for a new, faster modem.
  • Allow customer support more leeway to activate modems. The cost of repeated support calls and customer frustration doesn’t earn Comcast anything but ill will. If nothing else, let the customer support rep explain the possibility of auto-provisioning, even if it may not work in every case. It certainly did in mine, and I’d bet it works consistently enough to build a customer service script for it.

Linksys
Before I tried to activate the Comcast modem, I decided I better get my router in order. Without a working router, most of the computers and devices in our home office would be stranded without Internet.

My 2-3 year-old “Cisco” model (which, I learned, Cisco no longer supports since it divorced Linksys) was showing its age. WiFi connections on our many portable devices frequently get dropped and, generally speaking, a new router every few years is a good idea to further boost Internet speeds. I had been planning to replace it in the next 1-3 months anyway, but for now I just wanted to login to my existing router just in case it needed to be reconfigured to work with the new modem.

Nothing worked. I tried connecting via the Web page I’d bookmarked but couldn’t find the password I had set to get in. It appeared to need new firmware but I couldn’t update it without logging in first. The software that I had previously installed to connect to the router no longer would, and the newer version I downloaded from Linksys’ site also seemed unable to see the router. Yet my Internet connection going through it was fine.

After a couple of hours wrestling with support FAQs, I finally did a factory reset – which should have let me start over as though it were a new router. Alas, that didn’t work either and doing so killed my Internet access entirely.

Cisco sent me to Linksys, which recently did away with chat room support (which would have been great for this sort of issue). I called phone support and the Linksys rep offered to do a “hard reset” remotely but only if I paid $30 for an out-of-warranty incident fee.

I can understand that Linksys can’t afford to support their products indefinitely for free. But from my point of view, they were charging me to overcome their mistake. A factory reset should have fixed, not bricked my router. Their software completely failed to connect with it. They were demanding to charge me to overcome a problem with their own shoddy software.

At first I acquiesced and started to provide my credit card. But when they said they would need to transfer me to another department to enter my card number, I balked. Go away and then restart the process with another support rep, $30 lighter? No thanks. By then I had realized I could throw good money after bad, or I could invest the $30 into the new router I had been scoping out. I ran to Best Buy and picked up a Netgear router that is much faster and (so far) more reliable.

Linksys might have preserved my business if they:

  • Waived the $30 incident fee. When the support rep realized I was agitated at what I perceived to be their failing in offering any sort of fix-it-yourself path, they should have offered to do the hard reset for free “just this once.” I’m a savvy router user, and this is the first time I’ve been locked out of a networking product with no way to get back in. I felt like they had me over a barrel, and the only solution was to pay or ditch the barrel.
  • Offered to sell me a replacement model. Clearly I’d be happier with another router that is in the same category, only newer and faster. Rather than throw good money after bad with the old router, I could throw that good money their way – but with a benefit for both of us. They could quickly match me up with a comparable router or two, and offer a small token “loyalty” discount. The only problem there is that I needed a working router that day. They could email me a manufacturer’s coupon I could take to Best Buy or Fry’s, or offer to overnight me the router if I was willing to wait a day. Or, better yet, offer to help me fix my existing router for free while I waited for the new one sent at normal shipping speed.

Instead, Linksys is now the last on my list of router makers I will consider when it’s time to upgrade again.

National Geographic
This one is unrelated but it played out just as I was writing this, and I found it fascinating. National Geographic is one of those brands that I considered unimpeachable. They resonate in my mind with words like “quality,” “caring,” “environmentally conscious,” and “authoritative.”

No more. That image has been tarnished, perhaps irrevocably.

About a month ago, I received an odd call from Nat Geo. They wanted to send my son his free gifts for being a subscriber (I vaguely remember seeing similar gift offers for magazines, but I didn’t sign him up for this one). They just needed to confirm the mailing address was still accurate.

