Five Lessons from the Instagram Fiasco

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You know the tale: Facebook acquired Instagram; members inferred from the revised agreement that advertisers could use their photos without paying or obtaining permission; Facebook replied, in essence, “No, no, no, you misunderstand, we would never do that”; Facebook changed (“clarified”) the user agreement; Instagram subscribers left en masse; and pretty much no one blamed them.

A modicum of common sense PR-wise should be required for anyone working in any area of marketing communications. This should be especially true in interactive marketing, given its pervasiveness. But apparently someone at Facebook was running a modicum or two low at the time.

I offer the following lessons from the Instagram fiasco:

Lesson 1: When you acquire a company with high customer involvement, hold off on making changes for awhile. Customers don’t experience much angst when you acquire a coin-op laundry. When you acquire a company like Instagram, which people love as-is, and you’re Facebook, which has a reputation for pushing through unpopular changes, customers might just need time to develop a little trust that you won’t rush in and spoil their fun.

Lesson 2: Don’t expect people to believe the unbelievable. For all I know, Facebook really didn’t intend to let advertisers use member photos. Trouble is, the masses didn’t seem to buy the denial. Facebook would have done better simply to say, “We hear you, we’re sorry, we made the change you asked us to make, and we learned our lesson.” (More on showing “lesson learned” in a moment.) Recall that when the Coca-Cola Company unleashed fury upon replacing Coke with New Coke, they didn’t waste time whining about being misjudged. They apologized and brought back the original—with lightning speed. Only later, to the suggestion that they had masterminded the whole thing from the start, did they reply, “We are not that dumb, and we are not that smart.

Lesson 3: Imagine possible consequences before you act. On the other hand, suppose Facebook truly had intended to let advertisers use member photos. Not much genius would have been required to anticipate objections, re-think the decision and avoid a mass member bailout.

Lesson 4: Find a smarter way to the same end. Throngs routinely and willingly plaster their mugs all over the web. If Facebook really, really wanted to allow use of member photos in ads, chances are all they had to do was offer an opt-in with a modest spiff or payment in return. Participation could well have become the “in” thing to do.

Lesson 5: Show by your actions that you have learned your lesson. As mentioned above, Facebook has a history of making unpopular changes, user protests notwithstanding. In the wake of the Instagram fiasco, it’s not surprising that Facebook’s good faith claims are being met with skepticism.

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Posted in Marketing Social Media by Matt. Comments Off on Five Lessons from the Instagram Fiasco

Mind Your Back End

“Brand” has lots of definitions. Conveniently and not surprisingly, there is a strong correlation between how a marketer defines “brand” and the kind of branding that that particular marketer happens to execute. I shall leave it to you decide if marketers hold to an approach because they believe in it, ferociously defend an approach because it’s the one they’ve been using, or a little of both.

But one important aspect of branding that most gurus tend to agree on is that a solid brand delivers a consistent, end-to-end customer experience. “End-to-end” is key. It means that at any point during a transaction a customer should be witnessing the brand’s standards in action.

Marketers usually focus on the front end. They use the traditional and interactive media to bring in new customers, bring back established ones, and make CEOs, board members and their respective spouses feel cozy about how their company looks.

The problem is that the back end — what happens to customers from the moment they show up in-person or online — usually falls under someone else’s control.

And not just one someone. In most companies, different lords rule over hiring and firing, store layout and maintenance, sign installation and maintenance, policy for handling returns and complaints, janitorial standards, inventory, phone etiquette, correspondence, order fulfillment, commission structures, discrimination and harassment policies, and more. Even worse, all too often such areas are controlled independently on a local, per-franchise or even per-store basis.

All of which can make delivering a consistent brand experience something of a challenge.

No wonder many an ad promises what a product or company in fact fails to deliver. If you have ever laughed aloud upon seeing a brand advertise “our courteous, trained professionals” and “our attractive, state-of-the-art facility” after one of their employees treated you like dirt or you found yourself wishing you’d remembered to wear your biohazard suit to their store, you know what I mean.

