February 26th, 2015 by Maria Minsker

Anyone that has been following the big data explosion and the onset of the Internet of Things knows that there’s an incredible amount of potential that comes with being that connected. For customers, it means that the companies and brands they interact with will be able to deliver more personalized experiences based on all the data they collect, and for marketers, it means more actionable data than can better inform them about customer habits, behaviors, and preferences.

As analytics and marketing solutions become increasingly sophisticated, I find myself impressed at how much marketers can glean from even a little bit of data, and how effective truly personalized campaigns can be. Sure, there’s a constant struggle between personalization and privacy, but I’m a firm believer that privacy is a commodity that can be bought and sold in exchange for a more convenient, efficient, and all around better experience. But there’s a line that even I will not cross, and I have a feeling other consumers will be skeptical as well.

Earlier this week, researchers that the University of Texas at San Antonio found that women are more likely to sample new products and brands at certain points of their monthly cycles. According to the findings, married women chose 15 to 20 percent more new products on high-fertility days than on low-fertility days, and were even more likely to try new products after being asked to take off their wedding rings. Why is this relevant from a marketing perspective? Two words: wearable devices.

MarketWatch’s Brett Arends rightly points out that with the introduction of the Apple Watch and other wearable gadgets, it’ll only be a matter of time before these devices start measuring not only our daily steps and heart rates, but our hormonal activity too. It’s weird, right? And once that becomes a reality, research like that of Duarante and Arsena becomes just another piece of the marketing machine.

“For someone trying to launch a new consumer brand targeted at women, especially if they are going against established and well-known rivals, this sort of information is going to be a gold mine. Your smartwatch tracks your hormones. It sends the data to a server. You log in to Facebook and up come adverts urging you to try a new brand of shampoo,” Arends writes. “It’s a brave new world.”

To me, this almost feels like manipulation. But is it really? Doesn’t all marketing require at least a little bit of manipulation? Still, I wonder: does this level of invasive personalization really bring something significant to the table, or will brands be taking more than they’ll be giving back? I’m wrestling with these questions, and I expect that the Internet of Things will stir up many more. It’s too early to know, but here’s to hoping that someone will be ready to answer when the time comes.

February 23rd, 2015 by Oren Smilansky

The pizza chain Domino’s (formerly known as Domino’s Pizza) recently launched a promotional website inviting Instagram subscribers to send pictures of any of the company’s storefronts that are still displaying the outdated logo. Those who can find a location distinguished as“Domino’s Pizza” and accompanied by a domino piece that is entirely red– rather than the more modern half red, half  blue rectangle–are eligible for a year supply of free pizza or a $10 gift card.

Let me first say that don’t pay much attention to the ways in which brands reinvent themselves, and I’m not the closest follower this company in general. To give an idea, I haven’t willingly eaten Domino’s pizza since I was in high school, when my cafeteria served it for lunch every single day. (And no, I’m not embellishing this fact. I think my school had some sort of contract with the company, which resulted in me eating a slice a day for four years straight.) Still, I found it odd that I hadn’t realized that the company dropped the word “pizza” from its name until I read about it.

To make sure I wasn’t alone, I asked a colleague and my dad if they had noticed the changes, and they confirmed that they hadn’t either.

A little research revealed that Domino’s dropped the “pizza” from its name in 2012, as part of a larger plan to give its stores a much needed makeover. At the time, the company was overcoming a few mishaps, one of which involved a Youtube video of employees tampering with a pizza before a customer got it. According to the company’s research,  by 2012 more people had started coming to physical locations to pick up their orders rather than simply having them delivered. Domino’s’ response was to create a more immersive atmosphere in the store–what they called “pizza theaters.” The official press release states that the new stores would offer the option to see the “pizza artists” at work, as well as to engage with digital screens. But the stores which hadn’t yet undergone “major updates and remodeling” would not be eligible to display the new logo, though. In other words, the older stores—many of them privately owned— hadn’t yet earned the right to differentiate themselves.

A number of writers have responded negatively to the recent promotion, pointing out that the company is in effect asking for customers to single out store owners who have failed to display the new logo.

I suspect that “shaming” isn’t their goal, though.  I think it’s more likely that the company is responding to an ineffective first wave of advertising, and the fact that nobody seemed to notice the subtle change. This time, they’ve decided to do just the opposite by announcing the new image aggressively.