A red flag went up: They send us a magazine every month. Surely they’d just send the gifts to the same address, right? But they already had my address on file and it was correct, so I confirmed it. Then they wanted to confirm that it was all right to send the two gifts: a map and an educational DVD. The customer support lady assured me that we were not being signed up to receive any further DVDs, and that this was not a club enrollment. If we liked the DVD we could sign up to get more. With warning lights and alarms buzzing in my head, I grudgingly went ahead and gave approval to get the bonus items.

Last week, the package arrived. There was a map, a DVD, and a bill for $14! I called Nat Geo support and told them the story. They quickly canceled my club membership, and urged me to keep the map and donate the DVD to a school. (My son tells me that his 6th grade science class had just watched that same video, so I’m guessing that a neighbor went through a similar ordeal before us.) The support guy went as far as to try to sell me another plan that was less frequent and then a specific individual DVD while he had me on the phone.

The first call alone shook my trust of National Geographic. I could tell something was fishy. I don’t know if this was a “rogue” telemarketer trying a Tin Men-esque scheme to improve her monthly sales numbers or a manager’s scripted idea designed to boost sell-through by increasing the subscription base under false pretenses and then having support reps quickly apologize to those who complain.

Considering the quick apology and ready-made process to resolve (along with the attempt to get me to keep the subscription while making it less frequent), I suspect it’s all been carefully scripted and choreographed.

Either way, my trust in Nat Geo is gone. I will cancel our subscription the second my son stops reading the magazine.

What Nat Geo should have done:

  • Call it what it is. You’re signing up for a DVD club with a free map offer. Most people will decline but those who accept will have done so based on your product’s perceived value and not because they were duped.
  • Make it trial. First taste is free, cancel anytime. We’re used to this sort of arrangement and inclined to block it unless it’s something we consider truly valuable, so this would only get middling results. But they would be honest results.
  • Make it a real gift. First taste is not just free, it’s a reward. If you like that reward and want more of the same, include an offer to sell both individual titles and, for a small but notable savings, get DVDs sent to you monthly or quarterly via the club.

Putting yourself in the customer’s shoes is a good way to validate whether your marketing campaigns and customer support processes reward or unnecessarily punish those who purchase or subscribe to your offerings. I recommend you think of ways to at least reduce the sting of your policies particularly in places where the customer is likely to arrive upset or agitated.

Or reap the whirlwind when the customer leaves and badmouths you on social media. Because no matter what you might think, the customer is always right – at least in his mind.

Jacqui Kramer Work Samples (Feb 2015)

Thank you for your interest. I have broken down the writing samples on this page by company. For more information about my professional experience, please visit my LinkedIn profile. Thank you! (See full post for writing samples.)

 

THE BILL & MELINDA GATES FOUNDATION

U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR)

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation published a series of grantee profiles highlighting projects financed in part by The Foundation. This profile focuses on U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR).

PEPFAR

 

 

 

 

Read the PEPFAR Profile

 

 

Living Proof Project: The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation published a series of grantee profiles highlighting projects financed in part by The Foundation. This profile focuses on The Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria.

Global Fund

 

 

 

Read The Global Fund Profile

 

 

 

Rotary International: A Hands-On Effort to Eradicate Polio

This profile, published on The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation website, highlighted a polio vaccination project being conducted by grant recipient Rotary International.

 

 

 

Read the Rotary Story

 

 

 

MICROSOFT RESEARCH

SenseCam Documents Daily Life for Patients with Memory Loss

This blog post, written on behalf of Microsoft Research, explores how the “SenseCam” is helping patients with memory loss document and revisit their daily lives.

SenseCam Documents Daily Life.
SenseCam

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Read the SenseCam Blog Post

 

 

 

 

 

Tech Case Study: Fire App Fights Wildfire With Data

One-sheet case study produced for Microsoft Research. This story explores how technology has improved response times during the annual wildfire season in Greece.

Wildfire

Venus-C Fire App

 

 

 

 

Read the Venus-C Case Study

 

 

 

Tech Case Study: FaST-LMM Put Gen Research on Faster Track

One-sheet case study produced for Microsoft Research. The story explores how a new computer algorithm has accelerated data processing times in genetic research labs.