There are companies that pull off the end-to-end thing with aplomb. The brand everyone likes to celebrate for that — deservedly so — is Nordstrom. Their unfailing delivery of the brand promise built that reputation for them. Another celebrant is Apple, whose packaging is pure showmanship, and whose products emerge from a box ready to go. Both are per brand promise. Lesser known but amazing in their handling of the back end is Levenger. Products arrive assembled, expertly packaged, and backed by an insanely generous, no-weasel satisfaction guarantee. (Three years after purchasing a $300 attaché, a colleague inquired about replacing the shoulder strap which had a broken buckle. Replying that the strap wasn’t available separately, Levenger offered to replace the attaché or send a refund, sight unseen.)

Great ads and easy-to-navigate websites are important. But if they serve only as gateways to a disappointing experience, the result is a back-end fail.

Which, no matter whose area of responsibility it falls under, is ultimately a marketing fail.

If you’re a marketing director who knows about the holes in the back end but lacks the authority to plug them, I’m not sure what advice I can offer short of printing this post and hoping that the CEO doesn’t figure out that you’re the one who left it on her or his chair. But for those who have hole-plugging authority, consider this a friendly reminder to take a second look at the back end.

Data mining without the privacy baggage

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Many a marketer has turned a wistful if not greedy eye upon bank databases. Therein lies untold potential to learn who buys what in order to tempt people with relevant offers.

The problem, of course, is privacy. Even if conscience permitted—conscience having proven, historically, to be remarkably plastic where profits are concerned—the United States Government frown upon banks that share customer data with outsiders.

But couldn’t there be a best of both worlds? A way that bank data could be used to serve clients and marketers without compromising the law and/or creeping anyone out?

When it comes to credit and debit card purchases, a company by the name of Cardlytics may have found a way. Imagine viewing your online bank statement and, right under a line showing a dining-out purchase, seeing a discreet, clickable line offering you a restaurant deal. You can click on it, ignore it or, if you prefer, opt out of such offers on your statement. If you choose to click on and accept the offer, you needn’t print a coupon. Just visit the restaurant and use your card. A rebate will appear on your statement.

The approach already legal muster and, properly presented, avoids the creep-out effect. Merchants provide offers, but the bank, not the merchant, posts them. The only information merchants receive is total redemptions—no names attached. Meanwhile, bank customers see a value-added offer facilitated by their bank (who, needless to say, happens to be allowed statement access) and not from merchants (who, needless to say, happen not to be).

Cardlytics offers a secure system that passes regulatory muster. Bank of America and sundry other, conservative financial institutions are already onboard.

The end result gives merchants an opportunity to target, banks an opportunity to add value, and consumers an opportunity to save on products and services they use. All within the law, and all in a way which shouldn’t creep out anyone but the most paranoid, die-hard conspiracy theorist.

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Posted in Marketing by Matt. Comments Off on Data mining without the privacy baggage

Privacy, Paranoia, Pragmatism

Some privacy concerns are legit. I don’t want to be in a Nigerian money scammer’s database any more than you do.

Yet not all privacy paranoia is legitimate. Many people simply misunderstand how database marketing works. They imagine Peeping Tom-like marketers poring over their individual information. They are unaware that what ethical marketers (unethical ones are another matter) pore over is amassed data, where names are used not for spying but for distribution.

Privacy concerns existed with direct mail, long before the Internet, but didn’t gather much steam until the 1990s. Before, an effective, oft-used sales letter opener was, “If the list where I found your name is an indication, you’re the kind of person who appreciates…” No more. Today, an admission that you found someone’s name on a list—any list—or that you know anything about your reader can land you in PR hell.

Of course, legitimate data use needn’t be a threat. On the contrary, it helps marketers focus resources where they are more likely to pay out, and helps consumers receive messages more likely to be of interest to them.

But fear is emotional, and emotion rarely responds to information and logic. Good luck telling consumers that their name is but one among millions, or that being on a qualified list benefits them. Better to enact and publish policies that reassure, whether or not they appear needful from the marketer’s perspective. Such include not sharing customer data with outside organizations, and allowing customers to opt out of receiving communications by mail or email (and promptly honoring opt-out requests).

The days when one merchant could obtain from another a list of people who purchased related items are all but gone. As a marketer, I see that as good and bad. It makes targeting and prospecting harder. On the other hand—and here’s a maxim that’s as old as direct mail—your most valuable list is your own customer list. You will always have that. If anything, privacy concerns force us to treat customers so well that they actively opt onto it. That’s not a bad thing.

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Posted in Marketing by Matt. 1 Comment