My question is whether or not this is a smart move,  considering that many (myself included) already use the short hand “Domino’s” when referring to the company.

Apparently, those in the company hadn’t noticed the subtle inconsistencies in their branding either, as it only then came to light that the company’s social media pages still operate under the name “Domino’s Pizza” (though the handle is simply @dominos).

The company says that the reason for this is that there are a lot of customers who still search for “Domino’s Pizza”. If I’d had any reason whatsoever to look up the company’s Twitter account, my guess is that my inclination would probably have been to do the same.


February 19th, 2015 by Maria Minsker

FullSizeRender (26)For the last five years or so, I’ve been a Chase customer, but earlier today, I found myself at TD Bank. A colleague mentioned seeing red envelopes at the branch nearby in honor of Chinese New Year, and I had to see for myself. Indeed, there they were: a bunch of envelopes stacked carefully in front of the tellers. When I walked up to the counter to pick one up, the clerk asked me if I wanted more, and went to get me a brand new pack. I told her I was a reporter, so she let me ask her a couple of questions.

According to Chinese tradition, it’s customary to give money in red envelopes for Chinese New Year; the belief is that the red color will bring luck and fortune to whoever receives it. Though I originally thought the red envelopes were the clever idea of a local manager, it turns out it’s actually a company-wide initiative. And it comes as no surprise that customers (and non-customers!) love it. “A lot of our Chinese customers come in and ask for them,” a teller who didn’t want to be identified by name told me. “Sometimes we even have people come in and say, ‘I’m not a customer, but can I please have a few envelopes because red ones are hard to find,'” she says. TD Bank is happy to share, of course.

The bank’s motto has long been “It’s Time to Bank Human Again,” and it seems to me that the company is making every effort to live up to this promise. The red envelopes are a small gesture, but an important one nonetheless. “The idea is to make customers feel special, and make them feel like their bank knows them and understands what’s important to them,” the teller told me. But it’s not just about the envelopes.

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TD Bank also prides itself on other seemingly small elements of customer experience that ultimately add up to a big advantage. The bank is open seven days a week, and stays open later than most of its competitors. Most locations also keep their doors open roughly 15 minutes past their official closing time every day. There are free pens, lollipops, a penny arcade, and treats for dogs, which are welcome inside the branches. There’s also no glass between customers and clerks, which makes the engagement feel more personal. The location I walked into this afternoon, for example, felt more like a lounge area than a bank. There were lots of chairs and tables, and they really do have free pens everywhere. (I think as a journalist, it’s in my nature to scout free pens everywhere I go.)

When it comes to customer experience, TD Bank knocks the competition out of the park. It may not yet have the clout that Chase or Bank of American bring to the table, but this up-and-comer is armed with something that’s quickly becoming more important: great customer experience. And lollipops.

February 12th, 2015 by Maria Minsker

For me, there’s no such thing as a “favorite chocolate brand.” Why choose just one? They’re all delicious in their own special way, I say. But not everyone is as inclusive as I am when it comes to chocolate. Consumers can be picky, especially around Valentine’s Day when buying the wrong box could prove disastrous. According to NetBase, a social media analytics company, Dove is the “most loved” chocolate brand on social media this year, while competitors such as Hershey’s, Godiva, Ghirardelli, Ferrero Rocher, Neuhaus, and Lindt trail behind.

NetBase conducted an evaluation of brands across social media using its natural language processing technology, which analyzes volume, passion, and sentiment of online mentions. After compiling data from 2013, 2014 and 2015, NetBase determined that over the past three years, Dove has fallen into the “love” category consistently, but only this year beat Ferrero Rocher on its sentiment and passion score. Though both brands were “loved” and Ferrero Rocher was mentioned more often, Dove received a Net Sentiment score and Brand Passion score of 92, while Ferrero Rocher received a 91 and an 80, respectively.

So what caused Dove to pull ahead? Its Twitter account paints a pretty clear picture of why Dove excelled, and it all comes down to content marketing. Dove’s page is chock-full of content. From recipes to fan photos and videos, the feed is versatile and strives to offer value to followers. The company’s #LoveLessOrdinary campaign, for example, aims to engage followers in a conversation about their own love stories in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. There are videos of adorable elderly couples, images of letters that partners have written to each other, and more. Even the branded photos don’t have a traditionally “marketing” feel to them. They are (or at least look like they are) images that are taken by real people that happen to be enjoying Dove chocolates. There’s conversation, and there are retweets, and Dove seems like a living, breathing brand.