FaST-LMM

FaST-LMM

 

 

 

 

See the FaST-LMM case study

 

 

 

XBOX LIVE SUBSCRIPTIONS

Xbox Live Gold Retention Campaign: Gears of War

Co-branded Xbox Live Gold retention campaign featuring Gears of War: Judgment.

GoW campaign

Xbox Live Gold Retention Campaign: Gears of War

 

 

 

 

See the Retention Campaign

 

 

 

 

ARENANET

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns Expansion Announcement Page

This page was used to introduce audiences to Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns, the first expansion for the MMO.

See the Announcement Page

 

 

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns Expansion Announcement Blog Post

This email blog post was published on the Guild Wars 2 website following the formal announcement of Heart of Thorns onstage at PAX South 2015.

Guild Wars 2 PAX South Preview Blog Post

 

 

Read the Blog Post on GuildWars2.com

 

 

 

 

Guild Wars 2: Heart of Thorns Expansion Announcement Email

This email was sent to Guild Wars 2 email subscribers following the formal announcement of Heart of Thorns onstage at PAX South 2015.

 

 

Read the email

 

 

 

 

December Savings on Select Guild Wars 2 Statues (ArenaNet)

Co-branded sale announcement on licensed statuary and other products based on the Guild Wars 2 universe.

 

 

See the Blog Post

 

 

 

 

Guild Wars Web Error Message

A lore-centric 404 error developed for the Guild Wars site.

 

 

See the Error Page

 

 

 

Three common social media misfires (and how to avoid them)

Social media has a critical role to play in your overall marketing campaign. A well-executed campaign will spread naturally through shares on the major outlets. You must invest the time and yes – money – required to nurture each individual outlet. Here are four common misfires made by marketers in the social media arena, and how you can avoid them:

 

#1: I created a “viral” campaign that offended our customer base.

The “viral” campaign is the Holy Grail of marketing. Who wouldn’t want millions in free publicity? Ask Kellogg’s UK. The company has a long-running campaign to provide meals to children in need. In November 2013, the company attempted to take its philanthropic efforts viral by tweeting “1 RT = 1 breakfast for a vulnerable child.”

 

Kelloggs UK Tweet: 1 RT = 1 breakfast for a vulnerable child

 

The marketers went for brevity to ensure re-tweeters would have room to add their own goodwill messages. Customers read it as borderline blackmail – “buy our product or we won’t feed a starving child.” The campaign went viral as users took to their Twitter, Facebook and blog accounts to express horror and outrage.

Kellogg’s UK deleted the original tweet and issued a heart-felt apology tweet, but it was too late. Thousands of retweets and screen captures can be found online nearly a year later, and the tweet remains one of the top search results for the company.

Many companies publicly support causes through donations or campaign integration. When it comes time to integrate your company’s pet project into a social media campaign, consider these tips:

  • Look at it with your “customer” eyes. Consider how you personally would react to the language and/or images used if you didn’t have the complete marketing story.
  • Ask someone else. Find a coworker who isn’t directly involved with the campaign or cause to review your materials. He/she will see things you can’t.
  • Wait a day. Put some space between when you write the Tweet or post and when you put it out in the world.

 

#2. I created a hashtag that isn’t being used consistently.

Hashtags (#example) are everywhere in advertising and on screens. A successful hashtag can be used to see what customers are saying about your product (good and bad) and to track success. There are several issues that can arise around hashtags, so we’ll choose one: the poorly executed hashtag.

The Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences has tried to tap into the natural flood of social media that hits each year during the Oscars, but has yet to truly wrangle it. Stunts aside (see the infamous Ellen selfie) the Academy has had a difficult time getting everyone to agree on a single hashtag for the entire event. In 2014, the following hashtags all trended:

#Oscars

#Oscar

#2014

#Oscars2014

#Oscars14

#AcademyAwards

…and that’s just a small sampling. That’s an extreme example, but it does show how complicated social media can make your campaign. (For the record, the official hashtag is simply #Oscars.) Of course, one good stunt can overcome confusion. See: Ellen’s selfie with Bradley Cooper and other stars.

