March 9th, 2015 by Oren Smilansky

Last week, I flew out to Arizona on my first long-distance trip as a journalist covering an event. Both of my flights were with JetBlue, and while I must say that I am a fan of the airline and will continue to fly with them, there were a few odd incidents that I would like to share.

Incident I:

On the night of my flight, snow had started to come down pretty hard in New York. As one would expect, there were flight delays at JFK, due to the weather. After boarding, we spent an hour aimlessly circling the tarmac before the captain got on the intercom to report that we might have to “deplane” so they could refuel. About 15 minutes later, the same man got back on the intercom and said that we wouldn’t be deplaning after all, but that we still had to refuel. I couldn’t have been the only person wondering he would have requested that we deplane in the first place if we could refuel one way or another.

Another announcement came roughly an hour later, with the captain announcing that we’d be taking off “shortly”. After some more stop and go, everyone anticipating a take-off any second, the same man got on the mic to tell us that we’d need to go through the emergency protocol again since they’d let on a new passenger. When had they even had time to stop and let on a new passenger? Again, I don’ think I was the only person wondering this.  It was the most bizarre thing I’d ever heard, but kudos to them if they were able to let him on. I also wondered why should this passenger who was late the first time around be rewarded, (or punished, rather) with a demo.

We were nearing on a three hour delay when a cranky man–echoing the crying baby a row behind him– decided to speak his mind. He caught the attention of one of the stewardesses. “Excuse me, can you tell me what’s going on?” He asked.  She gave him a polite response that indicated that he wasn’t the first such customer she’d dealt with, nor would he be the last. “I don’t appreciate being lied to,” he continued.  He then outlined the false promises that had been made over the intercom, and pointed out that proper care wasn’t being taken to accommodate the needs of the passengers. For instance, why hadn’t anyone come around with water?

When we finally did take off, the service was impeccable. I’m not sure if this is something they always do, but passengers had a selection of three newly released movies to choose from. We arrived three hours late, but I didn’t notice as much as I would have with another airline because the fact that I got to see Birdman made up for it.

Incident II:

The second incident occurred at Phoenix International Airport, on my way back. It’s actually not so much an incident, as a negligence I hope JetBlue fixes.

The final day of my conference ended at around 3 pm, so I decided I’d get to the airport early and get some writing done, maybe have some coffee and dinner. Though the flight was scheduled to take off at midnight, I arrived at around 5pm, since I had already checked out of my hotel and needed somewhere to hang out for a while.

I was printing out my boarding pass at one of the machines when I noticed a worried looking man standing by two large suitcases.  He engaged me in friendly eye contact, then asked if I was checking bags in. No, I told him, just one carry-on.  He said that he, like myself, had arrived early for a red-eye flight. Only he had lots of luggage, and had been told that there would be no one working at the JetBlue station until 7:30pm. Consequently, he would have to wait in the lobby for two-and-a-half hours before he could proceed past security. I glanced at the luggage desk, where usually there should be someone to weigh your bags and overcharge you to transport them. Not a soul. This wasn’t the case for any of the other airlines, so why was it so with JetBlue? I carried on through security, and into the terminal’s food court, glad that I’d decided to travel light.

One message I take away from these two incidents it’s that JetBlue rewards late passengers and penalizes those who get in on time. But no matter. I forgive them, since I think they more than make up for these kinds of flubs with the experience they offer in flight, which serves to distract the customer from any imperfections.  It’s that you can watch cable tv on the flight, and that they offer Dunkin Donuts coffee rather than some generic boiled boot water. And not that I rely on mobile payments, or have any Apple product, but they’re also going to be the first airline offering Apple Pay. That’s something.

March 6th, 2015 by Leonard Klie

The federal government has injected itself into the contact center space on many occasions, with regulations around consumer privacy, “Do Not Call” laws, and even in proposed legislation that seeks to limit overseas outsourcing.

An unlikely new entrant into the space is the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), which has launched a new initiative, known as the Communicating with Computers (CwC) program, which aims to improve the ability of machines to communicate effectively with humans. Though it’s not a stated goal of the program, if successful, the program could lead to improvements that might be applied to interactive voice response systems, virtual assistants, knowledgebases, and a whole host of other technologies used in the contact center.

The goal of the CwC program is to develop computers that think more like people do, and can then better communicate as people do. That’s a hugely different path for DARPA, which usually works to create more technologically advanced war machines and other products to benefit the country’s soldiers, sailors, airmen, and marines.

As part of the CwC project, DARPA engineers will work to develop a system that can work alongside a human to create a story. Human and computer will take turns completing sentences to complete a story. This will require the computer to keep track of the ideas presented by its human counterpart before offering its own ideas—much like in a normal human-to-human conversation.

DARPA program manager Paul Cohen acknowledges that this is not an easy concept for a computer. “Human communication feels so natural that we don’t notice how much mental work it requires,” he said in a statement.

The CwC program is still very much in its infancy, but its outcomes could have very far-reaching potential. Welcome to the contact center. Now put on a headset.

March 5th, 2015 by Maria Minsker

Geico’s marketing team has struck gold again. The car insurance company’s newest series of ads is pretty brilliant, considering the fact that viewers are not only watching them to the end instead of skipping them, but also watching extended cuts on YouTube. Why aren’t consumers skipping these ads? Because they’re “Unskippable,” Geico claims.

The ads are unique in that they tackle viewers’ propensity to skip ads head on. Every commercial that’s part of this campaign claims “You can’t skip this ad because it’s already over” within the first few seconds of the spot, and freezes the picture as if to say the ad really is complete. But it’s not. Though most of the image is frozen, there are portions that remain animated. In the ad below, for example, the dog jumps on the dining room table and eats the family’s dinner while they remain frozen. Check it out–it’s hilarious.

The genius behind these ads is that they’re almost anti-ads. Typically, the person that’s watching the ad and the brand that created it are at odds–the viewer wants to skip the video as soon as possible, while the brand wants the viewer to watch it in its entirety. In these Geico ads, though the same intention is still there, the brand cleverly masks it by aligning the video with customer sentiment. In other words, Geico is saying “we know you want this to be over quickly, so it’s going to be over quickly,” which makes the viewer feel like the brand has a deep understanding of what’s important to that viewer.

Every company knows this by now: consumers want to feel heard. They don’t want to feel like their time is being wasted, and ads tend to feel like a waste of time when viewers are eager to get to whatever content they’re actually trying to reach. These ads catch consumers off guard by zeroing in on that gripe, which makes it almost impossible not to finish the ad. I watched it several times out of sheer awe for Geico’s perceptiveness.

Moreover, Geico’s campaign is effective because it’s entirely on-brand. The company’s message has always been centered on saving time. Its long-time slogan was: “Fifteen minutes could save you fifteen percent or more on car insurance,” and the new series of ads furthers this concept. Geico only needs five seconds to boldly display their company name and get your attention in an advertisement, much like they only need 15 minutes to build a car insurance quote. It’s a subtle yet effective way to deliver consistent messaging.

On a side note, I really can’t believe they figured out a way to beat that ad with the camel. You know, the Hump Day one? That was pure gold.

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.



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