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What should Starbucks do?

Mark writes in to share this picture.

At first, I felt badly for them, because there’s a long history of fake Starbucks coupons. Then I read the real scoop from the AP.

Here’s the thing: if you deal with consumers, you’re going to find that some of them are very eager to take advantage of you. And if taking advantage of you means aggressively distributing a coupon, they’re going to do it.

Rule #1: don’t expect that anything on the Internet won’t get out of hand. If you don’t want it to get out of hand, it probably will.

Rule #2: if something gets out of hand, and you made a promise, better figure out a way to keep it. This sign is an ineffective response.  If it were my call, I’d take advantage of the "one coupon per customer" presumption and put a little tick on the buyer’s driver’s license or similar… just enough to slow down the particularly egregious scammers (who in this case aren’t really scammers. Starbucks asked for it).

Rule #3: have a policy (I know, I hate policies) about internet coupons before someone invents a fake one. You ought to respect the person who traveled to do business with you without doing something that’s going to bankrupt you. "Davis Burritos never ever accepts coupons distributed online. If you’ve got one, it’s a fake. But, since you came all this way, feel free to exchange your fake coupon for a free drink with any biggie meal." Put that on a little plaque near the register and you’re set for life.

PS When I was in business school, we did the McDonald’s case. Part of our preparation was to go to the nearby McDonald’s with a stopwatch and clipboard. We walked in the door and stood just long enough to get noticed. Boy did those guys hop to attention. Then we went to another McDonald’s and performed the following experiment (please, please do not try this at home, just take my word for it). We ordered a milkshake and a Big Mac. Ate half the Big Mac. Drank half the milkshake. We put the Big Mac remainder into the milkshake cup and went to the counter, "I’m sorry, I can’t drink this shake, there’s a Big Mac in it." They gave us a new one.


Because McDonald’s didn’t want counter people making decisions about who to say "no" to. It was worth the expense of humoring idiots like my study group for the brand power of knowing that counter people didn’t alienate people on a sliding scale.

I think they should have called the cops on us, but you get the idea.

Non profits are marketers too

Neat blog tells the story from a different point of view: Don’t Tell the Donor.

User manuals…

A great post from Kathy: Why marketing should make the user manuals!.

Update: Darren disagrees. Can I propose a team effort?

Marketing Morality

Is that an oxymoron? Is it possible to hold a marketer morally responsible?

Let’s start at the beginning:

Marketing works.

Marketing (the use of time and money to create a story and spread it) works. Human beings don’t make rational decisions, they make emotional ones, and we’ve seen time and again that those decisions are influenced by the time and money spent by marketers.

So, assuming you’ve got no argument with that (and if you’re a marketer who doesn’t believe marketing works, we need to have a longer discussion…) then we get to the next part of the argument:

Your marketing changes the way people act.

Not completely. Of course not. You can’t get babies to start smoking cigars and you can’t turn Oklahoma into a blue state. But on the margins, especially if your product or service has some sort of archetypal connection to your customers, you can change what people do.

Now it gets tricky. It gets tricky because you can no longer use the argument, "We’re just giving intelligent adults the ability to make a free choice." No, actually you’re not. You’re marketing something so that your product will have an edge over the alternative.

Everyone knows about milk. The milk people don’t need to spend $60 million a year advertising milk in order to be sure we all get a free choice about whether to buy milk or not. No, they do it because it makes milk sales go up.

What a huge responsibility.

If you’re a good marketer (or even worse, a great marketer), it means that you’re responsible for what you sell. When you choose to sell it, more of it gets sold.

I have no standing to sit here and tell you that it’s wrong for you to market cigarettes or SUVs, vodka or other habit-forming drugs. What we do need to realize, though, is that it’s our choice and our responsibility. As marketers, we have the power to change things, and the way we use that power is our responsibility–not the market’s, not our boss’s. Ours.

The morality of marketing is this: you need to be able to stand up and acknowledge that you’re doing what you’re doing. "By marketing this product in this beautiful packaging, I’m causing a landfill to get filled a lot faster, but that’s okay with me." Marketers can’t say, "Hey, the market spoke. It’s not my decision."

The phone rang yesterday. The recording said, "We’re sorry to disturb you. This call was meant for an answering machine." Then it hung up. Actually, the marketer wasn’t sorry. The marketer was using his market power to violate the do not call registry and to interrupt my day (on my machine or otherwise) so he could selfishly try to sell me something. While it may or may not be legal to do this, it’s irrelevant. What’s relevant is that the marketer decided that the ends justified the means, and he needs to acknowledge that on his way to work today.

The same way the marketer at Malboro needs to acknowledge that by being a good marketer, she’s putting her kids through college at the same time she’s killing thousands of people. It’s a choice–her choice.

We’re responsible for what we sell and how we sell it. We’re responsible for the effects (and the side effects) of our actions.

It is our decision. Whatever the decision is, you need to own it. If you can’t look that decision in the mirror, market something else.

Why care about Pluto?

Is it just because this is a slow news cycle?

Pluto is custom-made ideavirus material. Why?

  • Because all of us know enough about the topic to think our opinion is valid.
  • Because we grew up with it.
  • Because science is mysterious to the average person, but planets, it seems to us, are not.
  • Because it’s simultaneously controversial and safe–no one will be offended regardless of your stance on the Plutonians and their planet.
  • Because there’s just enough background information that it’s more than a sentence or two.
  • Because no one is trying to make a buck off it.