Ellen Degeneres selfie

A successful hashtag campaign has multiple components:

  • Easy to remember: You’re asking customers to do you a favor. Give them something easy to remember, or they will make something up.
  • Easy to spell: Leave your thesaurus behind and use short, simple words. This will increase the odds users will tap into your hashtag.
  • Keep it short: Short hashtags are considerate to your users. They are also critical for Twitter.
  • Publicize it: Don’t assume users will go digging for your hashtags. Choose a hashtag that can live for months and integrate it into your overall campaign. Integrate it into your packaging, put it on your ads and use it consistently in your social media.

 

#3. I posted an item that came off as clueless or offensive.

For marketers, a knowledge of both history and current events is almost as important as knowing how to sell a product. We walk a delicate minefield of tragic news, anniversaries and cultural sensitivity that can make planning a social media campaign feel overwhelming. There are plenty of examples to be had here. In most cases, it wasn’t the organization’s fault – it was just bad timing. So let’s focus on what you can do to minimize your exposure:

Keep an eye (or ear) on the news. For social media managers, the news can be your best friend – or worst enemy.

  • Check the news throughout the day.
  • Sign up for news alerts from multiple locations.
  • When major events do occur, review your recent social media postings for any unintended consequences.
  • Don’t be afraid to pull materials. Better to lose impressions now than to leave a bad impression in the long-term.

Put milestone dates on your calendar and plan around them. Certain dates have become synonymous with tragedy. Put those dates on your scheduling calendar and be sensitive about posting materials on those days.

  • Don’t post company announcements or “What’s everyone doing” type materials on days of remembrance.
  • Be careful what you post. Even the most heart-felt remembrance can come off as hollow or even offensive when published on a corporate account.
  • If possible, just go dark for the day.

Social media has the power to build your brand or tear it down. By viewing materials from a customer-centric point of view, providing clear guidance to the customer and managing the long-term message, you can increase the odds of success.

 

Finding a creative outlet when you work as a creative

Marketing, advertising and related industries are both a blessing and a curse for the creatively inclined. Being paid to do something that comes naturally is a wonderful feeling – and positive feedback is nice, too. (Who doesn’t like receiving compliments?)

What creatives rarely talk about is the impact that work can have on their personal creative projects. The writer who never quite gets around to working on the novel or screenplay she started years ago. The designer who hasn’t touched a paintbrush or pen that wasn’t attached to a computer in who knows how long. The list goes on and on.

Simply put, when you spend all day writing or designing, it can be difficult to get excited about doing more of the same after hours. Bringing your creative a-game to work doesn’t have to mean giving up your artistic soul, however. You just have to find a new outlet.

For me, that outlet turned out to be cooking. My husband is the default chef in our house, but I try to get in at least a few meals a week. I’ve noticed over time that my contributions in the kitchen increase dramatically whenever I feel particularly stressed or creatively spent at work. After an intense day writing about technology, my mind begins to wander the grocery store aisles to the point that meal planning isn’t a chore – it’s an outlet. Particularly intense projects can result in me banishing everyone from the kitchen so I can create some personal Chopped challenges of my own.

That’s not to say I’m always successful. I’ve made some terrible dishes through the years, often when I was just so physically spent that I couldn’t see (or think) straight. I’ve written some rather dreadful things in my life as well. Learning from mistakes is just part of the creative process, no matter what the medium. Plus some of my dumbest mistakes have led to some of my best ideas.

By finding a new outlet for my creativity, I have freed myself to enjoy my work again. There are still days when producing copy on a deadline or about a topic that is relatively new to me can be challenging. But somehow, knowing there is a beautiful piece of fish or bounty of bell peppers waiting for me in the kitchen gives me the inspiration I need to finish the day on a creative high note.