For comparison’s sake, I decided to explore another brand’s Twitter feed as well. I chose Godiva, and its page had a very different feel. Tweets containing valuable content were few and far between, and were instead largely promotional, often directing followers to Godiva’s e-commerce site. I think I saw at least three tweets today about free delivery for chocolate covered strawberries that all took me to the same product page. Now don’t get me wrong, I realize that Dove and Godiva sell products in very different ways. Few people order Dove chocolate online, for example, while Godiva probably gets a solid amount of business from its e-commerce site. Still, that’s no excuse for scarce content. The brand also doesn’t post nearly as many photos and videos as Dove does, which is hurting engagement. Overall, the content component seems underdeveloped.

Interestingly enough, Lindt, a chocolatier that was the “least talked about” in 2013 and 2014 picked up its game significantly this year, earning 47 percent more mentions. As expected, its Twitter feed is booming with content. Recipes, images, hashtag campaigns…they’re doing it all. Now that Godiva’s on the bottom (along with Neuhaus and Ghirardelli), they might consider following in Lindt’s footsteps. The payoff, I predict, will be sweet.

February 9th, 2015 by Oren Smilansky

During the Grammys last night, the 24 year old pop singer Iggy Azalea started tweeting about a negative experience she had with Papa John’s Pizza. After ordering food from the company last Friday, Azalea discovered that the delivery driver had given away her phone number. The singer said she received “tons of calls and messages” in the following days. Though she hasn’t shared most of them, the one message she did post on Twitter seemed innocuous enough:

“Hello is this iggy azalea my brother had delivered something from Papa John’s to u and he gave me the number on Friday night I am ur number one fan call me back please

The “fan” added,

“Is this u please answer u r my idol”

The tone of the texts is pushy, no doubt, but I find it hard to believe that it’s nearly as bad or explicit as some of the fan mail Azalea must get.

Azalea was unforgiving nonetheless. She launched a series of heated one liners directed at the Papa John’s’ Twitter page, stating that she couldn’t believe the brand would allow for such a “privacy breach”. She also lambasted the driver’s supervisor for not sending her pictures of the employees so she could identify who the perpetrator was.

Papa John’s (or, rather the company’s ghost-operated Twitter account) responded with a light-hearted apology containing a reference to one of her songs:

@iggyazalea #We should have known better. Customer and employee privacy is important to us. Please don’t #bounce us!”

Azalea didn’t think it was cute, though, and threatened to take legal action if the pizza chain didn’t proceed to take care of the matter.

Now, it goes without saying that customers have a right to privacy, but I can’t help but take into account the human elements involved here. Customer service is far from a foolproof area, as we’ve seen with Comcast these past few weeks. There’s a limit to the supervision a large company can place on one person with a mind of his own.

Pizza delivery is a job that doesn’t require much education beyond a driver’s license, so there are bound to be some blunders or lapses in judgement. There have been multiple occasion when I’ve ordered pizzas and the delivery person couldn’t speak English.

Assuming Azalea’s delivery guy was a teenager or at least relatively young, he was very likely taking on one of his first jobs, and still has lot to learn about what it means to behave professionally. He should definitely be held accountable for his actions, but I think it’s important to remember that there’s a lot worse that he could have done here. For one thing, he could have given away the singer’s home address (let’s hope he didn’t).

Needless to say, Papa John’s should do a better job of educating its employees on the seriousness of privacy, and make it clear that they will be reprimanded for giving out a customer’s personal information.

I still think Azalea may have overreacted a bit by turning to Twitter, though I do commend her for taking the initiative and doing something to call out a company. After all, as a celebrity, her voice is far more powerful than anyone else’s, and she can do more to make a change.

But then again, as a celebrity, she also has access to far more protection.

On a sidenote: another thing that struck me as strange is DiGiorno’s decision to get involved from the sidelines with a plug for their frozen pizza brand. The company tweeted a cheeky note implying that only a “delivery” pizza company would allow something like this to happen. Personally, I thought it was pretty clever. But I wonder if on some level it suggests poor taste on DiGiorno’s part.



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