It’s interesting to note that you couldn’t (and shouldn’t) try to make any money from this. Once again, there’s a difference between getting people’s attention (the cover of Newsweek, for example) and getting their money.

People for Pluto

My humble contribution: instead of demoting Pluto, they ought to promote a whole bunch of smaller planettes. And they should sell the naming rights to various marketers (Goofy being the first easy sale) and use the millions they would earn to fund actual science education on a planet desperately in need of it. If it’s okay to sponsor the US Open, why isn’t it okay to sponsor UB313? I’m also selling the naming rights to my car.

UPDATE: Jay Porter bought the naming rights to my Prius in exchange for a donation to his favorite charity. Thanks, Jay. The Jay Porter Prius is now averaging 48 mpg, fyi. No word yet on what’s going on with UB313.

When bureaucracies become single minded

One of the most powerful things you can do is focus your entire organization on a single goal, a single idea, a single way of doing things.

We’ve seen this used successfully in organizations like Federal Express (which spent its first decade obsessed with being on time) and Southwest Airlines (which wants to be nice).

Be careful what you wish for. Two true stories from last week:

Standing in the airport security line. The guy behind me hadn’t got the memo, apparently. He’s busy dumping toothpaste and shaving cream in the garbage. Then he grabs an aftershave product and says, quite loudly, "I think I can bring this… it’s a balm." I’m not making that up.

The woman didn’t bat an eye. She said, "fine."

Then, traveling through Newark, I grabbed a bottle of water after getting off the plane. The counter person (not a trained security agent, mind you), says, "you need to leave the cap here." This got my attention. It turns out that the policy at Newark (not other places I visited recently, just Newark) is that you can’t buy a bottled water post-security and keep the cap.

It’s a bring your own cap sort of situation I guess. (Are you allowed to bring your own cap?)

I will leave the analysis of the logic to you.

By energizing and focusing a huge organization of people on the eradication of liquids of all kinds (but not balms), the government tells a story. It’s a story to the passengers, and a story to their employees as well. Yes, it’s all marketing, this too.


Peter points us to today’s A.Word.A.Day

"palinode (PAL-uh-noad) noun

A poem in which the author retracts something said in an earlier poem.

[The illustrator and humorist Gelett Burgess (1866-1951) once wrote a
poem called The Purple Cow:

I never saw a purple cow,
I never hope to see one;
But I can tell you, anyhow,
I’d rather see than be one.

The poem became so popular and he became so closely linked with this single
quatrain he later wrote a palinode:

Confession: and a Portrait, Too,
Upon a Background that I Rue!

   Oh, yes, I wrote ‘The Purple Cow,’
   I’m sorry now I wrote it!
   But I can tell you anyhow,
   I’ll kill you if you quote it.

[It was the same Burgess who coined the word blurb.]

I think there’s a lot to be said for retractions. Retractions let your marketing (and your entire organization) move forward even after you’ve made a mistake. We’re too slow to admit that we were wrong sometimes.

PS, feel free to quote my Purple Cow if you like. No harm done.

Patagonia’s choice

The best stereo speakers don’t sell very well at retail. That’s because making a speaker that sounds good in the store (and is easy to sell) isn’t the same thing as making one that’s great to live with for years.

Same thing is true with restaurant food, chinos, vegetables (orange oranges are easier to sell than greenish ones), cars and even workman’s comp policies. There’s a difference between shelf appeal and the long run.

Patagonia has changed the line up of clothes they make (fewer models, changed less often) and the materials they use (organic cotton, costs more) so that they are sacrificing shelf appeal for a story and for long-term performance. It doesn’t always work, but it’s always a choice you face. No, they’re not mutually exclusive (at least not always), but there are always tradeoffs.

What does the long tail look like?

It might look like this: Most popular on Wikipedia

The most popular article on Wikipedia is the article about… wikipedia.

Not to mention dozens of articles about off-color topics.

Something really important is happening with long tail content, but the short head (the big hits at the top) is pretty scary sometimes.

What’s expected

It’s expected that you’ll tip the masseuse (masseur) at the spa. But not the acupuncturist down the street.

It’s expected that the CEO of a public company will hire a hotshot consultant to help her do her job. The CFO gets to do that too. But not the receptionist.

It’s expected that coffee in a fancy restaurant will cost  more than it does at a cafe.

It’s expected that wifi in a business hotel ought to be free. But it didn’t used to be that way.

It’s expected that the TV in the gym will be on, always. It’s expected, though, that you’ll wear headphones to listen to Marley.

It’s expected that you take a family vacation to Florida. It’s not expected, though, to take the kids to Topeka.

It’s expected that a child-care facility will run ads with lots of rainbows. A Freudian psychiatrist, on the other hand, is expected not to advertise at all.

Faced with expectations, you’ve got three really big options:

1. Embrace expectations and build a product or service that fits what people are looking for. No change of behavior necessary. Be in the right place at the right time with the right thing priced appropriately and hope the competition doesn’t show up.

2. Change the expectations. No one expected to be able to buy digital music for 99 cents a song and have it show up on their iPod. Now, that’s the default expectation in some communities. Changing an expectation builds a huge barrier to those that might follow. Change is time consuming, expensive and rarely happens on schedule.

3. Defy the expectations. Do the unexpected. This is tempting but often leads to nothing but noise.

Before you start marketing something, it helps to be able to describe which combination of the three you’re setting out to accomplish.