Work Samples: Guide to Gaming with Kids and Hilarious Gifts

It’s been a long time since I’ve written an article with a byline (November 2009, in fact!), but I was hit up by MSN Lifestyle  to contribute two pieces this holiday:

The Guide to Gaming With Your Kids

The Guide to Gaming With Your Kids

The Guide to Gaming With Your Kids is designed to help grown-ups who are not gamers learn enough to get started and bond with their kids over videogames. The piece starts with the benefits of gaming, shares some common lingo, examines all of the major gaming platforms, offers guidance for online safety and then suggests a few hot games that are family friendly (these were my choices, not any sponsor’s). I received a lot of positive feedback on this article (which turned into a slideshow). I really hope it helps a lot of parents find common ground with their kids and, potentially, enjoy games for themselves.

Hilarious Gifts for Male Friends and Coworkers

Hilarious Gifts for Male Friends and Coworkers

Hilarious Gifts for Male Friends and Coworkers is basically just a gift guide, but one that is intended more to provide laughs than actual guidance on presents to buy. Some of the items are exorbitantly priced, a few are really gross and I’ve had reports that a couple items are already sold out indefinitely. But, again, that’s not the point. Just knowing that these things exist was enough for me (well, except for the plush Portal turret – we really did buy one of those to guard the Christmas tree!). I basically scoured the Internet for products that made me laugh, and then wrote up descriptions that I hoped would extend the laughs even further. The assignment actually morphed from one that was a general guide to funny gifts for guys to one targeted specifically at coworkers, so I had to make a few edits to make it work. One of my favorites, the toilet mug, had to be altered most. My original caption was written from the point of view of a spouse or live-in mate, not a fellow employee:

Sure, this thing is pretty disgusting, especially when it’s filled with his favorite dark brown beverage. And, if you’re his significant other, he’ll definitely bring it out when your parents are in town. If you’re really lucky, he’ll delegate it to the bathroom and let the dog drink water out of it. (That never gets old!)

You’re right, there’s no really upside to this present after the initial peals of amusement wear off. You’ll have no other recourse but to destroy it and blame the dishwasher. Again.

It’s worth noting that both of these are slideshows, and both have lengthy intros and captions. I wrote as long as I felt was needed to tell each story – or in the case of the gift guide, make it entertaining. I typically write much shorter copy (headlines and captions, mostly) in my everyday work, but I left the topics dictate length here and made it modular enough that the editors could easily cut elements without damaging the whole if they felt it didn’t fit the space. I was actually surprised at how little changed from my final drafts.

Work Sample: Tales from the road- Women share their motorcycle adventures whole hog

Although the bulk of my work today is in marketing, I do occasionally venture back to my journalism roots. I recently wrote a piece for MSN about two motorcycle enthusiasts who happen to be female. The piece was just one small part of a larger content package focused on “A whole new you.” The content package contained the usual borderline stereotype material – get a makeover, change your wardrobe, etc. – none of which is in my wheelhouse. (Well, possibly the wardrobe – I do have a background in clothing.) I was even less qualified to talk about motorcycles.

I’ve been on a motorcycle a grand total of once in my life. I was 7 years old and living with relatives, including three uncles who were all Harley men. For some reason, one of them decided I needed to feel the power for myself. (I might have asked, I honestly don’t remember.) The daredevil of the group slapped his extremely oversized helmet on my head, suggested I put on shoes, and lifted me onto his hog. We circled the neighborhood a few times, popped a wheelie and then returned home, where I”m I promptly passed out on the lawn. That was the beginning and the end of my motorcycle adventure.

Fortunately, I found two women who were much more qualified to share what the view is really like from a bike: Kathy Gill and Tessa D’Uccelli Blu. Both women had astounding, emotional stories to tell. When it came time to write, I encountered a problem I haven’t had in a fairly long time – I had a difficult time cutting down the material. I would have loved to included every detail, every side journey, every tale these ladies told me, but I just didn’t have the space. It’s a good problem to have as a writer. It is also a difficult one.

What you will read online is a snapshot of each woman’s journey. I hope you enjoy the ride.

Market segmentation: Lessons learned from the gaming industry at PAX Prime 2011

Our consulting business shifts from time to time. Sometimes we’re heavy on content creation, other times community building, and - right now – we’re focused on marketing support in the videogame industry. This means spending a lot of time considering different market segments and how to effectively reach them with a message that customers want so they’ll gladly take the action that our client wants them to take.

Not one to miss an opportunity to improve the depth of understanding in a major area of our work, I attended the session at PAX Prime 2011 on market segmentation. I learned some things, including how the industry is beginning to embrace psychographics (what motivates segments of customers to take the actions they pursue rather than who they are) and how it’s OK sometimes to shoot from the hip if you know your audience really well.

How Marketing Segments and Targets Gamers (1:01:55)

Panelists:
Pete Hines, Bethesda Softworks
Ed Davis, AKQA
Paul Caparotta, GameSpot

Why does it have to be ‘fine print’? Make it big!

Fine Print is unnecessary

Is fine print really necessary? Make it big and integrate it into your campaign

There may sometimes be gaps in our postings when business is particularly good, as it has been these past several months. But we always try to look for lessons in our work that we can share.

For example: I’ve been doing marketing support for a major technology company. This generally means I do whatever needs to be done to help marketing meet its goals. But one of my unique selling points is that I’m also a perceptive customer advocate. In fact, I find it difficult NOT to see the customer perspective in everything I do. It’s just how I’ve become wired after years of working in this space: interacting with communities, absorbing composite customer personas, watching focus groups and usability tests and, more recently, monitoring reactions to what I do on social media.

Much of what I’m working on right now requires Terms and Conditions: You know, that legalese that people label “the fine print” – usually because it’s so very small. But there’s also a stigma attached to it. Ask most people what the fine print is, and they’ll respond: “That’s where they get you.”

In a recent marketing campaign that I managed, I noticed customers on Twitter complaining that they didn’t know how they would get their bonus items. The answer was right  there in the Terms & Conditions but it was so tiny that many folks couldn’t read it. So I asked our designers to start making the fine print larger.

It’s an idea that I believe really should catch on. The days of hiding “gotchas” in teeny tiny type are mostly over, or so I’d like to think. If there’s something shady going on, the Internet usually sniffs it out and spreads the word quickly and aggressively.

Instead, I think that Terms & Conditions should be easily read and consumed as part of any offer perusal. In fact, knowing all of the limits and fulfillment details may actually help sell customers, and could even earn their trust. For one thing, it shows the seller has nothing to hide. And second, it should answer any key concerns the customer might have.

Ideally, all of these details should be part of any carefully considered marketing pitch. In the glory days of advertising – which I studied intensely to improve my skills as a headline copywriter – ads were text laden and often filled two or more pages. And advertising studies show that more text can actually be more convincing than less. So let’s put it all out there for everyone to see.

Now if we could just do something with all of those impenetrable End User License Agreements – which arguably are TOO LONG and could use a good summary and be easily reviewed, browsed and, dare I say, skipped. But that’s a fight for another day.

Worker solidarity: 6 ways you can win points with coworkers when you’re out of the office

The final days of the year are fast approaching, which spells vacation time for many office workers across the land. December is filled with excused absences tied to shopping trips, travel adventures and the ever-popular HR vacation threat, “use it or lose it.”

Whether you plan to be out for a day, a week or the entire month of December, your absence can have an impact on those left behind. Here are 6 simple steps you can take to make life a bit more pleasant for those who have already used up their vacation. Remember, your vacation days might not roll over, but brownie points scored with coworkers last forever!

1. Set your email out of office message. Most modern email programs offer an out-of-office (OOF) functionality that will automatically send a response to incoming email. If you are not sure where to find the OOF function in your email, search for “out of office” in your email program’s help functionality. (Look for a Question mark if using the latest version of Outlook.) Your OOF message does not need to be a documentary about your vacation; just include the key information:

  • Friendly greeting
  • Dates you will be gone
  • Why you are out (vacation time)
  • Day/date you will return and answer mail
  • Who to contact in your absence (if anyone)

For example:

Thank you for your mail. I am out Dec 1, 2010 for a vacation day. I will be back in the office on Thursday, Dec 2. If you need urgent assistance, please contact Dave Kramer (email @ writersbloc.net). Thank you.

2.  Update your outgoing phone message. Yes, some people still use the phone – and will continue to call until you answer or return their call. You can adapt your email message for an outgoing phone message script. Key information for your phone message includes:

  • Friendly greeting
  • Dates you will be gone
  • Why you are out (vacation time)
  • Day/date you will return and answer mail
  • Who to contact in your absence (if anyone)
  • How to contact them (for example, dial zero for the operator or hang up and call their direct line)
  • The phone extension or phone number for the coworker covering in your absence.

For example:

Hello, this is Jacqui Kramer, owner of The Writer’s Bloc. I am out Dec 1, 2010 for a vacation day. I will be back in the office on Thursday, Dec 2. If you need urgent assistance, please dial zero and ask the operator to connect you with Dave Kramer at extension 425. Thank you.

Also, turn your phone ringer off before you leave – especially if you are in an open environment. Nothing drives coworkers crazy faster than an unanswered phone.

3. Make a note of all key passwords (or reminders). If you’re going away for several weeks, consider making a note of your passwords – or clues to your passwords – somewhere safe. I once took a three-week vacation, secure in the idea I couldn’t possibly forget my passwords in less than a month. I did. My first morning back was spent with a tech support person, who eventually cracked my computer.

4. Set expectations with your clients/customers. Always let your clients know about planned absences ahead of time, even if they are just a day. For more information about setting expectations, see I’m not there: Five ways to check in when you’re checked out (for vacation) .

5. Set expectations with coworkers. I have received a number of calls over the years that began with “(name of coworker) said you’re covering (name of project) while he/she’s out…” A surprising number of these have come out of the blue – because the vacationing coworker didn’t mention that I was on point while he/she was out. The worst was a phone message I received while I was out on vacation myself… because the coworker hadn’t checked to see if I would be around that week. Needless to say, the caller was not amused by the daisy-chained out-of-office messages.

That’s certainly a candidate for worst-case scenario, but it can get worse. I once got the call about a project that had not been made public. It’s a bit difficult to answer questions or provide assistance about a project you didn’t know existed.

Don’t put your coworkers in that position. They will not be happy, and you will both look bad in the eyes of the client/coworker in need of assistance. Contact your designated contact and ask them for help at least a few days before you leave – and take time to debrief them. Leave written notes outlining where to find information (document folders, forwarded emails, etc.) and set expectations regarding what they should – or should not – do while you’re away.

6. Remember your coworkers while you’re gone. The last thing you want to think about on vacation is work – but it never hurts to spend a few moments considering your coworkers. I once worked on a team of about 12 people, all working to launch a major project in the last few weeks of December. Needless to say, there were not many vacation requests being granted. One coworker had already been cleared to take three weeks off in December for her wedding/honeymoon (scheduled long before the project).

We didn’t begrudge her leaving, but we definitely felt the loss of a key person in those final weeks. The project launched, and everyone on the team received a lovely congratulatory email from halfway around the world where she was vacationing! When she returned, she brought a bag full of small trinkets (keychain and magnets) from her vacation. Everyone received a small gift, and the person who took on her extra work received an extra nice gift on the side.

The small gestures – the email, a bag of trinkets most likely bought at the airport – meant a lot to a group of coworkers who didn’t spend December in a tropical paradise. It was by no means necessary, but it did rack up a lot of good karma points with the team. She also happily covered for many on the team when it was time for others to take their own vacations – an extra bonus that didn’t cost her anything, but certainly earned a lot of good will.

Oh, and nearly a decade later, I still have that keychain.



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